The 2013-14 NHL season is just a couple of weeks away and preseason games have already begun. The San Jose Sharks and coach Todd McLellan are busy finalizing their roster and determining line combinations for the start of the new campaign.
Here is a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Sharks' four forward lines at the start of the 2013-14 season.
Obviously, these line combinations are subject to change due to injury, performance and the coach's decisions.
The present line combinations were culled from David Pollak's recent article in the San Jose Mercury News.
Feel free to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of these lines.
Logan Couture is one of the Sharks' young leaders.
Line 1: Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Raffi Torres
Ideally, this line has a nice mix of players. All three starters have the ability to put the puck in the net.
Torres adds a physical element to the mix that Marleau and Couture do not have and offers some protection to two of San Jose's top offensive players. With Torres out there, opposing players will have to think twice about taking liberties with Couture and Marleau.
Couture and Marleau are both solid goal scorers. In fact, Couture probably hasn't reached his full potential yet and should continue to improve. Both he and Marleau are also solid passers. Torres can score 15 goals in a season if he's healthy and willing to work to get into the "dirty areas" of the ice.
All three of these players are responsible defensively even if none of them is going to win the Selke Trophy.
This line is balanced and should produce plenty of offense without giving up much defensively.
Raffi Torres adds a physical element to the top line.
Neither Torres nor Couture are particularly fast skaters, although Couture has improved this area of his game over the past year or two. Only Marleau would be considered swift on his skates.
Both Marleau and Torres are streaky offensive players. This may mean some scoring droughts for the top line if both slump at the same time.
Torres also has a history of suspensions and fines for "stepping over the line" with his physical play. He seemed to have that issue under control last season until he was suspended in the playoffs in a controversial decision by the league.
If Torres is out of the lineup, the line gets a lot less physical.
Joe Thornton remains a deadly passer.
Line 2: Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Tyler Kennedy
Both Thornton and Burns add size to this line. Kennedy provides some balance, as he plays a more physical game than either of his two potential linemates.
Thornton remains one of the game's better passers, while Burns is a great skater and is very mobile.
All three of these players are capable of providing some offense with Thornton the setup man and Burns and Kennedy the finishers.
Will Brent Burns be able to remain productive at forward?
Kennedy plays a physical game but lacks the size to do it without wearing down or getting hurt at just 5'11" and 183 pounds.
Without Kennedy, the line lacks physicality.
Thornton and Burns both have excellent size but need to use their size a bit more to their advantage. They tend not to play a very physical game. If Burns consistently paid the price to disrupt opposing goalies, he could be a star on the wing.
Having Joe Pavelski on the third line gives the Sharks depth.
Line 3: Joe Pavelski, Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl
Having Pavelski on the third line gives the Sharks scoring depth they lacked during long stretches of last season and makes them a much tougher team to defend.
Wingels adds versatility because he can play either wing and is capable of scoring the odd goal when he is crashing the net and battling for position in the slot.
Hertl is the wild card on this line. He represents San Jose's top prospect right now and would add a second major scoring threat to this line if he's ready to play in the NHL. Hertl has very good vision, is a solid passer and has also been a scoring threat while playing in Europe.
If Hertl is ready, this trio could be one of the more productive third lines in the NHL this season.
Tommy Wingels gives grit to the third line.
Most third units tend to be gritty and physical. None of these three players truly fits that mold.
Hertl is the biggest of the bunch at 6'2", but at 19, he still hasn't filled out physically and needs to add bulk before reaching his NHL prime. This line is not poor defensively, but it's far from a solid checking or shutdown line and it lacks size.
Both Pavelski and Hertl are natural centers, so one of them has to move to a wing to make this trio a reality.
Hertl's inexperience may be an issue, especially early in the season.
Adam Burish looks to have a strong second season in San Jose.
Line 4: Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard and Adam Burish
Desjardins is well suited to playing on the fourth line. He has a non-stop motor and will forecheck and play a physical game as long as you leave him out on the ice.
Sheppard also has good size and the hockey sense to play well in all three zones. He can also play center or wing, which gives the line some flexibility.
Burish has the ability to use his size and can play physical hockey when called upon.
Few opponents would enjoy playing against this trio.
The Sharks fourth lines needs to work hard.
Like most fourth lines, this one will struggle to score goals. None of these players is known for offensive prowess, and none of them will be frequently featured on too many lists of the prettiest goals of the year.
For what it's worth, the fourth line also lacks a true enforcer.
The Sharks do not have a player in this trio who is big and strikes fear in opponents when he drops the gloves. Keep in mind, not all NHL teams choose to have a pure enforcer on their roster, but even a player who can assume that role when called upon would be a nice addition to the fourth line.
If everything falls into place, this group has the potential to provide three scoring lines that can put the puck in the net. This will make it tough for opponents to match their top defensive lines against any one San Jose trio without getting burned by another.
San Jose also has no line with a glaring defensive weakness.
The biggest concern with these four line combinations is a lack of physicality. There are players with size up and down the lineup, but not all of them use their bulk to their advantage as often as they should.
It begs the question: will the Sharks be a team that's tough to play against this season? Right now, the answer appears to be no.
Obviously, as Sharks fans are well aware, the game gets more physical in the playoffs. This lack of size will need to be addressed before the start of the postseason if the Sharks hope to make a longer run this year.
There is no question about the talent and offensive potential of this lineup. We'll see if this group can help the club improve on last year's finish.