San Jose Sharks' Worcester Shuttle: Whose Last Stop Will Be in San Jose?
In the NHL, players rostered for the team's AHL affiliate don't count against the league salary cap.
When a player is sent down to the minors, he actually reverts back to his minor league contract (a significant pay cut) and the money he does receive doesn't contribute to the big club's salary sheet.
Throughout the years, many teams have taken advantage of this salary cap set up. However, no team has ever taken it to the level of the 2009-10 Sharks.
San Jose has called up 10 different players from their AHL affiliate so far the season. But the promotions from the Worcester Sharks of the AHL aren't always due to injury or poor play.
Quite often players are sent down and called back up before the NHL Sharks have even played another game.
Since the NHL cap system is formulated on a day-to-day basis, sending a player down for even a day will limit his impact on the team's payroll. Therefore, numerous Sharks have been sent down and recalled without the big club playing a game in between.
Now of these 10 players, two or three of them have a good chance to find themselves playing their first-ever postseason hockey in the NHL.
When you consider the fact that the Sharks might not be able to acquire a veteran defenseman at the trade deadline, the sixth and final defense spot will most likely be manned by one of the current riders of the Worcester shuttle.
Add in the fact that fourth-line forwards Jody Shelley and Brad Staubitz combined for just one playoff appearance between them last season, two Worcester shuttle forwards are bound to see action in the postseason.
Now most of these 10 players have made a significant impact at various points during the season for San Jose, but which ones have the best chance to be in the lineup come the postseason?
Let's take a look one by one, staring with the defense .
The 27-year-old veteran of the AHL has played in just one game with the Sharks this season, but the former New York Ranger defenseman impressed in a shootout loss in Detroit earlier this year. Callahan earned the primary assist on the only Sharks tally of the night and played solid defense.
Unfortunately, appearing in just one game means that Callahan has almost zero chance of playing in the postseason unless there are major injuries to the Sharks top-5 defenders.
The 22-year-old defenseman has played in 20 games for the Sharks this season, earning his first career points. With three assists now at the NHL level and a plus-2 plus/minus rating this season, it is certainly possible for Joslin to see postseason action.
During his call ups to San Jose, Joslin has played up and down defensively but filled in nicely earlier in the year when Sharks captain Rob Blake went down with injury.
Come playoffs, if someone on the back end gets hurt, Joslin will be in the conversation as one of the first replacements.
Of all the Sharks who have split time in both the AHL and the NHL, the 21-year-old defenseman has played the most games at the NHL level.
In 39 games, there is no denying his offensive talent. Despite playing in his first-ever NHL action this season, Demers has tallied two goals and 16 points.
However, his impressive plus-nine plus/minus rating is a bit deceiving. The rookie defenseman has fallen and tripped over himself on more than one occasion, resulting in dangerous chances for the other team that usually end up in the back of the Sharks net.
There is no doubt that Demers has a future in the NHL, but until his defensive play and skating ability reaches the same level of his offensive talent, the Sharks would be wise to find another defenseman to play the sixth and final defense spot in the postseason.
If Demers finds himself outside the top six going into the playoffs, then like Joslin, he will be one of the first options looked at to jump into the lineup if necessary.
Like Joe Callahan, forward Steven Zalewski hasn't played often enough to give the Sharks nor their fans a sense of his true abilities. The 23-year-old fifth-round pick back in 2004 has played in just three games in his career.
All three came earlier this season, and the rookie failed to register a point nor make much of an impact. He simply doesn't have any shot at playing in the postseason.
In four games with San Jose, rookie John McCarthy hasn't gotten on the scoresheet and owns a minus-3 plus/minus rating. His effectiveness as a checking forward was limited and like Zalewski, he really has no shot at the postseason lineup.
Another 27-year-old veteran winger of the AHL has appeared in eight games for San Jose this season and contributed an impressive five points. However, at just 5'8" and 175 pounds, Vesce doesn't have the size nor the Scott Nichol tenacity to be an effective fourth-line player.
During his eight games with the Sharks, Vesce mostly played on the top line due to his scoring ability. But barring injury, San Jose won't have any need for another scorer and therefore Vesce's chances at playing in the NHL postseason are slim to none.
Benn Ferriero, the 22-year-old former Phoenix Coyotes draft choice, surprised the Sharks in training camp and made the opening night lineup. In 23 games, Ferriero has contributed two goals and five points and has been a steady forward who can play on any number of forward lines.
Unfortunately for Ferriero, at 5'11" and 185 pounds, he doesn't quite have the size the Sharks will need from a fourth line player in the playoffs.
Plus, he hasn't played consistently at the NHL level since November and the Sharks have numerous other options that have proven more effective at this point in the season. The chances Ferriero cracks the postseason lineup are very unlikely.
The former first round draft pick of the Sharks back in 2007 (No. 9 overall) has been absolutely tearing it up in the AHL.
An AHL All-Star this season due to his 18 goals and 44 points in 32 games, Couture has the offensive upside that may given him an edge against other candidates for the San Jose postseason lineup.
In his short time at San Jose this season, Couture has managed just one goal and one assist in 12 games, but the potential offensive upside he brings may be enough to get him some postseason action.
If the coaching staff decides to go with as much offense as possible on the forward lines, it wouldn't be surprising to see Couture centering the fourth line with Torrey Mitchell moving to right wing.
The chances we see Couture in the playoffs may be minimal, but there is about a 30 percent chance he laces up the skates for San Jose come mid-April.
And finally, we arrive at the two most deserving and probable candidates for postseason action in this season's Stanley Cup playoffs, the first of which is rookie enforcer Frazer McLaren.
The 22-year-old has appeared in 23 games this season, tallying a goal and five assists and has showed strong all-around play on every single shift out on the ice.
His play along the boards is much better than either Jody Shelley or Brad Staubitz, his size is equal that of Shelley and bigger than Staubitz, he wins more of his fights than either Shelley or Staubitz and he has more offensive upside. And unlike Shelley, he actually connects on most of his hits.
To those outside the Sharks locker room, it is an absolute surprise why McLaren hasn't been playing with the big club in recent weeks.
Prior to McLaren being sent down to Worcester, the Sharks had won seven games in a row and McLaren had contributed an assist in each of his last three games.
As a fourth-line player with an enforcer-type mold, contributing points three games in a row is an impressive feat. But for some reason (probably financial, as discussed earlier in the article) McLaren hasn't played an NHL game since New Year's Eve.
But if I were a betting man, I would expect to see "Frazer Mac" on the left wing of that fourth line come Game One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And last but certainly not least, the one player who more than any other Worcester Shark, deserves to be playing all his games in the NHL is winger Jamie McGinn.
The 21-year-old winger has been a feisty third/fourth liner for the Sharks this season. Regardless of point totals, McGinn has been a work horse who never stops skating and never stops bringing the physical play despite being just 6'0" 180 pounds.
McGinn's skating style and ferocious forecheck has made head coach Todd McLellan deem him "Mr. Hustle."
Plus, when you add in the fact he has chipped in an impressive seven goals and eight points during his 38 games in a checking role, it is extremely odd why he has not played with San Jose since Jan. 6.
Once again, perhaps the reasoning for McGinn's absence on the big club is the fact that his contract is one of the few two-way contracts that can be quite expensive given his role on the team. However, McGinn has certainly played at a level deserving of a full time lineup spot.
Prior to being sent down to the AHL in early January, McGinn had contributed two goals and an assist in his last seven games and had been his usual hard-working self.
Apparently, this wasn't enough, but like McLaren, it is a good bet that McGinn will be on that fourth line come playoff time.
As of the most recent Sharks game with Chicago, the fourth line is currently made up of Shelley, Couture, and Mitchell, with Staubitz having filled in recently against the more physcial opponents.
However, come playoffs, I would expect the fourth line to be composed of McLaren, Mitchell, and McGinn.
While the Sharks have had 10 players appear for both Worcester and San Jose, there are five in particular who have realistic chances at playing in the postseason. Those being Derek Joslin, Jason Demers, Logan Couture, Frazer McLaren, and Jamie McGinn.
The latter two of that group have the best chances of the five to play in the postseason.
Defensively, however, I don't see either Demers or Joslin playing in the postseason as that sixth defenseman. Neither do I see veteran waiver pickup Jay Leach playing in that spot.
If the Sharks really want to go into the playoffs with the best chance to win, they certainly need to upgrade their defense by trading for a veteran defenseman so that neither Leach, Demers or Joslin are relied upon in the playoffs.
That being said, of all 10 of the players who have gone back and forth between Worcester and San Jose this season, fans should expect only McLaren and McGinn to make their final stop in San Jose and appear in their first-ever NHL playoffs.
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