While Sharks sit, prospects are playing

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While Sharks sit, prospects are playing

SAN JOSE Whether or not the NHL season begins on Nov. 2 or is pushed back even further, younger prospects and recent draft picks wont be a part of training camp. In the unlikely event it starts early, the players taking part will more or less be those assured of their place on the NHL roster.

In other words, if Sharks fans want to get an up-close look at the clubs top minor league prospects, they cant do it without a cross-country flight to Boston Logan and subsequent pricey cab ride to Worcester, Mass.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and the teams entire coaching staff made that trek last week, taking in part of Worcesters training camp and a few of its preseason games. The trip was productive for a few reasons, according to Wilson.

It was a great opportunity for all our staff to spend time together, get on the ice, and see the young players that theyve worked with at the development camp, Wilson said, referring to the Sharks mid-summer prospect gathering in San Jose. Its as important that the young players there, who didnt get the opportunity to have a training camp or exhibition games here, show us what they can do. We have a very good team down there, thats very competitive.

There are a number of players on Worcesters roster that are of particular interest, and could even appear in a Sharks jersey this season. At the top is forward James Sheppard, who hasnt played NHL hockey in two seasons, but has seemingly worked his way back into playing condition.

In fact, in Worcesters first two games in Norfolk, Va. last weekend, Sheppard contributed a goal and two assists and was the Sharks nominee for AHL Player of the Week (he didnt win). Hes their first line center, skating between wingers Sebastian Stalberg and Travis Oleksuk.

Sheppard, who spoke to CSNCalifornia.com last week, seems primed to battle for a top-nine forward role for the Sharks this season provided he doesnt suffer any setbacks. It could be an incredible story after the former first round pick suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury in Sept. 2010 in an ATV accident while training in Vail, Co.

Were excited to see a player who has gone through a bump in the road, put all this work in, and come out of it on the healthy side, said Wilson, who traded a third round pick in 2013 to Minnesota last summer to acquire Sheppard, only to see him shelved for the entirety of the 2011-12 season. To see him playing the way he was playing, and feeling healthy, and having the jump back in his game, is exciting for Shep and really exciting for us, too. That factored into the riskreward of acquiring him.

Sheppard isnt the only player with NHL hopes thats on the mend. Goaltender Alex Stalocks career was also nearly cut short when he suffered a sliced nerve behind his left knee in Feb. 2011 while playing for Worcester. After nearly a full year on the shelf, Stalock returned late last season and played in 11 games between Worcester, Peoria, Ill. (AHL, on loan) and Stockton, Ca. (ECHL).

Hes 100 percent cleared by the Mayo Clinic. Its a great story, Wilson said. Obviously, he healed well. In that type of injury you just hope to get through that barrier, but hes completely cleared, looks great, and we expect him to have a very dominant year.

Stalock is half of the goalie tandem that also includes 2008 fourth round pick Harri Sateri. Each has started one of Worcesters first two games, and each allowed three goals as Worcester dropped both contests.

We have high expectations for Harri. The competition between the two will make them both better, but theyre both high-end goalies, Wilson said.

Wilson doesnt like to name names when asked which players on Worcesters roster are the closest to being NHL-ready, but there are still some players that provoke more interest than others, if based only on draft position or media reports.

One of those is defenseman Nick Petrecki. The big defenseman was chosen in the first round (28th overall) the same year as Logan Couture (2007), but has yet to get even a sniff of the NHL. Reviews of Petreckis play at the minor league level have been mixed, at best, as he begins his fourth year with Worcester.

In Petreckis defense, blueliners generally take longer to develop than high-end skilled offensive players like Couture. According to Wilson, the 23-year-old Petrecki is still on the right path, and has bulked up to 238 pounds to go along with his 6-3 frame.

Hes right on track, Wilson said. I think what happens is when a player like a Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Couture makes an NHL roster right awaythats the aberration. Look how young Nick Petrecki still is.

He continued: We try to build a career for players. What happens is, the big physical players normally take longer. Thats just the history of it. Theyve been able to intimidate or scare people in junior or college, and they need to round out their game.

Another name that popped up just this summer is that of 19-year-old forward Sean Kuraly, after his impressive performance at the World Junior prospect camp in Lake Placid, NY.

Kuraly, a fifth round pick of the Sharks in 2011, led all players at the camp with six goals and nine points. A native of Columbus, Oh., Kuraly is a lock to represent the United States at the World Junior Championships at the end of the calendar year.

In fact, one unnamed NHL scout told ESPN.com: "Whatever round this kid was taken in, it should have been the first.

He showed what hes capable of at that camp. Thats really all Im going to say, Wilson said. In the World Juniors this year, I think youll see some stuff.

Kuralys rise out of seemingly nowhere could be used as a good example against the credibility of prospect lists that appear in hockey publications and on websites. The Sharks are consistently rated among the leagues worst teams when it comes to in-the-system depth. HockeyProspectus.com ranks the Sharks 29th out of 30, while Hockeysfuture.com ranks the Sharks dead last.

So, too, does the well-respected Hockey News, putting San Jose 30th out of 30 teams, along with a C-minus grade.

GM Doug Wilson will tell you the Sharks success hasnt adversely affected their drafting. However, there are few blue-chippers to speak of, says the publication in its 2012-13 yearbook.

Its evident in speaking with Wilson that those lists dont keep him up at night.

People call and ask me to comment. Some of the people filling content dont do their homework, and some of the people they ask for their opinions are people that are trying to get back in the game, that arent in the game because theyre not very good at what they do, to be honest, Wilson said.

Instead, hed rather point to the kids like Kuraly, who could be yet another diamond in the rough for the franchise and its scouting department headed by Tim Burke, who just completed his 15th season in that role. In fact, the Sharks 2012-13 roster will feature a whole slew of mid-to-late round picks and home grown talent from previous drafts, including Joe Pavelski (7th round, 2003), Ryane Clowe (6th round, 2001), Douglas Murray (8th round, 1999), Tommy Wingels (6th round, 2008), Justin Braun (7th round, 2007), Thomas Greiss (3rd round, 2004) and Andrew Desjardins (undrafted free agent).

Since 2003, when Wilson took over, Sharks draft picks have played a total of 3829 NHL games, whether with San Jose or somewhere else in the league. That number is second only to Chicago (3980) and Montreal (4154).

Youve got to find guys that can play, that might not be fully developed, but have great hockey sense and get those pros in the second third, fifth, sixth, seventh rounds. Thats really where you make your bones in this business.

Sharks 'competed our asses off' in rewarding win over Kings

Sharks 'competed our asses off' in rewarding win over Kings

LOS ANGELES – It’s only mid-January, but the Sharks have already concluded the five-game season series with their biggest rival. That could be a good thing, as Sharks-Kings games are rarely for the faint of heart. 

“I’m glad to be done with them. If we don’t see them again, I’ll be alright with that,” Pete DeBoer quipped.

On the other hand, Wednesday’s latest and final head-to-head matchup resulted in perhaps the Sharks’ most rewarding win of the season, 3-2 at Staples Center. 

San Jose got contributions from up and down its lineup. Despite being without several key players (including Logan Couture, who missed the game due to illness), the Sharks worked hard and smart all over the ice and put some distance between themselves and Los Angeles, which is fighting to remain in playoff position.

“It was a good feeling in this [dressing] room when we came in here [after the game],” said Joe Pavelski, who scored one of the Sharks’ three goals. “Just felt like you put a complete effort out there.”

DeBoer said: “A little bit of a thin lineup, and I thought we competed our asses off. Played hard. This isn’t an easy building to win in. They play a physical game. We stood in there, and I thought played a real complete game.”

Special teams was key, as the Sharks got a power play goal from Pavelski and held the Kings to no goals and just one power play shot on four chances. Martin Jones was his typical solid self, even throwing in a highlight reel save on Dwight King in the third period to preserve the one-goal. Brent Burns continued to dominate, getting yet another goal in the first period (his 19th), and Joe Thornton notched a pair of assists.

And, the fourth line got in on the action, too. Micheal Haley was one of the team’s best forwards of the evening, beautifully setting up Tommy Wingels on a two-on-one, who gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish with less than five minutes to go in the first period.

“Just tried to make an early pass so [Wingels] had enough time to have a good look, and he made a great shot,” Haley said.

DeBoer said: “Big goal from those guys.”

Defensively, Los Angeles was held to just 24 shots, as the Sharks kept the Kings’ stars at bay. That includes Jeff Carter, who was the best player on the ice in the most recent meeting on Jan. 3, and has been far and away Los Angeles’ most valuable player this season.

“He’s a world class player and he’s having a world class season,” DeBoer said of Carter. “He’s dangerous every time he’s on the ice.”

The Sharks played a committed and detailed game in their own end, though, not giving Carter or anyone else much room to operate in their offensive zone. Los Angeles’ scoring chances were few and far between.

Last week, the Sharks failed to put some distance between themselves and another division rival nipping on their heels, the Flames. They didn’t want that to happen again with the Kings, who could have pulled to within four points of San Jose with a regulation win.

Instead, the Kings are now eight points back of San Jose after losing three of the five meetings. And they don’t have any more of those four-point games left on the schedule.

“You always want to win a season series,” Pavelski said. “It was just important because I think we all know it was pretty tight in the standings. It goes [to] four or eight [points], you know?”

Haley said: “We want to make that distance farther and farther. They’re always in the back of our head.”

Instant Replay: Complete effort helps Sharks take down rival Kings

Instant Replay: Complete effort helps Sharks take down rival Kings

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES – Brent Burns, Tommy Wingels and Joe Pavelski scored goals, and a brilliant performance by the penalty killers keyed a Sharks win over the Kings on Wednesday at Staples Center, 3-2.

The Sharks finished the season 3-1-1 against the Kings, and have won four of their last six overall (4-2-0). Los Angeles concluded a seven-game homestand with a 3-4-0 mark, dropping eight points behind San Jose in the Pacific Division.

After trading early scores, San Jose scored twice to jump out to a 3-1 lead.

Wingels gave the Sharks their second lead of the night at 15:42 of the first period, burying a Micheal Haley pass on a two-on-one rush.

Then, on a second period power play, Joel Ward redirected a Joe Thornton shot wide, but Pavelski grabbed it off of the end boards and bounced it in off of Peter Budaj at the 10-minute mark.

Los Angeles got one back at 15:19. Kyle Clifford stepped out of the penalty box making it a three-on-two, and after Martin Jones stopped Clifford try from the slot, the puck squirted to Marian Gaborik who easily directed it into the open net.

The Kings’ nearly tied it with about 14:20 to go, but Jones made a brilliant stop on Dwight King’s rebound try, lunging at the shot with his right pad.

Los Angeles failed on four power play chances, getting just one shot in nearly eight minutes.

The Sharks were without Logan Couture for the first time this season. According to coach Pete DeBoer, Couture remained in San Jose due to an illness. Patrick Marleau centered the second line, while Melker Karlsson took Marleau’s place on the Thornton-Pavelski line.

The teams traded first period goals. Burns’ wrister from high in the zone deflected off of Anze Kopitar’s stick and high over Budaj at 3:31, but Los Angeles responded on Tanner Pearson’s redirection of Derek Forbort’s floater at 5:46.

According to Elias, Burns is the first defenseman to have at least 19 goals through the first 45 games of the season since Paul Coffey had 22 in 1985-86.

Thornton notched two assists, moving into 24th all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with 1,370 points, passing Johnny Bucyk.

Special teams

In a game that featured an abundance of questionable calls, the Sharks went 1-for-4 while remaining perfect on the PK. San Jose has one power play goal in three of its last four games (3-for-13).

The Kings had one power play goal in each of the first four head-to-head meetings before Wednesday.

In goal

Jones improved to 6-2-2 against his former team, making 22 stops. He was starting for the eighth time in the last nine.

Budaj allowed three goals on 27 shots. He continues to get the bulk of the work with Jonathan Quick still out from a groin injury suffered on opening night in San Jose.

Lineup

In Couture’s place, Ryan Carpenter played for the first time since Nov. 30, when he scored his first NHL goal at Staples Center. Barclay Goodrow and Tim Heed, recalled on Tuesday, were scratched.

Kopitar played for the Kings after missing Monday’s game with an illness.

Up next

The Sharks will battle the Lightning at home in the second of two meetings on Thursday. On Nov. 12, San Jose beat Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena, 3-1. In the second of back-to-backs, the Sharks are 4-3-0 this season.