After a wild and rowdy New Year’s Eve debacle in Calgary, the Sharks have officially hit the halfway point of their season as the calendar turns to 2019. While the team has been surprisingly inconsistent thus far, an excellent month of December has them sitting just 3 points out of the division lead. Considering how they looked early on, they have to be thrilled
to be well within striking distance of the conference leaders and firmly in a playoff spot.
While there are plenty of team-wide stories to dive into, we’ll focus on individual performances for this piece as we evaluate each guy’s first half. Keep in mind, the grades take into account the expectations for each skater.
Joe Pavelski, A
After netting just 22 goals last season (his lowest total since the lockout shortened season of 2012-13), Pavelski has found his groove again this season already surpassing last year’s total with a team leading 23 goals so far this year. He’s clearly feeling much healthier after battling injuries much of last season. In what is a contract year for the Sharks’ captain, his price tag continues to rise daily. Despite being shuffled between center and wing with various linemates, Pavelski has consistently found the back of the net this season. He continues to be one of the NHL’s elite “tippers” by going to the dirty areas of the ice despite his small frame. Given his age, the Sharks can be nothing short of thrilled with his bounce back campaign.
Logan Couture, A-
Fresh off signing a maximum 8-year contract extension this summer, expectations continue to be high for Couture. While Logan continues to be a streaky goal scorer, he matches up defensively against the opponent’s top line night in and night out and often wins those match-ups. The fact he’s quietly among the Sharks leading scorers despite facing the toughest competition each night speaks volumes to his play. Additionally, he continues to assert himself in the locker room as he never shies away from calling out poor play when he sees it.
Timo Meier, A-
No Sharks player this season has blossomed as much as the Sharks 2015 1st-round pick. After breaking into the NHL in 2016-17, Meier had struggled to find the scoresheet consistently until late last season as he began to show signs of fulfilling the potential that a top-10 pick brings. This season, Meier has exploded onto the scene perhaps even quicker than even Doug Wilson would have expected when he drafted him. On many nights, he has been the primary force driving their offense. This was quite evident when the team struggled mightily in his brief 3-game absence in late November and early December. While Meier has gone without a goal his last 8 games, the Sharks still have to be thrilled with his 1st half. If Meier gets back to his early season form, the Sharks may have found their latest home-grown star.
Tomas Hertl, B+
Health has always been the biggest hurdle (pun intended) for the Sharks’ power forward. The exuberant forward has managed to stay on the ice for the most part this season as reflected by his point totals. However, Hertl’s contributions go far beyond points as he consistently drives puck possession and zone time for San Jose thanks to his hefty frame. With 4 goals in his last 4 games, Hertl appears primed for a big second half as he’s slotted back in a center role after playing the bulk of the season on Couture’s wing.
Lukas Radil, B+
Radil was one of the last cuts in training camp after the Sharks signed him from the KHL back in April. While he was mediocre to start the year with the Barracuda, he quickly grabbed firm hold of a spot-on San Jose’s 4th line after being recalled in late November. For the first time all year, the Sharks 4th line looked formidable with his presence. He’s made a big enough impression to get promoted onto arguably the Sharks top line alongside Couture and Meier the last few games. His personal highlight came on December 8th, netting the game winning goal in Arizona late in the 3rd period in a crucial win for San Jose. Not a bad way to score your first NHL goal eh?
Joe Thornton, B
No Shark is more difficult to assess in terms of a grade than the living legend himself. What can one realistically expect from a 39-year old coming off two major knee injuries in consecutive seasons? The mere fact that Thornton has even been on the ice this year is a testament to his drive, commitment, and love for the sport. For the first time in his career, he has seen a reduced role as he’s slotted into the 3rd line center spot and 2nd power play unit. Despite the minimized role, as you would expect, the Sharks emotional leader has graciously accepted it and performed admirably. That’s really all the Sharks could realistically have hoped for here. That being said, no one in teal would be surprised if his play picked up as the season moves on and his knee grows stronger.
Marcus Sorensen, B
The Sharks had high hopes for Sorensen when he first signed back in May 2016 as a free agent from Sweden. The past few seasons he’s been in and out of the lineup as he’s been recalled and sent down to the Barracuda many times. This season he has finally found a permanent spot on Joe Thornton’s wing. The speedy Swede has developed impressive chemistry with the ageless wonder which has helped strengthen the Sharks 3rd line. Sorensen’s development has ultimately given the team the scoring depth it has desperately sought the past few seasons.
Kevin LaBanc, B-
Outside of Timo Meier, perhaps no Sharks youngster has as much potential as the Brooklyn native. LaBanc’s vision, passing, and shot have ultimately allowed him to stay part of San Jose’s top power play unit most nights despite a bevy of other offensive talent to choose from. Outside of special teams, he continues to struggle to generate offense 5-on-5 while taking a myriad of penalties from over aggressive use of his stick. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the 23-year old is within his head as he consistently passes up shooting opportunities despite his wicked wrister. The ceiling is high for LaBanc, but he has a lot of growing left to do.
Joonas Donskoi, C+
Up until the last few games, Donskoi was quite possibly the biggest disappointment up front for the Sharks. On many nights he has largely been invisible which is never a good thing as a forward. The Finnish forward is an elite skater and can dangle with the best of them, but his skillset has yet to evolve into consistent production at the NHL level. Thankfully for San Jose, a brief one game demotion to the 4th line has sparked him to 3 goals and 2 assists his last 3 games. This came at the perfect time as he was nearing healthy scratch territory. The Sharks have to hope this rejuvenated version of Donskoi is here to stay. Should he revert back to his early season slump, his time in San Jose may be running out with his contract up at season’s end.
Evander Kane, C+
After storming onto the scene as a trade deadline acquisition for San Jose last season, the Sharks secured Kane to a 7-year deal this offseason. With any big contract comes big expectations. At the outset of the year, Kane picked up right where he left off at season’s end, scoring 4 goals his first 5 games out of the gate. He looked primed to be an absolute force with his tenacity and speed. That has quickly faded as his production has cooled considerably with just 7 goals in the subsequent 36 games. As with several Sharks, DeBoer has shuffled Kane around different lines all season trying to spark him. While the Sharks don’t need Kane to be a superstar, they do need him to get back to being a threat every time he jumps over the boards.
Barclay Goodrow, C
In a moderately surprising move, Goodrow was awarded with a 2-year extension the day after the Sharks season opener. If nothing else, it spoke to how pleased the Sharks were that he broke through and established himself as a permanent NHLer last season after spending most his professional career in the AHL. Goodrow’s season this year has largely mirrored the 4th line as a whole. His physical play hasn’t been as noticeable, and his overall impact has been minimal. New line mate Lukas Radil has sparked the line since joining the team which should help Goodrow’s overall game as we look ahead.
Melker Karlsson, C
The “Melk Man” has become the social media target for many Sharks fans who clamor for him to be a healthy scratch. Much to their dismay, DeBoer is a staunch supporter of Karlsson’s penalty killing and overall defensive responsibility as evident by how often he sees the ice late in games when protecting leads. The biggest complaint with Melker has been his limited offensive production, especially when DeBoer curiously plugs him into a scoring line when he shuffles the deck. However, Karlsson has managed to silence the critics for now by potting 3 goals in his last 4 games.
Brenden Dillon, A-
Dillon has seemingly improved every year he has worn teal, with this year perhaps being his biggest leap forward yet. His +16 rating currently leads the team as he’s consistently been a steady, responsible, and physical force on the Sharks back end. While he will never be a guy who drives offense, he doesn’t need to be considering Karlsson and Burns’ presence. His biggest contribution this season may be the chemistry he’s developed with Erik Karlsson who has taken off since being paired with Dillon.
Brent Burns, A-
Much like Karlsson, Burns has seen a steady incline in his play after finding a new defensive partner himself in the form of Radim Simek. While his overall goal production is down, he continues to produce at a near point per game pace from the back end. Even more importantly, he’s become much less of a defensive liability this season. As with any offensive d-man, he still has his head scratching games such as the New Year’s Eve debacle in Calgary, but those types of efforts have been far less common for him since Simek’s arrival.
Radim Simek, A-
The Czech native was largely an afterthought going into the season, seen purely as a 7th or 8th d-man. Fortunately for all involved, the organization believed in him enough to keep him on the active roster and avoid potentially losing him via waivers had they attempted to send him down. Simek was finally given an opportunity in large part thanks to Joakim Ryan inhabiting DeBoer’s personal dog house. To Simek’s credit, he has taken that opportunity and hasn’t looked back. In the few weeks he has played, he’s solidified himself as an excellent partner for the ever-roving Brent Burns. Simek has also added a much-needed physical presence to the Sharks blue line and possesses an underrated shot that has already generated surprising offense from the back end.
Erik Karlsson, B+
While much has been written about Karlsson’s early season struggles, those are largely in the rear-view mirror. Karlsson has produced 16 points in his last 12 games despite a brief two-game suspension. The last month the Sharks have started to see the monumental impact he can have on a game night in and night out. His teammates have clearly adjusted to playing with him and are starting to take advantage of his creativity on the ice. At this point in the season, the only thing holding him back has been puck luck as his shooting percentage is nowhere near his career averages.
Justin Braun, C
For the first time in several years, Braun came out of training camp with a new defensive partner in Dillon. Being separated from his long-time partner in Vlasic clearly had an adverse impact on him. The two have since been reunited but have continued to fall short of expectations. Having been a big part of the Sharks shutdown pair for years, Braun has taken a big step back.
Joakim Ryan, C
Ryan finds himself in a very familiar place to last season, having suddenly lost his job to an unsuspecting teammate. Last year it was veteran Paul Martin, this year it is the surprising Radim Simek. When he was a regular early this season, DeBoer consistently benched Ryan the majority of third periods as he piled minutes onto his horses in Burns, Vlasic, Karlsson, and Braun. Ryan possesses many defensive talents but has struggled to find chemistry with Brent Burns which has ultimately pushed him out of the lineup. This feels like one of those situations where he may excel under a different coach that believed him in. Do not be surprised if you see him traded as a result.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D+
Widely known as one of the NHL’s elite shutdown defenseman, Vlasic has undoubtedly been the Sharks biggest disappointment this season. While +/- rating can be misleading, his team worst -16 rating has been representative of his play. Too often this season, Vlasic has pinched recklessly, lost puck battles, and failed to tie sticks up in front of the net. For a guy that prides himself on being tough to play against, he’s been lacking far too much of the intensity Sharks fans have grown accustomed to seeing from him over the last decade. Vlasic must return to form for San Jose to meet their ultimate goal. The harsh grade here is a result of how much is expected of Vlasic.
Aaron Dell, C+
If there were ever a season for the Sharks backup goalie to snatch more playing time, this would be the one as his counterpart has struggled much of the season. While Dell has had stretches of good play, his game has suffered when asked to take on a bigger role. Much like Jones, he has succumbed to the same defensive lapses in front of him. While he may never be a starter in the league, Dell is arguably still one of the better backup netminders. DeBoer has zero hesitation to use him which is not a luxury most coaches have.
Martin Jones, C-
There is no denying the Sharks starting goalie has left a lot to be desired this season. Early on, Jones struggled to find that “big save” to bail his teammates out. Many nights it felt like every prime scoring chance was tickling the twine behind him. Certainly, he has been hung out to dry far too often, but at some point, your goalie has to be a difference maker as the Sharks have experienced many times from opposing goalies. Fortunately for San Jose, Jones historically plays his best hockey come playoff time. They have to hope that trend continues this year.