Stalock, Sheppard are bright spots

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Stalock, Sheppard are bright spots

It seems there is little good these days in the realm of news from the hockey world. But venture to the San Jose Sharks' AHL affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts and you will find two uplifting stories of life and sport.

Goaltender Al Stalock has played one career NHL game. In 30 minutes of backup work on Feb. 1, 2011, he faced nine shots and stopped them all, leading the Sharks to a 5-3 comeback win over Phoenix. Just three days later, on what was supposed to be a temporary minor league assignment, Stalock had a nerve behind his left knee sliced by the skate blade of an opponent while attempting to make a save.

"It was a freak deal," Stalock told me. "But I'm lucky it wasn't worse, to tell you the truth."

The physical recovery wasn't the only one the goaltender had to make, in jumping right back into crowded creases.

"It was just getting over the mental hump of not having that in the back of your head," Stalock said. "That was the part that was the hardest to get over, and now, I don't even really think about it much anymore. I'm beyond that point."

Stalock returned to game action late last season, a little more than a year since that injury, which had the potential to end his career. Now, after a more routine offseason, he's back into full swing, posting a 9-5-1 record with a 2.57 GAA in his first 16 games.

"This year's been huge, being part of the team," said Stalock. "You don't travel much when you're hurt, being in the locker room during the games, you're away from the team. It's nice to be back, and feeling like a regular everyday player."

Stalock says his lone taste of the NHL serves as high motivation to return -- sooner rather than later.

Forward James Sheppard fractured his left knee in an ATV accident on Sept. 7, 2010, and has not played in an NHL game since. The ninth overall draft pick from 2006 was acquired by the Sharks via trade in August of 2011, with the understanding he would still need months of recovery and rehabilitation.

"They traded for me when I wasn't even ready to play hockey," Sheppard told me. "They gave me a chance and opened the door for me to have a new opportunity. I'm really just excited to give something back to them -- starting here in Worcester and then hopefully in San Jose."

Sheppard spent most of his off-ice time in San Jose last season, working with trainers for one common goal: To get back into a competitive game. That mission was accomplished in February, as he played four tilts with the Worcester Sharks. This year, after 26 games played in the AHL, he's got six goals and eight assists.

"It was a long two years being on your own schedule," Sheppard said. "To be here as just another guy going to practice is a great feeling. You feel more at home, you feel part of something bigger."

"Shep," as they call him, is a three-year veteran of the NHL. While most of his colleagues are unlucky to be locked out this season, he's fortunate the situation allows him to continue playing competitively...and building back to a future in the highest league.  

"To be honest, I'm not thinking about it," says Sheppard. "I'm glad we've got people taking care of that business so I can just focus on being here."

The return to normalcy for Stalock and Sheppard are most certainly bright spots in their careers, and bright spots in the Sharks organization during dark times in the NHL.

"It's tough for any young athlete to go through injuries like we have," said Sheppard. "For me and Al, it's something we want to forget about and just be hockey players again. You're going to get better and learn more when you're having fun, and that's what we're doing right now."

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

SAN JOSE – Just in case there was any question as to the grisly nature of Logan Couture’s mouth injury, the Sharks forward shared a picture on his personal Instagram account on Monday.

If you haven’t seen it yet, proceed with caution.

The photo was taken the night of his injury on March 25 in Nashville, showing several top teeth missing in a mouth that can accurately be described as a bloody mess, after he was hit with a defected puck while standing in front of the net in a game against the Predators.

Couture revealed on Tuesday in a conference call that there was more to his injury that just damaged teeth. He also has some facial fractures, including one above his upper lip that extends to his nasal area, and another that is under the bottom row of his teeth.

The one that’s higher in his face is still painful. 

“Still struggle to eat and sleep. … It’s not a comfortable state to be in,” said Couture, who missed the final seven games of the regular season before returning for the six-game first round series loss to Edmonton.

As for the next step, Couture has yet to sit down with his dentist, although further work is on the horizon.

“There’s going to be some implants to get the teeth fixed,” he said. “Hopefully get it done in the next few weeks, and then I’ll head back to Canada.”

Couture doesn’t yet know how many teeth need to be replaced.

“All depends on how the teeth respond,” he said.

* * *

Joe Thornton had successful surgery on his left knee on Monday afternoon, NBC Sports California has learned, and according to a team statement released later on Tuesday he is expected to "make a complete recovery and be ready for the start of the 2017-18 season." 

According to a source, the damage to Thornton’s MCL was more significant than his ACL. The team declined to give any details about the surgery in its statement, including who performed it and where it was done. 

Thornton played four playoff games against Edmonton despite damaged knee ligaments, head coach Pete DeBoer revealed on Monday, when he said Thornton was dealing with a “torn MCL and ACL” after getting hurt in Vancouver on April 2.