Stock Watch for San Jose Sharks' Top-Six Forwards
San Jose's stock may have dipped since their scorching start to the 2013-14 season, but that's no reason to sell on this year's Sharks.
This year's team is arguably the most complete in the franchise's 22-season history, and the play of players throughout the roster, top to bottom, has fans in San Jose already thinking big (shiny) things.
The team’s league-leading goal and shot differential, combined with an impressive offense that features 19 different goal scorers are traits of a championship caliber team.
San Jose features an impressive group of top-six forwards whose size and skill rivals any team in the league. Their ability to dominate offensively with impressive speed and north-south gameplay makes for highlight-reel plays and matchup nightmares for their opposition.
Here’s a look at the early stock for the Sharks’ top-six forwards.
Joe Thornton has been everything this team has needed him to be as the Sharks effortlessly blended a core of veterans with a small group of newcomers. The soft-spoken team captain leads a team chocked full of leaders and has played with renewed jump, passion and determination.
The injury to Brent Burns seemed to wear on Thornton as head coach Todd McLellan ran through a plethora of young, inexperienced fill-ins over the course of 13 games. But with Burns back on his right, Thornton appears poised to continue his point-per-game pace.
His 22 assists has him tied for the league lead with Evgeni Malkin, and his 24 points sits Thornton atop an impressive list of San Jose player stats.
There is early speculation that Thornton may not be offered a spot on Team Canada for the upcoming Olympics, a decision that would undoubtedly pay huge dividends to San Jose’s hopes for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
No matter how you slice it, Brent Burns has become one of the most important pieces to the success of the San Jose Sharks.
In fact, Burns has become so important to San Jose, you could argue that in spite of their army of forwards, the team had a tougher time filling his role on the ice than they did when Dan Boyle went down.
Ultimately, the Sharks never quite managed to fill Burns’ skates, tapping five players for the role over 13 games.
Meanwhile, the team is 9-0-1 with Burns in the lineup, with the gangly defenseman-turned-forward contributing at a point-per-game pace (5 G, 5 A). Furthermore, the team averages 4.4 goals per game with Burns in the lineup compared to just 2.46 without him and has failed to score four goals just twice in the ten games with Burns present.
Burns’ biggest challenge continues to be staying healthy. After a full season in San Jose, Burns has missed 31 of the last 71 regular season games.
Tomas Hertl’s stock may never return to the heights it reached out of the gates, but the early Calder favorite still remains a hot commodity.
Hertl leads the Sharks in goals and all NHL rookies in goals and points, and his conditioning and durability have improved considerably since questions surrounding both were raised earlier this season.
Despite going pointless in the two games since the return of Brent Burns, there’s no reason to think the chemistry formed on San Jose’s top line prior to Burns’ injury won’t return, with Hertl poised to be the chief benefactor.
Hertl also stands to benefit from Burns’ return to the team’s second power-play unit, a group that has been largely comatose without Burns’ presence.
After all the talk that San Jose had become Logan Couture’s team last season, you could actually argue that Couture has been one of San Jose’s unsung heroes in 2013-14.
Amidst all the hoopla surrounding the Sharks, Couture has quietly amassed 23 points (8 G, 15 A), including nine on the power play and a plus-10 rating. He leads San Jose in exactly one statistical category offensively (shots) but remains one of San Jose’s most well rounded, responsible forwards.
Arguably, the most notable Couture has been all season, has been in the shootout (3-for-5), unlike every other San Jose player (0-for-12).
In addition to his offensive abilities, Couture’s work ethic and attention to the little things, including blocking shots—a stat he ranks tied for third in among all NHL forwards—makes him valuable in all situations.
Even without the headline-flooding notoriety, don't think Couture's play hasn't caught the eye of Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman. His speed, hockey IQ and ability to play in all situations will likely land him a well-deserved spot on Team Canada for the upcoming 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Historically, Patrick Marleau has typically been a streaky player. But unlike years past, Marleau already appears more confident in fighting through the slumps that inevitably plague all goal scorers.
Marleau started the season red-hot, with an eight-game point streak and points in 11 of the team’s first 13 games but has cooled off since. However, since San Jose has such a wealth of offensive contributors this season, the pressure that has plagued Marleau in the past has been substantially diminished.
Marleau still ranks second on the team in goals, a stat he would lead in if not for the miraculous start to Tomas Hertl’s NHL campaign. He also leads the team in power-play goals and points, an area where Marleau has been consistently deadly.
Like Thornton, Marleau does not currently project to make Team Canada, a decision that would inevitably benefit San Jose toward a long playoff run.
No San Jose forward’s stock has risen higher this season than that of Tommy Wingels.
Through 23 games, Wingels has already set career bests in goals (7), assists (9) and points (16). After starting the season on the third line, Wingels’ value continued to rise when he became the best fit on the top line in the absence of Brent Burns. Since Burns’ return, Wingels moved to San Jose’s second line only to record his first multi-goal game of his career.
Previously an energy guy whose job is to swing momentum, and do the dirty work, Wingels has transitioned into one of San Jose’s most clutch performers. His two game-winning goals ties him for the team lead with Tomas Hertl and Brad Stuart, and his plus-11 leaves him second behind Justin Braun.
The increase in offensive production has led Wingels to become a jack-of-all-trades, as he also leads the Sharks in hits (52), an area the Sharks perennially lack in.
Even if Wingels’ offense drops off, his skill set fills a need on San Jose’s roster, and it will continue to make him valuable as the Sharks press on in search of their first Stanley Cup.