When the San Jose Sharks downturn started in the 2019-2020 season, one player encapsulated hope for the franchise: Mario Ferraro. He was a plucky rookie defenseman who gave it all his every shift. Fans gravitated to Ferraro’s style of play, and looked like a player who could help get the franchise on track the next season.
What a simpler time for Sharks fans.
Fast forward three years and Mario Ferraro has as many questions as the Sharks do. Ferraro has not taken the step most fans had expected him to. This major question with Ferraro is it a skill issue, or has he been put in a bad situation? More than likely, it’s a bit of both. On a good team, Ferraro is probably the fourth-best defenseman. He is a good player who can help support a more offensively gifted partner while chipping in some offense. For the Sharks, Ferraro has had to play some very tough minutes at a very young age. Since the 2020-21 season, Ferraro has played 535 penalty kill minutes. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is second in that period with 385 minutes. Ferraro has been asked too much too soon by the Sharks.
These tough minutes have stunted Ferraro’s development and led to some wear and tear on Ferraro. Ferraro missed 10 games last season after blocking a shot last season. The previous season, Ferraro missed 19 games. One game after having dental surgery when he took a puck to the face and 18 games after suffering a broken leg. While a lot of these injuries can be attributed to bad luck, the wear and tear is something that has to be taken into account for a player who just turned 25.
Ferraro set a career-high in goals last season with four but has seen his point production drop the last three seasons. He also saw his average time on ice decrease by nearly a minute and a half compared to last year. Ferraro has the makings of a player who has plateaued on a bad team, and the competitive, try-hard traits that made him a fan favorite aren’t enough to overcome poor development from the Sharks.
Where does Ferraro fit?
Entering the 2023 season, Ferraro could have more help. With the addition of Matt Benning last season and Kyle Burroughs this year, Ferraro can share the load more. The hope is that a less gruesome workload can lead to a more effective Ferraro. Sharing some of the penalty kill minutes and not having to play against the top offensive threats every night could lead Ferraro to be a better player. Ferraro has been asked to do so much so quickly for the Sharks, and with the right defensive partner, he could unlock a new level. What is that level, and how much Ferraro can achieve remains to be seen.
The Sharks have plenty of questions on which defenseman can spark offense on the blue line, and Ferraro could be one of the potential answers. Many fans have wanted to see more production from Ferraro in the offensive end. With Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson on the team, Ferraro would never be given the same opportunity offensively. In the 2020-21 season, Ferraro did get to run the second power play unit when then-Head Coach Bob Boughner would stack Burns and Karlsson on the top unit. He had four assists in his 60 minutes of power play time. If Ferraro can find some offensive game this year, it could be a huge boon to the Sharks blue line that will look to scratch and claw for goals this year.
What’s next for Ferraro?
To date, Mario Ferraro holds the title of the largest contract handed out by General Manager Mike Grier. He signed a four-year $13 million deal last offseason ($3.25 million AAV) that will run through his age 27 season. Despite signing this contract, teams made legitimate offers at the trade deadline last season. With the up-and-coming additions on the blue line, will a team make an offer the Grier can’t refuse? While Ferraro is still young, an alternate captain, and a beloved teammate, there is a lot of miles on the tires already and he might have already peaked. The hope is that with some defensive additions on the blue line, Ferraro can find his offensive game and become the two-way defender Sharks fans have been waiting for.
Bold Prediction: Mario Ferraro leads the Sharks defenseman in power play minutes.