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.”

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

The Sharks dropped their sixth straight game Saturday in Nashville against the Predators. To make matters worse, center Logan Couture left the ice to an ugly scene after taking a puck straight to the mouth. 

Directly after the game, Couture was taken to a local Nashville hospital. On Sunday, his father Chet could not provide specific details but called what his son is going through "an ugly injury sadly." 

Couture was set up just outside the crease when a Brent Burns point shot late in the second period hit a stick before squarely smacking into the 27-year-old’s mouth. Replays showed Couture appeared to lose at least one tooth, and he quickly skated to the dressing room under his own power with just 14 seconds before the intermission.

"You can't replace him, so it would be really tough,” Patrick Marleau said after Saturday's loss. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he's back sooner.”

Couture flew back with the team Sunday morning, but Insider Kevin Kurz is hearing the injury is certainly a bad one. 

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

NASHVILLE – The Sharks are returning to San Jose on Sunday in a crisis. Nothing good came from Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Nashville, their sixth straight in regulation. Let’s get to the painful three takeaways…

1 – No answers

Neither Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns nor Patrick Marleau – the three players made available to the media after Saturday’s game – offered any kind of in-depth analysis of what’s going wrong. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows. It’s hard to believe that this is the same club that had lost just two games in regulation in its previous 14 before the losing streak began.

“If you’re putting a consistent effort in, battling, competing – it’s tough to lose six in a row,” Pavelski said. “You look at six in a row, and it just seems daunting. Like, how do you get there? So, I think we’ve just got to take a deep breath, really kind of refocus.”

Believe it or not, coach Pete DeBoer thought Saturday’s loss was “a step in the right direction” when asked why Friday night’s 6-1 beat down in Dallas wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. How often do you hear that after a five-goal defeat?

“I liked our game tonight better than I liked [Friday’s game] regardless of the score,” DeBoer said. “I don’t just look at the score. If you want to just judge it on the score than you might not say it’s a wake-up call, but I thought we were much more competitive tonight. 

“It was a step in the right direction. Every team goes through tough parts of the season, and this is ours. We’ve got a lot of character in the room. We’ll get through it.”

2 – Couture injury would spell doom, as Hertl still MIA

Let’s face it – if Logan Couture is out for any extended period of time, this team is DOA once the playoffs begin. Couture has been the Sharks’ best player since the All-Star break, and they don’t have anyone on the current roster or in the system that could replace him. As of Sunday morning, there was still no word as to the severity of his injury after taking a puck to the mouth and going to a local Nashville hospital.

If Couture were to miss time, Tomas Hertl would likely become the team’s second line center. Lately, though, Hertl doesn’t even resemble an effective third line center. He was victimized on Nashville’s first goal, which was similar to one of the Wild goals on Tuesday, when he was just too slow and not strong enough on his skates in getting outworked for a loose puck. He is scoreless in his last 12 games.

3 – Haley shows some emotion that others lack

It’s understandable that Micheal Haley didn’t like getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok in the third period. But, you can’t just make a beeline for a guy and punch him in the face. Haley will almost certainly get suspended for the play.

At least, though, Haley showed a little bit of emotion in the game, including his first period fight with Cody McLeod. Perhaps guys like Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker could take a lesson from the fiery Haley. Those three, in particular, have been virtually useless during this six-game stretch. 

If I’m DeBoer, I’d get on the phone with Doug Wilson and Roy Sommer and ask for a few guys from the Barracuda so I could – depending on the team’s health situation – scratch all three of them for Tuesday against the Rangers, or at least remove Boedker and Donskoi and put Hertl back on the wing. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?