Every year there are players who come out of nowhere, exceed expectations or take their game to the next level. The San Jose Sharks will be hoping that certain players are able to put all the pieces together and have a great season as they look to return to the postseason.
With that in mind, here are five potential breakout candidates for the Sharks during the 2015-16 season:
5. Matt Nieto
Nieto has put together two eerily similar campaigns during his tenure in San Jose, scoring 10 goals and 14 assists in 66 games in 2013-14 and 10 goals and 17 assists in 72 games during the 2014-15 season.
While many people felt his rookie year was very solid, they were equally disappointed Nieto didn’t take a step forward with his game. Now entering his third season, it’s time for Nieto to truly breakthrough and start producing at a higher level.
Nieto has all the physical traits, especially his electric speed, to contribute more and next year will be the season where Nieto makes a breakthrough in his NHL career.
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4. Brenden Dillon
Dillon struggled in acclimating after being traded from the Dallas Stars to San Jose last season. In 60 games with the Sharks, Dillon registered just two goals and seven assists while being a minus-11. All of this came off a career year in Dallas where he scored six goals and 11 assists while being a plus-nine during the 2013-14 season.
Dillon wasn’t the only Sharks defenseman who under-performed last season, but he will be looking for a much better year. Dillon will likely start out on the third-pairing, but he should be much better equipped to revert back to his play in Dallas. I expect Dillon to have a career year with the Sharks after inking a new five-year deal during the offseason, cementing his place within the franchise for years to come.
3. Martin Jones
It’s been well-documented about Jones, who is an immense talent that will finally get his shot with San Jose. Jones has put up very solid numbers in 34 NHL appearances, including seven shutouts.
While the Sharks defensive corps won’t be as strong as the Los Angeles Kings, general manager Doug Wilson has done a nice job of upgrading the unit in front of Jones. With an improved blue line and Jones stepping in between the pipes, San Jose should improve on their goals against per game after ranking 24th a season ago.
Jones will be given every opportunity to assume the starting position, and if he does so, look for big things from Jones who will be looking to make his own statement to the league.
2. Tomas Hertl
As many Sharks, and NHL, fans know, Hertl was a revelation during his rookie campaign before sustaining a knee injury that knocked him out until the postseason. Last year, Hertl endured a sophomore slump as he didn’t look to regain his full strength.
Now that Hertl is more than a year removed from the injury and able to go through an entire offseason conditioning program, look for Hertl to return to his scoring ways next season. The Sharks need Hertl’s knack for scoring as they struggled to score at 5-on-5 last year.
Hertl could return alongside Joe Thornton to give San Jose a dynamic first-line if he can regain his rookie season form.
1. Chris Tierney
Tierney was a second-half revelation for the San Jose Sharks last season. After struggling in the early going and being sent back to the AHL, Tierney made the most of his second chance with the Sharks.
Tierney flourished late and displayed the playmaking ability that made him a second-round draft pick back in the 2012 NHL Draft. Tierney led all San Jose players with 1.89 points per 60, although that was only over 43 games.
Heading into the new season, Tierney should be poised for a breakout campaign as he will likely see a full season with the Sharks. If he can replicate his play from the end of the season, then look for big things from Tierney who should anchor the third line for San Jose.