NHL: San Jose Sharks hockey operations department with Mike Grier and David Quinn have some interesting decisions ahead
In August, after bringing back two forwards and a defenseman as part of the Erik Karlsson trade, San Jose Sharks general manager Mike Grier stated that there were still openings for some of the organization’s younger players to be part of the NHL team’s 23-man roster.
“I expect them to come in hungry and ready and if they perform and outplay the veteran guys, then they’ll get the opportunity and we’ll figure the rest out for sure,” Grier said at the time. “I don’t want to block anyone’s pathway.”
Two months later, it’s safe to say that two of the organization’s top prospects, forward William Eklund and defenseman Henry Thrun, have had strong training camps and will be with the Sharks when they open the regular season against the Vegas Golden Knights in a week.
Grier, coach David Quinn, and other members of the Sharks’ hockey operations department must decide whether Eklund and Thrun, as well as possibly center Thomas Bordeleau, have done enough to warrant roster spots right now, forcing the team to place a veteran on waivers.
Teams must reduce their rosters to 23 players by Monday, and the Sharks still had 34 players in camp as of Thursday morning.
Here’s a look at who is gaining ground in the race for a spot on the Sharks’ roster.
Alexander Barabanov, Anthony Duclair, Michael Granlund, Tomas Hertl, Mike Hoffman, Luke Kunin, Kevin Labanc, Nico Sturm, Filip Zadina, and Fabian Zetterlund are the locks.
Thomas Bordeleau, William Eklund, and Givani Smith are on the rise.
Ryan Carpenter, Oskar Lindblom, and Jacob Peterson are in the mix.
Quentin Musty LONGSHOT
Logan Couture and Mitchell Russell are IR candidates.
ANALYSIS: Couture had not skated as of Wednesday, and it would be surprising if he did not begin the season on injured reserve. If that happens, a spot on the roster becomes available, and Hertl, Granlund, Sturm, and Bordeleau could be the four centers to begin the season.
Lindblom and Peterson have had their share of memorable moments in camp. Lindblom failed to check Gage Quinney hard enough below the goal line against the Golden Knights on Tuesday, allowing the Vegas forward to muscle his way to the front of the net for a scoring chance. That had to have gotten their attention. Meanwhile, Quinn thought Eklund played his best game of the preseason and praised Bordeleau and Thrun.
In the Sharks’ last two preseason games, Eklund has been their best forward. He’s not simply knocking on the door. He’s trying to force it. It’s difficult to imagine the Sharks not keeping him for the start of the season right now, but these decisions can be made with the long term in mind.Did Grier mean before or shortly after the start of the season when he said the Sharks will “figure out the rest” if a young player makes a serious roster push? Perhaps we’re about to find out.
Quinn has also been impressed with the rugged Smith, who has performed admirably in the preseason for the Sharks. Musty is still in camp for the time being, but he missed too much time with an upper-body injury to be seriously considered for a roster spot. Russell is still recovering from an injury and will most likely be reassigned to the Barracuda once he is fully recovered.
The Sharks must decide whether to go with 13 or 14 forwards. This could be determined by how many defensemen they believe they need to keep.
Defensive players (13)
Matt Benning, Kyle Burroughs, Mario Ferraro, Nikolai Knyzhov, Jan Rutta, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are the locks.
Henry Thrun, Ty Emberson, and Jacob MacDonald are all on the rise.
Radim Simek, Nikita Okhotiuk, Artem Guryev, and Valtteri Pulli are IR candidates.
ANALYSIS: The Sharks’ defense is banged up, which may make the decision on who stays on the 23-man roster a little easier. Simek (lower body) appears to be a candidate to begin the season on injured reserve, and Okhotiuk, Guryev, and Pulli were skating away from the main training camp group earlier this week. It’s possible that any of those three are also on IR, delaying a decision on whether to keep Okhotiuk on the roster or place him on waivers.
Meanwhile, Thrun has continued where he left off late last season, with three preseason games of steady, reliable play, two goals, and two assists. Quinn likes him as well, in case you hadn’t noticed. Emberson also impressed in his one preseason game, and it doesn’t seem like the Sharks would put him back on waivers just days after claiming him. However, nothing is guaranteed.
What does this mean for MacDonald? A lot can happen in the next few days, but if the Sharks keep Thrun and Emberson, MacDonald may have to be waived.
LOCKS: Mackenzie Blackwood, Kaapo Kahkonen
ANALYSIS: Quinn has liked what he’s seen from his two goalies as the Sharks try to improve on their league-worst save percentage of.881 from last season. That is not only on goalies, but also on forwards and defensemen to help take away Grade A opportunities. Kahkonen had an 18-save shutout on Tuesday, and he and Blackwood will most likely form a 1A and 1B tandem this season.