CSN Bay Area insider Kevin Kurz began his daily profile of the San Jose Sharks this week with two similar forwards battling for the same job. The lead-off profile of Tommy Wingels was followed by that of newcomer Joel Ward Wednesday, August 26.
The two are a great representation of the Sharks. Hard-working, hard-checking forwards of character able to get just enough tough goals to play on a scoring line.
Whichever forward takes the right wing on San Jose’s third line will be joined by another potential scoring-line forward. There just are not enough spaces for everyone.
The Sharks could even have one of the best players in the NHL centering the third line: Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and probably even Patrick Marleau are all capable of centering any line and playing well on both ends of the ice. Typically, they have constituted four of the six scoring-line roles.
Melker Karlsson is almost as certain to skate on the scoring line as Marleau, who will have to bounce back from a dismal 2014-15 NHL season. Saving the debate of which forwards should be on which line and with whom for another day, that already pits Wingels against Ward for sixth and seventh on the depth chart.
They are not the only two fighting for a position in San Jose’s top six: Tomas Hertl is expected to return from a sophomore slump to a dynamic scorer thanks in part to a full off-season regiment, Matt Nieto is young and has shown flashes of offensive prowess and scoring talent Nikolay Goldobin could be ready for a full-time NHL role.
Most likely, coaches will not trust Goldobin’s defending and he does not start the 2015-16 NHL season with the Sharks. Chances are one of the nine other potential scoring-line forwards will struggle enough to fall out of the top six.
That still means the third line could be entirely comprised of scoring-line talent. Other young forwards like Ben Smith, Barclay Goodrow and Chris Tierney will have to battle for the final spots with veterans Raffi Torres when and if he is healthy and Mike Brown.
No team in the NHL has this mix of elite talent and depth. Any chance San Jose has of returning to contention for the Stanley Cup rests in this unit.
As good as Martin Jones has looked in net, he will need to start more games by the All-Star break than he has so far in his NHL career. The blue line is very good defensively but has only one real scoring threat.
For the Sharks to contend again for the Stanley Cup, they will have to lean on an ability to put three legitimate scoring lines on the ice. As long as Pavelski, Thornton and Couture are healthy for most of the 2015-16 NHL season, this unit can endure multiple injuries without it causing any of the lines to become weak.