The San Jose Sharks wrapped up their season 11 days ago, ending the year on a six-game losing skid.
It was a season that more or less went just as expected. The Sharks weren’t going to be competitive, with their 14th place finish in the Western Conference marking the fourth season in a row of missing the playoffs.
Despite the down year though, there were some positives. Rather than just trying to pick apart a team that’s simply not good enough right now, it could be more worthwhile to head into the offseason on an optimistic note. So here are a few of the positives that came from another poor season for the Sharks.
ERIK KARLSSON’S MONSTER YEAR
Over the last few years, there was a general consensus that Erik Karlsson was well past his prime. His declining offensive production meant he was often no longer even offsetting his defensive shortcomings and mixed with his age and injury trouble, a resurgence seemed like a pipe dream.
Well, apparently we were wrong. Karlsson rebounded this year in a massive way, reaching 25 goals and 101 points, while staying healthy for all 82 games of the year. It marked the first time in over 30 years a defenseman had reached 100 points in a season.
For a team that was never going anywhere, it was legitimately exciting to see Karlsson back to top form. Now though, given he's built up his trade value, the question remains whether or not he’s back with the team next season.
I did a longer article on this following the Timo Meier trade, but it seems like for the first time in a while, the Sharks may actually have a direction. They’ve missed the playoffs four years in a row, but with the Timo Meier trade (following the Brent Burns trade last offseason), this is the first time it feels like the Sharks may actually be going through a rebuild.
Previously, management’s view of the team seemed to be that the Sharks weren’t far off. They’d make minor additions before the season, then it would seemingly come as a surprise that they were nowhere near the playoffs, and just ended up selling minor pieces at the deadline.
This is an organization that desperately needs to commit to building for the future and the Meier trade marked the first time it felt like they were really heading in that direction. We’ll see how Mike Grier follows up this summer, but it seems like there actually may be some sort of a vision in place.
INTEGRATION OF YOUNG TALENT
Following up on the need for young talent, we saw the Sharks shifting to use some newcomers after the trade deadline. Jacob Peterson made an impact since being acquired from the Dallas Stars, with eight points in 11 games with the Sharks. Then while Martin Kaut did spend more time in the AHL than the NHL after being acquired by San Jose, he had five points in nine games as well. Fabian Zetterlund was a little underwhelming in his time with San Jose, but still showed a lot of promise with the New Jersey Devils and should be a top-nine forward with the team. Meanwhile, Henry Thrun got an immediate opportunity and huge role as well, playing eight games for the team right out of the NCAA.
Then of course, the duo of Thomas Bordeleau and William Eklund got into action at the end of the year. With each forward putting together a strong season with the Barracuda, we can expect to see them taking on a role with the Sharks next season.
It’s exciting to see younger players entering the lineup and does build a bit of hope for the future.
BUILDING DRAFT CAPITAL
Related to their trade deadline moves, the Sharks have some draft capital heading into the offseason.
For reference, it’s been 16 years since the Sharks selected multiple players in the first round of an NHL draft. But with the New Jersey Devils’ pick likely coming in the mid-20s, along with their own pick, San Jose can put a bit of focus into building their prospect pool. While the Sharks don’t have extra picks in rounds 2 or 3, they could have as many as eight picks in rounds 4 through 7. Later picks may not be as exciting, but the more picks for a rebuilding team, the better the chances that one of them turns into a quality NHLer.
Then of course, they have a shot at Connor Bedard. While they only have the fourth-highest odds, they're going to have a good pick in a deep draft regardless, even if they don't win a lottery pick.
There were smaller storylines as well: Nico Sturm was a great addition, Alexander Barabanov upped his production, while Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl continued to lead the way. But through much of the next few seasons, the focus should be about building long-term and despite another terrible year, the Sharks may have taken steps towards a more successful future.