NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the San Jose Sharks.
The San Jose Sharks are hoping the return of their all-time leading scorer and the recoveries of three key players from injury will help them reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Patrick Marleau signed a one-year contract Oct. 13 to return to San Jose, which traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 24. The 41-year-old forward has the most points (1,082), goals (508), power-play goals (160), game-winning goals (98) and games (1,493) in Sharks history. Marleau has 518 goals and 1,102 points in 1,551 NHL games.
“[I’m] still going after my dream of winning the Stanley Cup and, yeah, [I’m] still able to get out there and play and have fun,” Marleau said. “I think that’s the thing that keeps me going.”
Although one icon will be back in San Jose, another will not; center Joe Thornton, who played the past 15 seasons for the Sharks, signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 16. The 41-year-old is first in Sharks history in assists (804), second in games (1,104) and points (1,055), and fourth in goals (251).
“When you have a veteran that leaves, it’s an opportunity for someone else to slide in there and take some of that leadership role,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. “Jumbo (Thornton), you’re always going to miss a guy like that because he just loves the game so much. [He’s] such an infectious personality, but things happen, and it’s time for him to move on and it’s time for our team to move on.
“It’s going to be a younger set of guys, the next wave of guys like the [Logan] Coutures and [Tomas] Hertls and you’ve got [Brent Burns], who is another voice in the room, [and] guys like Timo [Meier] who need to step up.”
Couture (ankle), Hertl (knee) and defenseman Erik Karlsson (thumb) each missed significant time last season because of injury, and San Jose was 27th in the NHL in goals per game (2.57). Boughner said he expects that to improve this season.
“You’re going to put Hertl and Couture if they stay healthy, you’re going to put them in that category, 20-plus goals. Kane, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc [are] very capable of scoring 20-plus, [Ryan] Donato I think is going to have a big season,” Boughner said. “… There’s guys that can score, and it’s going to have to be by committee. We don’t have a 50-goal man, we don’t have an [Alex] Ovechkin, we don’t have a [Sidney] Crosby or any of these guys, so it’s going to have to be done by committee.”
The Sharks acquired goalie Devan Dubnyk and forward Ryan Donato in separate trades from the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 5. Dubnyk, who should compete with goalie Martin Jones for the No. 1 job, had the worst save percentage (.890) since his rookie season in 2009-10 (.889) and the third-worst goals-against average (3.35) of his 11-season NHL career last season.
“I think that they are going to push each other,” Boughner said. “I think it wasn’t too long ago that Dubnyk was one of the top goalies in the NHL, and Jones has had that distinction as well before. He’s been deep in the playoffs.
“I think they need to have a partnership and push each other and both guys knowing that there’s another guy looking over his shoulder, and that’s a good thing. Competition is a great thing.”
Donato will get a chance at more ice time and to build on an NHL career-high 14 goals in 62 games for the Wild last season.
“I did have a decent amount of goals for the amount of ice time that I had (10:38 per game), but I knew I could have more, so for me, seeing the potential opportunity [in San Jose] is very exciting,” Donato said. “[The Sharks] think of me as an offensive guy and a guy that will play and get offensive minutes. Hearing that, it gets me really excited and boosts my confidence for sure.”
San Jose was 14-20-3 after Boughner took over as coach when Peter DeBoer was fired Dec. 11, 2019, and finished last in the Western Conference (29-36-5, .450). Boughner said the Sharks can play more like the team that reached the Western Conference Final in 2018-19.
“Who knows what the season looks like, but coming back, we have a lot of guys who are hungry that have a bad taste in their mouth,” Boughner said. “A lot of guys are looking forward to this fresh restart and hungry to make a statement that last year was not the Sharks that you’re going to see this year.”