One of the league’s oldest rosters is feeling a push from its prospects. Can the San Jose Sharks youth impact the second half of the 2016-17 NHL season?
They are not words that most associate with one another: San Jose Sharks youth. This franchise has been known for its veterans and win-now approach for years.
The current roster is one of the oldest in the league. Thirty-seven year-old future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thornton anchors one of the best lines in the world.
He was the only higher draft pick that year than San Jose’s all-time franchise player, the ever-present Patrick Marleau. Two other players turning 36 during the 2016-17 NHL season have major roles: Paul Martin and Joel Ward.
It does not stop there. The two prominent faces of the new Sharks are also over 30.
Thornton recently called Brent Burns the best player in the league. The Wookie will turn 32 just after the trade deadline.
San Jose’s other increasingly prominent face is 32-year old Joe Pavelski. He is more than the Polish Army Knife, able to provide the team whatever is needed. He is its and America’s captain—an All-Star, two-way stud. Alex Ovechkin is the only player with more goals since the latest lockout ended.
Thus the veterans are adding more than leadership. How much of a problem is age when they produce? Thornton, Pavelski and Burns (in ascending order) are practically carrying the skaters so far this 2016-17 NHL season.
Marleau and Martin are clearly past their prime, with neither playing as well as they did last season. However, they are good enough to each get almost 20 minutes of ice time per game.
Ward is the biggest disappointment so far but always gives good effort. The only reason he has been among San Jose’s healthy scratches twice is the talent beneath him. Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc have been too good to hold in the AHL and too good so far this 2016-17 NHL season to send back.
Moreover, the team’s age is overplayed. Those six are San Jose’s only players besides part-time enforcer Micheal Haley to even see their 30th birthday yet.
The Sharks have very talented players still in their twenties. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (29), Justin Braun (29) and Logan Couture (27) have already established themselves as world-class players.
4 + 20 Years Ago
However, the talent in its mid-to-early twenties is also impressive. Martin Jones (26) has been San Jose’s best player so far this 2016-17 NHL season. Tomas Hertl (23) already made a splash at the highest level. Joonas Donskoi (24) was the team’s rookie of the year last season. Chris Tierney (22) continues to improve and play a larger role.
Moreover, Meier (20) and Labanc (21) are probably on the team to stay. Hertl’s return will probably force 24-year old Matt Nieto and Haley to the press box almost every night.
That leaves little room for a prospect pool that is pretty full for a team that has made the postseason 11 of the last 12 seasons. It did not take general manager Doug Wilson long to replenish it once he stopped selling picks and young talent for failed Stanley Cup runs.
One problem is that talent is mostly at forward. Barclay Goodrow (23), Nikolay Goldobin (21), Ryan Carpenter (25) and Daniel O’Regan (22) have already broken into the NHL and are waiting for a chance to return. That is aside from those pushing for their first shot.
The top blue-line talent is not as promising. Former first-round pick Mirco Mueller (21) has as much potential to be a bust as to play a top-four role. Jeremy Roy (19) is the only other player projected for greater than a third-pair role. There are more projects than prospects in the goalie pool.
Thus, Wilson is likely to address any needs from his abundance. Expect anyone shipped off at the 2016-17 NHL season trade deadline to be a forward, whether veterans or prospects.