Sommer talks Sharks prospects, and more

sheppard_james_wild.jpg

Sommer talks Sharks prospects, and more

When the NHL lockout began more than 100 days ago, several teams with young, improving players still on entry-level deals had the opportunity to keep those players in North America by sending them to their American Hockey League affiliates.

The Sharks had no such luxury, as guys like Tommy Wingels, Justin Braun and Andrew Desjardins weren’t AHL eligible. Despite that disadvantage, San Jose’s top minor league club in Worcester is having a decent season with a 14-10-1-2 record, good for third place in the tight Atlantic Division. The Sharks (31 points) are just three points behind first-place Portland with two games in hand.

Head coach Roy Sommer said: “It’s kind of staying up with the Joneses. A lot of parity in our league right now.”

Although it may not have any household names on its roster, Worcester features a number of players that could have an impact on the Sharks if a shortened season begins in January. While on-ice success is significant, it pales in comparison to the importance of an AHL team developing talent for its parent club.

Front and center among those names is former first round pick James Sheppard, who was acquired by the Sharks from Minnesota in the summer of 2011 for a third round pick. Aside from a brief stint with Worcester in the second half of last season, Sheppard spent the 2011-12 campaign rehabbing his left knee from a serious ATV accident in September of 2010. The Sharks knew that they were taking a risk when they acquired Sheppard, and Sommer suggests that risk could pay off.

“He’s really starting to find his game now,” Sommer said. “The guy hasn’t played in two years, you knew it was going to take awhile. They’ve got something right now.”

Sheppard (7g, 9a in 27 games) currently has a three-game point streak, with four goals and one assist in that span. That includes two goals in a 4-3 win over Hershey on Dec. 15, a game that Sommer says Sheppard won “all by himself.”
 
“He’s just starting to find his stride, and it looks like he’s almost there. You can see why he was a first rounder,” Sommer said of Sheppard, the ninth overall pick in the 2006 draft.

Sheppard’s 224 games in an NHL uniform give him the most professional experience of anyone on the Worcester roster. Tim Kennedy is second in that regard with 112 career NHL games, and is another guy that Sommer can see potentially contributing to the Sharks if the league and players’ association come to an agreement.

Kennedy has been Worcester’s most consistent offensive threat, and is tied for eighth in the league in scoring with 28 points (12g, 16a).

“He’s real dynamic, kind of a top-six forward guy that moves pucks and is real fast and gritty,” Sommer said. “He’s not real big, but he plays big.”

The 5-10, 175-pound Kennedy played in 27 games with the Florida Panthers last season before San Jose traded for him in late January and assigned him to the AHL.

* * *

While San Jose would have to dig into Worcester’s forward pool in the event of a shortened season, it would likely leave the defense and goaltending alone. The Sharks’ top seven on defense are basically set, as is the goaltending tandem of Antti Niemi and Thomas Griess.

Worcester’s blue line is a young group, and features some intriguing names. Matt Irwin, a 25-year-old who was recalled last season by San Jose but didn’t get into a game is the most NHL-ready according to Sommer, but there are others to keep an eye on.

“Sena Acolatse is another guy that’s really coming along. He’s right up there in defensive scoring in the league,” said Sommer, referring to Acolatse’s four goals and 12 assists in 25 games.

“Matt Tennyson (2g, 12a), I really thought he was a great pickup for the organization. They’re not going to have to wait long for his development. He’s been coming along really nicely.”

There are a couple of high draft picks, too, in 6-8, 230-pound Taylor Doherty (second round, 2009) and 6-3, 230-pound Nick Petrecki (first round, 2007). Doherty, though, is sidelined for at least five more weeks with a sliced Achilles tendon while Petrecki recently returned from a broken hand that kept him out for more than a month.

In fact, Petrecki, who is in his fourth season in Worcester, made his return last Friday in the Sharks’ final game before the Christmas break. Sommer was impressed with the 23-year-old in that game, after Petrecki finished with an assist and a +3 rating.

Although reviews are mixed on Petrecki’s development and skill set, Sommer's opinion is that he could still contribute in the NHL at some point.

“I think he’s on track to what they thought he would be at. He’s a big guy, a monster of a man, and he’s just starting to get things down like keeping his game simple,” Sommer said. “At times he tries to do too much and he gets in trouble, but if he played like he did [Friday] night, he’s not that far away.”

In goal, Alex Stalock (10-5-1, 2.66 goals-against average, .909 save percentage) has gotten a bit more playing time than Harri Sateri (4-6-1, 3.11 GAA, .901 SP).

Stalock, who has successfully returned from a year on the sidelines with a career-threatening nerve injury in Feb. 2011, could be on track to be Niemi’s backup in 2013-14 as Greiss will be an unrestricted free agent.

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Stalock reminds Sommer of another successful American-born netminder.

“He plays a lot like Tim Thomas. Real exciting. If you like watching goaltender he’s definitely fun to watch the way he moves the puck and stuff,” Sommer said.

“We didn’t even know if he was going to play again, but he came back and did everything that he was told to do, and more. He kind of started off a little bit slow for us, but at the season has progressed, I think he’s become one of the top goaltenders in the league.”

* * *

The San Jose Sharks’ newly formed coaching staff hasn’t gotten a chance to work together on the ice in San Jose just yet, but they have all taken trips to Worcester to get a first hand look at some of the organization’s prospect pool.

Sommer, in his 15th year behind an AHL bench, welcomes the support.

“All of them have been real positive. The guys love having them down here,” Sommer said. “It’s a different voice when we’re trying to get the same point across.”

The Sharks’ coaching staff of Todd McLellan, Larry Robinson, Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft were in the Bay Area for the San Francisco Bulls’ ECHL game at HP Pavilion on Dec. 17 for a chalk talk with Sharks season ticket holders. If the NHL season is cancelled, they’ll start rotating back into Worcester.

“They’ve all got good insight and have been around the game a long time,” Sommer said. “A lot of times when you’re at ice level you don’t see as many things as they see.”

Regardless of what happens with the NHL, Sommer’s job description won’t change. He’ll continue to work to strengthen the organization from top to bottom, and assist as many players on their path to the NHL as he can.

Sommer said: “That’s the pride you get when you do this. Not everyone can make it, but the ones that put their time in, and listen, they get there. It’s not the problem getting there, it’s staying there. It’s tough. It’s a tough business up there.”

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

NASHVILLE – Apparently, one wake up call wasn’t good enough for the plummeting San Jose Sharks.
 
Just one day after suffering what was arguably their worst game under coach Pete DeBoer, Nashville put up a touchdown on the Sharks in a 7-2 win, giving San Jose its sixth straight defeat – all in regulation.
 
After getting outscored 13-3 the last two nights, including Friday’s 6-1 loss in Dallas, where do they go from here?
 
“In two years, last year and this year so far, we haven’t had one night like this almost. Now we have back-to-back nights,” Joe Pavelski said. “I think it’s just a reality check. A gut-check time.
 
“It’s on us as players. Bottom line is we haven’t put the effort in that we need to have right now, and it snowballed on us a little bit at times. I think we’ve got to take a deep breath and really take a look in the mirror, refocus a little bit and understand there’s hockey out there, but it’s not going to fix itself.”
 
What has to be fixed immediately is the defensive structure that has been so vital to the Sharks’ success in the Pete DeBoer era. Even when the club was going through stretches of struggling to score, as it was earlier in the season, it was still collecting points in the standings with its ability to limit the opposition’s scoring chances.
 
While the game against the Predators was actually a little better in that regard, believe it or not, it was still nowhere near the level it needs to be for the postseason. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s absence was partly to blame for that, but the Brent Burns-Paul Martin pair has been a disaster lately. Both have a minus-nine rating during the six-game losing streak, and that number is indicative of how they’ve looked, too.
 
“We’re giving up some goals. It’s a combination of things,” DeBoer said. “Obviously it’s not good enough to win games, so we’ve got to figure it out. I don’t have an answer standing here for you, but I know our group. Every team I’ve ever coached has a tough part of the season. This is obviously ours. We’ll regroup, and figure it out.”
 
Burns, who admitted to a “bad read” on Nashville’s second goal when Roman Josi sped around him, said: “It’s a tough league when you’re not executing little things.”
 
The Sharks actually looked strong early, poised to put the Dallas disaster behind them. The first few shifts, they had the puck in the Nashville end.
 
But Tomas Hertl was outmuscled behind the net by Colin Wilson on Colton Sissons’ goal at 4:14, Burns got beat on the second, and the Sharks never recovered. Patrick Marleau’s second period power play goal offered life, but that was extinguished 24 seconds later when James Neal answered with a power play goal of his own. The Sharks never got closer than two goals after that.
 
“When things are going bad, those are the things that are happening,” Burns said of Neal’s response to Marleau’s marker. “So, you’ve just got work through it."
 
Will they be able to work through it with just seven games left in the regular season, though? That this cold spell is happening in late March doesn’t speak well to the Sharks’ chances in the postseason, which begins in just two-and-a-half weeks.
 
Burns said: “Right now we should be just tightening up everything. … We've got figure it out pretty soon.”

Sharks forward Haley could face supplemental discipline from NHL

Sharks forward Haley could face supplemental discipline from NHL

NASHVILLE – Sharks forward Micheal Haley could be in line for supplemental discipline from the league, after earning a match penalty in the third period of Saturday’s 7-2 loss in Nashville.
 
After absorbing a borderline hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok, Haley tracked down the Predators forward and promptly delivered a left jab to Jarnkrok’s face at 12:56 of the final frame, with the Sharks trailing 5-2 at the time.
 
Naturally, there were differing opinions from the two head coaches on the play.
 
Pete DeBoer said: “When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth.”
 
Predators coach Peter Laviolette told reporters: "It's an ugly play. This isn't the wild, wild west. I mean, Calle hit him. We took a penalty. If we start doing that, we're in trouble, so hopefully it gets looked at."
 
Any player who earns a match penalty "shall be automatically suspended from further competition until the commissioner has ruled on the issue,” according to league rules.
 
In 54 games this season, Haley has two goals and nine assists for 11 points. His 110 penalty minutes is fifth in the league.
 
Jarnkrok did not return after the punch, but told reporters after the game he felt “OK.”
 
"I feel pretty good," Jarnkrok said. "Obviously, I saw him coming. There were a couple other guys coming, too. I didn't really know what to do. He got in a good punch on me.”