This past weekend marked the beginning of San Jose Sharks training camp and the start of a new season of hockey. The Sharks organization had a rough summer; its fans and the media giving Team Teal a collective hard time for past transgressions. It’s time to let the epic meltdown of the the 2014 Playoffs fade into the ether. After Day 1 of training camp, San Jose Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic perhaps best encapsulated the feeling in the dressing room about the Sharks’ tainted past:
“It’s nice to start a new season. Once you lose you can’t do anything about it, you can only work on yourself in the offseason and when training camp starts it motivates you to prove yourself wrong.”
Dwelling on the past isn’t what this team is about. The Sharks are building on their veteran core of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Brent Burns with leadership from their young guns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Tommy Wingels. They’ve found hunger in their younger players, Matt Nieto and Tomas Hertl, and they have an eager group of prospects who are ready to prove themselves on the ice. Training camp puts a lot of talent on the ice all at once, with young players fresh out of the OHL and more seasoned AHL players looking to break through to the NHL level. Coaches are seeking chemistry between players and sorting out potential line combos that will best serve the team. Sharks camp featured all of these elements and reinforced how talent deep the team truly is.
Initial observations: Prospects with Speed and a Nose for the Net
Group practices marked the first day of camp and several players stood out on the ice who are poised to make an impression in the Sharks system. The team collectively is in transition, seeking out faster, smarter players in their prospects.
Bryan Lerg, the former AHL Lake Erie Monsters captain, signed with the Sharks in July to a one-year contract. At 5’10”, Lerg was a definite standout, especially sharing the ice with imposing defencemen such as Brent Burns and Taylor Doherty. The center’s small frame gave him an edge around the net. Lerg demonstrated persistence with the puck and a natural gravitation for the slot.
Taylor Fedun, a key piece of the defensive core for the AHL Oklahoma City Barons Calder Cup Playoff run last season, joined the San Jose Sharks over the summer with a one-year contract. He definitely is a defensemen that looks for every opportunity to get the puck to the net. He has good positioning and is a speedy skater when carrying the puck into the offensive zone.
Barclay Goodrow was the standout captain of the Northbay/Brampton Battalion and was signed by the Sharks at the conclusion of the OHL season. It is clear the Sharks were looking at his steady increase in points production while with the Battalion. Goodrow is a creative player and makes his presence known in front of the net.
At the conclusion of Day 1 Goodrow reflected on his time with the Sharks during rookie camp and his first full day skating at main camp. “Prospects camp helps get your legs back and then playing in some game situations in Anaheim I think helps prepare you nicely for main camp. So far it’s just been going over some systems, the first day, it was quick and I got a lot out of it.”
Coming off of five years in the OHL, Goodrow is ready to make the leap to a faster pace of play. “The more you move up the ranks the more it speeds up and the quicker the decisions you have to make. It’s a progression getting better each and every day. This summer I put a lot of work into getting faster and hopefully it pays off for me.”
Goodrow is taking advantage of the talent at Sharks camp and learning as much as he can from the veteran core.”It’s great to skate with Marleau and guys like that. “They are world class players and they’ve been everywhere, the Olympics , so you can really learn a lot from them and learn from their work ethic and their attention to detail. It can really make you a better player.”
Chris Tierney is intelligence on the ice. He was a playmaker and defensive specialist for the OHL London Knights and racked up an impressive 89 points on the season and finished with a +44. His high hockey IQ will bring a depth to the Worcester offense at center and he is poised to make a push for higher level play once he gets a handle on playing at the professional level.
“Coming from the juniors and the OHL, it’s definitely a quicker pace and decisions are made a lot quicker,” said Tierney after his first full day of main camp. “There is less time and that takes some getting used to and new systems. I’m just trying to figure out what we are doing breaking out and special teams and in the o-zone and the defensive zone. It’s a definite change but the coaches are doing a good job helping me out.”
Tierney is taking in as much as he can from sharing the ice with Sharks veterans and finds them to be really approachable and open to explaining things to the younger guys. “Whenever you can pick a guy’s brain who has played in the NHL it’s something… It’s nice to watch them and see what they do, ask them stuff about different plays. I think it’s going to be a big help.”
He wants to build on his previous successes and carry them with him to professional play. “I’m going to try to stick to my game and translate whatever part I took from junior into a pro level game. I want to keep my playmaking abilities and my defensive zone skill and keep my thinking game, that’s what I do best.”
Big D: Taylor Doherty and Mirco Mueller
One of the biggest (pun intended) holes the Sharks need to fill this season is at their blueline. Two defencemen have been waiting in the wings to get a shot and each are ready in their own right to make the leap to the NHL level.
Taylor Doherty is nothing short of imposing at 6’7″ His frame is mostly legs and his ability to cover the whole sheet of ice in just a few strides is an asset for a puck moving defenseman. As is typical for players his size though , he has struggled with his skating speed and finesse in close quarters in the corners. His reach with the stick can throw the opposing team off their game and that is what Doherty wants to continue to improve.
“It’s the little things. I’m obviously a big physical defenseman, and it’s positioning, stick positioning. I’ve been working a lot with the coaches here and the coaches in Worcester. I have such a long reach and sometimes you really gotta focus on using that to my advantage all the time and that’s what I’ve been really working on strong, always being in guy’s faces on the ice and using my size and my skating to my advantage.”
He feels that he has worked hard over the past season and summer to improve his speed on the ice and although he is happy with where he’s gotten, it is something that he will continue to work on, to be quick on the ice.
“I feel like I’ve put my time in the American league to the point where I’ve developed my game where I can be effective at this (NHL) level. I’m battling for a position here, and it’s a big, big year for me and that’s all I’m focused on is making this team in camp, breaking into the NHL.”
Mirco Mueller, picked up in the first round of the 2013 Draft, entered last year’s Sharks camp battling injury and had a decisively smaller frame than his size (6’3″) could carry. He spent most of the 2013-2014 season with the WHL Everett Silvertips before finishing with nine games in Worcester. He has grown both in size, gaining over 30 pounds, and in his ability to think quicker during transition play. He was happy to finally get a chance to show his defensive skill set and skate with the “big boys” at camp. Mueller believes adding the additional weight will help in his battle for the puck, something that he struggled with last season.
“When you go back for pucks, if you try to protect yourself in the corners, you feel strong, you feel that extra weight that helps you win those little battles along the wall or at the net.”
He is considered the frontrunner in the race for the seventh spot at the blueline for the Sharks. Mueller knows that there are adjustments to make, that he has to be faster in his decision making at the NHL level and the need for a strong stick is the key to preventing being stripped of the puck. He is confident that his improved skill will show through at camp.
“I have always the same mindset going into camps, play my best hockey, the rest I really can’t influence, it’s up to other people and I’m doing what I can. ”
The Elephant in the Room: The Captaincy
Not to beat a dead shark, but it was no surprise that the captaincy debacle was fresh in the minds of the media coming into Sharks camp. Who will emerge with leadership for the team on the ice and in the locker room coming out of camp? A likely outcome to who wears the letter may result with three “As” much like the Canadiens just recently announced with the naming of four Alternates.
It was clear from interviews with Marleau, Thornton, Couture, Wingels and Vlasic that it wasn’t a point of concern who had a letter stitched on their chest. Vlasic was confident that leadership would be present in the room, regardless of a letter.
“Everybody was a leader (last year),” Vlasic said. “Everybody had a voice and moving forward everybody will. Obviously we need a captain or three assistants. If I get one, if I don’t, it doesn’t change the way I approach the team, my leadership, nobody else will as well, everybody will have a voice.”
Logan Couture echoed Vlasic’s sentiments when asked how he would feel if he was given a letter for the upcoming season.
“You don’t need a letter on your chest to be a leader, especially on this team,” said Couture. “We have plenty of leaders in this dressing room, a letter on your chest doesn’t really mean anything.”
Whoever has a letter, whether it be those from the veteran core or the emerging stars or some combo of both, the Sharks will be fired up and ready to make an impact come the start of the 2014-15 season.