Three Big Questions Surrounding the Sharks Forwards

The San Jose Sharks enter this season with several questions in their forward group. After doing a player-by-player preview of the upcoming season, several of the same questions kept popping up for the Sharks.

Which Rehab Project Works Out?

When saddled with a bad team, Mike Grier did what a good General Manager should do. Take swings on guys with a high upside. The Sharks added players with some issues but an upside to them. None more than Filip Zadina. Zadina, a former sixth overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, never could stay healthy and struggled to find consistency in his time with the Detriot Red Wings. After asking and receiving a contract termination from the Red Wings, Zadina signed a one-year deal worth $1.1 million this offseason with San Jose. Zadina was drafted to be a goal scorer but has only hit double digits once in his NHL career. He should have plenty of opportunities to score this season as the Sharks look to replace Timo Meier’s production and have few natural goal-scorers on the roster right now. Zadina has a prime opportunity to have a post-hype breakout.

The Sharks acquired Anthony Duclair from the Florida Panthers this offseason in exchange for Steven Lorentz and a fifth-round pick. Duclair has bounced around in his career but turned things around once he landed in South Florida. He was a thirty-goal scorer for the Panthers in the 2021-22 season but blew out his Achilles in an offseason workout and didn’t make his season debut until late February. He was understandably slow out of the gate, with only two goals in 20 games to end the season, but he started to find his game in the playoffs, where he had 11 points in 20 games, including four goals. If Duclair can return to his pre-injury form, he could put Grier in a tough situation. Duclair is on the last year of his deal ($3 million AAV) and could be appetizing for a playoff team trying to add another scoring threat. Or Duclair, who just turned 28, could sign another deal with San Jose next offseason as their cap situation starts to emerge from the abyss.

Mike Hoffman and Mikael Granlund were acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade, and their value couldn’t be much lower. Hoffman, 33, has seen his production steadily drop over the past three seasons and should not be considered any part of the future for the Sharks. He is in the last year of his deal ($4.5 million AAV), but if he has a good start to the season, Grier should take the first offer he can get for Hoffman to open up playing time for some of the younger players. As for Granlund, he has two years left at $5 million AAV but could hold down the fort as the third-line center for some time before giving it to Thomas Bordeleau or Filip Bystedt. Granlund was a 60-point scorer two seasons ago; if he could be a perfect setup man for Fabian Zetterlund or Zadina, who both do have great shots.

Who Slots In Where?

Tomas Hertl is the first-line center, and Logan Couture is the second-line center. After that, mix everyone up and see where they land. Couture and Alexander Barabanov did have a lot of great chemistry last year. Barabanov’s ability to create transition allowed Couture to play more of his style of game of crashing the net and working without the puck while Barabanov found Couture in dangerous spaces.

Where does William Eklund slide in? The former first-round pick had a good season with the San Jose Barracuda last year but had a season-ending shoulder injury in March. With the Sharks expected to be one of the worst teams in the NHL, can Eklund win a job this training camp as one of the Sharks’ top six forwards? While Grier does want his prospects to “overripen” at some point, Eklund needs to play NHL games and contribute to them.

The Sharks have plenty of options to fill out their wings between Hoffman, Zadina, Fabian Zetterlund, Luke Kunin, Kevin Labanc, Jacob Peterson, and Oskar Lindblom. While none of these players are as talented as Timo Meier, this forward group should be much deeper than last year.

Projected lines:

Eklund – Hertl – Duclair

Zadina – Couture – Barabanov

Hoffman – Granlund – Zetterlund

Kunin – Sturm – Labanc

Extra: Lindblom

How Do The Special Teams Shake Out?

The Sharks special teams will be much different than we’ve seen lately. The Sharks can roll out two competent units this season on the power play. They will not have the top-end talent without Meier and Karlsson, who scored a combined 18 of the Sharks’ 41 power-play goals but can provide a more balanced attack. While Hoffman’s even-strength numbers have slipped over the past three seasons, he should be a huge addition to the power play. Last year, Quinn had to rely on the top unit to do all the work, and the second unit was the equivalent of waiving the white flag on the power play. Having two units that can produce will allow for less wear and tear on the top players.

This isn’t to say subtracting Karlsson and Meier from the power play will make it better; the top-end talent of the units is worse than it was a year ago. The key is that they can actually fill out two units. The top-end quality is worse; the depth is better. It will be impossible to ask anyone to replicate Karlsson’s elite vision and passing to quarterback the power play, but having two units that can both be a threat will be a nice change of pace. Zadina, Zetterlund, Eklund, and Granlund will be huge additions to help fill out the group. If Zadina can find his scoring game, he should be in a position to be the beneficiary of some quality looks.

Despite being one of the worst teams in the league the last few seasons, the Sharks penalty kill has quietly done excellent work. They’ve been a top-10 unit in three out of the previous four seasons. This year, they must replace some of the stalwarts on the kill. Five of the top penalty-killing forwards (in terms of minutes) since the beginning of the 2021-22 season are not with the team anymore.

This attrition started to show last season as the Sharks started the season strong on the PK but slipped to eighth by the end of the season. They will need players to step up into the role this season. While there are intriguing options in Zetterlund and Granlund, it might take a bit of time for the unit to gel. Quinn will also have an interesting decision if he wants to rely on the veterans or go for a youth movement with the penalty kill unit. The veterans are typically less prone to mistakes, but the upside of potential short-handed goals and long-term sustained success are more apparent with the younger players. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, the unit is full of younger players getting trained for the future.

This season is going to be about the future for the Sharks. Can they find long-term answers in the forward group among the young players like Eklund, Peterson, Zadina, and Zetterlund? Can they prop up some players like Duclair and Hoffman to allow them to be dangled at the trade deadline for future assets? Grier and Quinn need to make sure they are on the same page regarding decisions for the franchise’s best interests.

JD Young

Host of Locked on Sharks, saved the franchise once.

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