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1 Prediction for San Jose Sharks' Top Stars in 2013-14

Brad KurtzbergContributor IOctober 3, 2013

1 Prediction for San Jose Sharks' Top Stars in 2013-14

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The San Jose Sharks begin their 2013-14 NHL season Thursday night when they take on the Vancouver Canucks.

    Most experts are picking the Sharks to make the playoffs again this season, and if a few things break right, they could even have a chance to make a long postseason run.

    As the season gets under way, we will examine San Jose's top-five star players and make one prediction for each of them for the coming season.

    Feel free to mention your own prediction for any of these star players or to add a player you feel deserves star consideration and make a prediction for them. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.

Dan Boyle

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    The Sharks need Dan Boyle to shine this season.
    The Sharks need Dan Boyle to shine this season.Don Smith/Getty Images

    The Sharks will rely heavily on Boyle to be their top puck-moving defenseman and to quarterback the power play.

    Boyle is smooth with the puck and makes creative plays that set up teammates for scoring chances. While he lacks great size, he is smart in his own zone.

    At 37, there is little doubt Boyle is starting to battle Father Time. So far, his decline has been just a slight one and tough for most fans to even notice.

    Boyle is in his contract year, which will give him some added incentive to produce this season.

    Look for him to find a way to have another productive offensive season, especially on the power play. This will set him up for another contract, either with San Jose or another team looking for a veteran skilled defenseman, next summer.

    Prediction: Boyle continues to be productive, especially on the power play and has an even better season statistically than he did last year. Roughly 10 goals and 45 points sound about right for Boyle.

     

Patrick Marleau

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    Patrick Marleau is in his contract year.
    Patrick Marleau is in his contract year.Rich Lam/Getty Images

    This is a key season for Patrick Marleau.

    The former Sharks captain will be an unrestricted free agent this summer unless he signs an extension with the club. At 34, this is likely the last chance Marleau has at a big contract.

    The biggest issue facing Marleau is his inconsistency.

    When he's hot, he is one of the most dangerous players in the NHL, utilizing his speed, creativity and hard shot to create scoring chances for his team. But when Marleau isn't in the groove, he can be nearly invisible for games at a time despite his immense talent.

    Marleau should have some productive seasons left. This will be his 16th season in a Sharks jersey and perhaps his last.

    Prediction: Look for Marleau to score 25-30 goals and 60-65 points this season. That should be enough productivity to earn him one more solid payday.

Joe Thornton

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    Joe Thornton remains one of the league's best passers.
    Joe Thornton remains one of the league's best passers.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Joe Thornton remains one of the league's best passers and one of the most underappreciated players in the game.

    Like Marleau and Boyle, Thornton's contract expires at the end of the season, which should give him additional incentive to have a big season.

    Thornton has great reach and size but doesn't always use it to his advantage. Fans and scouts alike wonder what his lifetime statistics would have looked like if he was a bit more "selfish" and shot the puck more often.

    At 34, Thornton is slowing down a bit and his days of leading the league in scoring are behind him.

    However, because of his size and vision, he should continue to be productive offensively, especially as a passer.

    Prediction: Thornton won't see 100 points again, but expect about 16 goals and 60 assists from "Jumbo Joe," which will provide San Jose with solid production from their top line.

Logan Couture

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    Logan Couture is taking over leadership of the club.
    Logan Couture is taking over leadership of the club.Don Smith/Getty Images

    Logan Couture is considered the future leader and linchpin of the San Jose Sharks.

    The 24-year-old native of Guelph, Ontario, scored 21 goals in 48 games last season, which put him on pace for 36 over the course of 82 games.

    He will start the season with Patrick Marleau and Tyler Kennedy, which gives the Sharks a well-rounded line that should produce plenty of scoring opportunities.

    Couture is not quite in his prime, but he has increased his offensive productivity in each of his prior NHL seasons.

    Prediction: This is the year that Couture blossoms into a true sniper. He will see time on the power play and get plenty of top-six minutes at even strength as well. Couture is entering his prime now and will shine in what will be his big breakthrough season. Look for 40 goals and 75-80 points from Couture.

     

Antti Niemi

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    Niemi holds the key to the Sharks' season.
    Niemi holds the key to the Sharks' season.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Antti Niemi had his best NHL season last year and was the biggest reason the Sharks rallied late in the season and made the playoffs.

    Niemi has great reflexes and lateral movement and has proven to have a short memory. The Finnish netminder rarely gets down on himself after he lets in a shaky goal.

    At 30, Niemi is in his prime right now. The Sharks will ride him this season. With no experienced backup on the roster, Niemi will probably start at least 70 games.

    Niemi is the one player the Sharks cannot afford to lose to injury for an extended period of time.

    Prediction: Niemi will have another solid season, but he won't match last year's 2.16 GAA and .924 save percentage, which were both career bests.

    He should top 40 wins with a GAA of 2.28 and a .918 save percentage, but that should be good enough to get San Jose back to the postseason and give Niemi consideration for the All-Star Game.

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