Sharks

Three takeaways: Burns provides spark the Sharks needed

Three takeaways: Burns provides spark the Sharks needed

NEWARK – Wrapping up their four-game-in-six-day road trip in New Jersey, the Sharks went on to a relatively pain-free 4-1 victory in their only appearance at Prudential Center. Here are three takeaways from the afternoon tilt…

1 – Burns takes over

On Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, Burns didn’t look took too good when he turned the puck over to Wayne Simmonds, who promptly scored an overtime goal. He certainly didn’t let that play linger against the Devils, scoring two second period goals that turned the game in the Sharks’ favor.

"We needed a spark, and he's been there all year,” Pete DeBoer said. “A big goal at the right time. He's a fearless player. He walks the line, and under pressure, has a fearlessness offensively to him that is hard to teach and really separates great players from other guys. You saw that on the first goal.”

Burns wakes up on Monday fourth in the NHL in scoring with 59 points, just two behind league leader Connor McDavid. Remarkably, he has a legitimate chance to join Bobby Orr as the only defenseman to ever lead the NHL in points (our friends at NBC have some other notes on Burns, here).

Burns was asked after the game if he keeps track of where he is in the scoring race.

“You look at everything. You’re looking at other guys on the team, the other team we’re playing, you’re looking [at stats]. We hear about it from you guys (the media) all the time about stats and everything, so you’re aware of it.”

2 – Getting some distance from the pack

On Feb. 4, the Sharks had a three-point lead on Anaheim for first in the Pacific with a game in hand. They lost their next four games, although they picked up a point in three of the losses.

On Monday, the Sharks find themselves with a five-point lead over the Ducks, with 25 games remaining for both. The Sharks may have hit a brief rut, but it didn’t hurt them in the standings.

“We played some games that were winnable for us, but we managed to get points, and when you look around the league right now teams are in the tough part of their schedule,” Logan Couture said. “We're in a tough part of our schedule. On the road on the east coast, and it was a back-to-back. To get three (points) out of four in these past couple games is big."

DeBoer said: “We wanted some separation between us Anaheim and Edmonton, and the guys got the job done.”

3 – Couture, Jones return to the lineup

Couture said after the game that he didn’t decide he was going to play until warmups, after missing Saturday’s game with an undisclosed upper body injury.

He played a reduced role, skating just 15:34 and taking only one faceoff. He didn’t register a point, and had one shot.

“Obviously, wasn't 100 percent,” said Couture, who was hurt at some point in the game in Boston on Thursday. “But, I felt I was good enough to try it.”

Jones, on the other hand, was outstanding. If he was feeling any nerves after allowing a goal on the first shot he faced – on the heels of his last two subpar performances, including getting the hook in Boston – it didn’t show.
 
“You always want to bounce back with a good effort,” Jones said. “But, it was everybody tonight. We weren’t happy with the way the last few games have gone, and we responded really well tonight and had a really, really strong game.”

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

Nearly five months after taking a puck to the mouth that resulted in major damage, Logan Couture is still dealing with the aftereffects of his surgically repaired mouth, which now features several false teeth.

Appearing on the NHL Network this week, Couture was asked how he’s feeling with less than one month to go before the Sharks open training camp on Sep. 14.

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth. 

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

Couture was injured on March 25 in Nashville. He was set up just outside the crease in the offensive zone when a Brent Burns point shot hit a stick before squarely battering the now 28-year-old’s mouth.

After missing the final seven games of the regular season, Couture returned for the Sharks’ playoff opener. He managed to play in all six games of the first round loss, posting two goals and one assist for three points, although he struggled at times and was seemingly targeted by the Oilers.

Couture is currently in his hometown of London, Ontario where he’s staging a casino event for brain research. Fellow Sharks Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo will take part, as will other NHL stars like the Kings’ Drew Doughty.

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

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Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

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Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

* * *

Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.