Power Ranking San Jose Sharks' Top 6 Forwards for 2014-15 Season
As of now, the San Jose Sharks of 2014-15 are shaping up to be very similar to the Sharks of 2013-14. Despite repeated calls for a rebuild from general manager Doug Wilson, only a few minor changes have taken place up to this point in a decidedly unusual offseason in San Jose.
Wilson did not re-sign Dan Boyle, who left for New York. He bought out Martin Havlat and traded Brad Stuart to Colorado.
Several re-signings and low-profile signings followed, meaning the squad is still largely intact.
The Sharks have always had a talented offensive group, especially on the top two lines. Their top forwards can compete with just about any group in the league. Depth of scoring has historically been a problem, but the top dogs are some of the league's best players.
Unless Wilson makes any major moves between now and training camp, these players promise to be the Sharks' top forwards this season.
6. Tommy Wingels
Tommy Wingels had a breakout year in 2013-14, scoring 16 goals and 22 assists for 38 points. It was the first full 82-game season for the 26-year-old Miami product.
The Sharks rewarded him, signing their hits leader to a three-year, $7.42 million contract earlier this month.
Last year, Wingels played alongside different players in varying line combinations. He had perhaps his most success on the second line, playing right wing alongside Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
This season, though, with Brent Burns moving back to defense and Joe Pavelski likely moving permanently to the first line, Wingels will be the focal point of the third line. Daily Faceoff projects Wingels as the center of the third line, with James Sheppard to his left and Tyler Kennedy to his right.
Look for Wingels to continue improving and lead the scoring production on the third line.
Should one of the forwards on the top two lines succumb to injury like Tomas Hertl did last year, Wingels would be able to step right in.
5. Tomas Hertl
Hertl started his rookie season in style by scoring four memorable goals in just his third career NHL game. His constant smile and spotty—but improving—English have made the young Czech a fan favorite in San Jose.
Hertl wasn't just a flash in the pan, though. He produced 15 goals and 10 assists in his first 35 games before a collision with Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings sidelined him for nearly the rest of the season.
His injured knee may have held him back from contending for the Calder Trophy, as he was one of the top rookie scorers at the time of the injury.
It didn't alter his fun-loving personality, however, as he reminded fans that "fun must be always"—even when rehabbing from an injury.
While he came back and had two goals and three assists in the playoffs, Hertl is no doubt looking forward to playing a full NHL season. He will be just 20 years old at the start of the coming season, and his knee shouldn't prevent him from going the distance.
Playing alongside Joe Thornton and Pavelski won't hurt, either. The trio should generate a flurry of scoring opportunities, putting 30 goals very much within Hertl's sights.
As an added bonus, Hertl should be rejuvenated after surely spending much of his offseason at his new favorite establishment, Dave & Buster's.
4. Joe Thornton
According to Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun, Thornton has been at the center of trade speculation this summer. He will have to respond to his skeptics in the fall—assuming he's still with the Sharks.
It appears Thornton still wants to be in San Jose, and his no-trade clause prevents Wilson from moving the center without his approval.
Despite his 65 assists last year, second-most in the league, many have put much of the blame that comes with an embarrassing playoff loss squarely on the captain.
It remains to be seen whether Jumbo Joe will still be the captain this season, with some suggestions that the Sharks could go without a captain at all.
While questioning his leadership qualities is merited, the bottom line is he performs on the ice. Thornton is the ultimate facilitator and has great playmaking ability, especially behind the net. At 35 years of age, he's still got a couple of productive seasons in him.
A main criticism over the years has been Jumbo's penchant to pass instead of shoot on many scoring opportunities. However, centering a line with Pavelski and Hertl, Thornton can pass as much as he pleases.
He aided Pavelski to a career year last season and helped set up many of Hertl's goals. If the trio can stay healthy, it may make up one of the most balanced first lines in the league.
3. Patrick Marleau
I could copy and paste a lot of the things I wrote about Thornton here to describe Marleau. InsidePittsburghSports.com's William DePaoli notes he too has been the subject of trade ramblings, and he too will be 35 at the start of the season.
There's still something left in the tank, though—especially after a stellar 2013-14 campaign.
Some question "gutless" Marleau's team leadership. Marleau lacks the outward passion and fire that people like to see, although all accounts point to him being a fiery competitor on the inside.
Unquestionably, Marleau does his part as a skater. He has been a consistent contributor throughout his 16-year tenure in San Jose. His 33 goals last season were tied for 11th in the NHL.
Daily Faceoff has Marleau slated as the left wing on a second line centered by Logan Couture, with speedster Matt Nieto on the right side. That was the second line Coach Todd McLellan rolled out toward the end of the regular season and in the playoffs.
Marleau has eclipsed the 30-goal barrier in each of the last five full seasons and should do more of the same this year on a strong line.
2. Joe Pavelski
Pavelski's 41 goals in 2013-14 placed him third in the league, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry. Little Joe's career year was a large part of the Sharks' success, and his versatility proved beneficial when San Jose had to deal with an onslaught of injuries.
The Sharks are a deeper team when Pavelski centers the third line, but he poses more of a threat playing with Thornton.
Burns' shift back to defense ensures that Pavelski will play with Thornton and Hertl on the first line in 2014-15.
By the time the season opener rolls around, the Wisconsin native could even be San Jose's new captain.
In his prime at 30 years old, Pavelski will look to continue converting Thornton's assists into goals while also maintaining a two-way game.
1. Logan Couture
Couture has developed into one of the best all-around players in the NHL. He is the ultimate competitor, constantly putting his body on the line to block shots and doing other little things necessary to win games.
Couture's 2013-14 season was shortened by a hand injury in January that sidelined him for more than a month. He also had offseason surgery on the same hand after injuring it again in a fight in Game 6 versus Mike Richards of the Kings.
Nevertheless, Couture put up 23 goals and 31 assists in 65 games for San Jose. Still just 25 years old, the kid from London, Ontario, has already played in 297 regular-season games.
Along with Joe Pavelski, Couture seems to be a leading candidate to take over as captain should Joe Thornton be removed from the position.
Being so competitive, Couture may have taken the Sharks' ugly playoff loss harder than anyone. "It’s probably the toughest loss I’ve been through... It was pretty devastating. It’s really stuck with me the whole summer," he told Sportsnet 590 The Fan (h/t Sportsnet.ca).
The fact that childhood friend Drew Doughty now has two Stanley Cups and Couture has none will likely further ignite his fire.
Expect a breakout year from Couture, who will play with Marleau and Nieto on the strong second line. If he can stay healthy, this is the year for Couture to make the stride from really good to great and become one of the NHL's most dominant players.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com, unless otherwise noted.