Along with franchise icon Joe Thornton, young forwards will play a larger 2017-18 role in tandem with stalwarts Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.
After arriving at the deadline from Vancouver, right wing Jannik Hansen is a candidate to join the first two on the top line.
Couture should anchor the second line, flanked by two of many Sharks coming off disappointing years following their 2015-16 Stanley Cup Final run.
Possible second-line left winger Mikkel Boedker’s first year in teal was a serious downer. His diminished power play numbers factored greatly in a drop from 51 to 26 points.
Joonas Donskoi also struggled with shoulder injuries and regressed in scoring from 36 points to 17. We’ll see if he can get up to speed to the right of Couture.
Some combination of young vets Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson should comprise the bottom six along with the less experienced Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Daniel O’Regan.
At 36-years old, Joel Ward, another vet whose production slipped (43 to 29 points) should join them – likely at third line right wing.
Last year Hertl looked to build upon a 46-point 2015-16 but totaled just 10 goals and 12 assists. Hertl was limited to 49 contests with a sprained knee and broken foot.
Tierney centered a solid fourth line and landed 11 goals and 12 assists, while Karlsson contributed nearly the same offensive numbers (11 G, 11 A).
Labanc headlined the younger group including some top-line play, first power play unit work, and 20 points in 55 games.
Meier also spent some time on the top line. With three goals and three assists in 34 games, he wasn’t quite there but could emerge in 2017-18.
AHL rookie of the year O’Regan’s 23 goals, 11 on the power play, and 35 assists in 63 AHL Barracuda contests add up to a possible roster spot.
While he slowed in the final quarter of 2016-17 Norris winner Burns still dominated, leading the West in blue line power play points and overall scoring, and everyone in the league with 320 shots.
Stable vet pairing Paul Martin should continue his solid play, allowing Burns further offensive freedom.
In a season including a puck-induced face injury that surely played a factor, Marc-Edouard Vlasic slipped 11 points from his previous 39-point campaign, registering six goals and 22 assists.
Vlasic should share the second pairing with Justin Braun whose 136 hits and 161 blocks lend grit.
On the bottom pairing, Brendan Dillon returns after finishing with 174 hits. Dylan Demelo and Ryan Heed will vie for the final pairing and seventh defenseman slots.
Martin Jones again was a workhorse. Playing 89 games total including the playoffs Jones registered some predictably declining stats in the second half of the year. His postseason work was again very good, however, featuring a 1.75 GAA and .935 save percentage.
Aaron Dell excelled with a save percentage of .931 and GAA of 2.00. He could end up with a greater role if Jones needs more rest.
Looking ahead to trade deadline – if sellers who could be on the move, if buyers what area might they need to improve? It all hinges on how the young players develop and whether or not the vets and wounded recover. If they fall out of the race, veterans like Ward or Martin could fetch prospects. If they contend, some existing prospects could go.
What rookies could make the team? With 34 games Meier isn’t technically a rookie but could make a difference. Marcus Sorensen or Ryan Carpenter could claim a bottom six spot. O’Regan might make the jump from AHL.
Which player could take a step forward this season? Hertl, Boedker and Donskoi are all candidates to rebound. Ward could rekindle his past or slip further.
Which players could regress? Age and injury could claim several including Thornton and Ward. Dell might be hard-pressed to replicate last year’s success.
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