Tommy Wingels entered Sharks Training Camp with exactly five games of NHL experience under his belt, and a glance at the organization’s depth chart would have suggested that, barring significant injury problems to the parent club, he could reasonably expect that number to stay at five for the 2011-2012 season.
That’s not a knock on Wingels by any means. His presence on the Sharks’ training camp roster and continued development within the organization are significant achievements for the 2008 6th round pick. Most players taken that low in the draft never see the NHL, whereas Wingels came into this season with a reasonable chance to make a real dent in the pros if he could continue exceeding developmental expectations for another year or two.
But this year? It just wasn’t in the cards.
The final day of training camp saw Wingels line up with Michael Sgarbossa and Ben Guite. Perhaps a group that could see top six minutes for Worcester, but none of them looked like real threats to see time in San Jose.
After all, the Sharks’ top six forwards were set, and the 3rd line of McGinn, Handzus and Mitchell was gelling well and appeared fairly certain. That meant Benn Ferriero, Andrew Desjardins, Brad Winchester, Andrew Murray, Brandon Mashinter, John McCarthy, Frazer McClaren, Ben Guite and Wingels were all probably competing for 3 spots. Wingels appeared to come into camp at or around the bottom of that list.
So sure, someday maybe. But probably not this year.
Nonetheless, Wingels impressed in camp enough to survive the first round of cuts, and then the second. Not shocking by any means, but in itself it was arguably another example of the young forward exceeding expectations.
Then, he got some opportunities to showcase his skill in preseason games, even managing to display some good hands and scoring pop to go along with the high hockey IQ and solid defensive awareness that could very well earn him a spot in the NHL.
You know, down the road.
Until suddenly, it started looking like that day could be much more imminent than most had expected.
Things started to look very promising for Wingels when it became apparent that he had leapfrogged Ferriero in the eyes of Todd McClellan and the Sharks coaching staff. The 24 year old Ferriero, with 57 games and 14 points to his name, was given a plane ticket to Worcester while Wingels remained in the Silicon Valley.
With Martin Havlat on the mend from shoulder surgery, Ferriero had been getting the reps with the Sharks projected 2nd line. Not only did Wingels stay as Ferriero left, but he also began getting penciled in to that 2nd line Right Wing slot.
Now, it could be that McClellan did this in order to keep the McGinn-Handzuz-Mitchell line intact.
Or, maybe the Sharks coaching staff genuinely saw Wingels as the most deserving of a shot at the second line while Havlat was out. More than the list of players competing for the fourth line, and more than even Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell.
Whatever the case, one thing was indisputable. When opening night rolled around and the line-up cards were handed in, Tommy Wingels was no longer a minor league prospect with some upside.
That night, he was a top six forward for the San Jose Sharks.
And at 7:33 of the second period, Wingels’ impressive preseason officially gave way to a great start to the real season, as he registered his first career point in the NHL. It was a line goal. Ryane Clowe‘s first of the year from Logan Couture and Wingels.
Wingels would end the night with the assist and almost 15 minutes of time on ice.
Oh how far and how quickly things had progressed for the young forward, presumably even beyond his own hopes and expectations when training camp began.
And oh, how quickly things can change.
On Wingels’ 2nd shift of the 2nd period in last night’s game, the Sharks were hemmed in their own end. Colin White recovered a puck in the corner, and threw an ill-advised blind pass into the center of the ice which was intercepted, prolonging the danger. Then, Clowe earned possession, but he too gave the puck away in his own end.
The Sharks were very lucky to escape unscathed, but they did. 2008 7th round pick Jason Demers corralled a rebound and sent it up the ice to Tommy Wingels, who was in good position to receive the breakout pass and take the puck out of danger.
The line was tired, and the momentum of the Ducks needed to be slowed. A player in Wingels’ shoes has exactly one responsibility in a moment like this; get the puck deep. Chip it in and make Anaheim’s defensemen chase it down, so that you can get a line change and regroup.
Wingels didn’t get the puck deep. He attempted a drop pass at the offensive blue line. It was intercepted, and play was sent quickly back the other way on a 2 on 1 for Anaheim.
In the grand scheme of things, it was a mistake, but not a disastrous one. Thomas Greiss made the save and play went on.
It was the kind of play that drives coaches crazy, and also the kind of play that happens numerous times each game.
But for someone in Wingels’ position, it was a mistake that came with consequences. The last thing a rookie trying to earn a permanent spot in the line-up as a responsible two way forward needs is to make a rookie mistake at an inopportune time.
Wingels would wait over 5 minutes of game time for his next shift, and when he hopped over the boards he did so with a couple new line mates: Andrew Desjardins and Brad Winchester.
The 4th line.
The shift lasted 25 seconds.
Wingels would continue to get shuffled around the bottom six forward group for the rest of the evening, taking fewer shifts and for less time as the night wore on. He played only 2:31 of the 3rd period, spread out over four shifts.
With this morning’s practice being an optional one, there’s not much data available to try and guess the lines Todd McClellan will roll out to start tonight’s contest against the Blues.
Regardless of the line he starts on this evening, Tommy Wingels will continue to fight an uphill battle to earn the confidence of the coaching staff. In order to stay with the big club, and especially to earn fill-in duty with the top six when someone is unavailable, he will need to play consistent, steady, almost mistake free hockey, all while continuing to make positive and noticeable contributions as well.
It’s a tall order for anyone.
It will be an even taller order for the 23 year old Wingels, currently with seven games of NHL experience, who will continue to defy the odds every time he pulls a San Jose Sharks sweater over his head this year.
Then again, he’s made it this far.
Tags: 2008 NHL Draft Anaheim Ducks Andrew Desjardins Andrew Murray Benn Ferriero Bran Winchester Colin White Jamie McGinn Jason Demers Logan Couture Martin Havlat Phoenix Coyotes Rookie Ryane Clowe San Jose San Jose Sharks Sharks Thomas Greiss Todd McClellan Tommy Wingels Torrey Mitchell