With Erik Karlsson trade rumors swirling around the San Jose Sharks, one of the big questions will be who will quarterback the power play once the reigning Norris trophy winner is traded. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks were on the power play for 376:32 last season, the fourth fewest. Erik Karlsson played 277:25 of those minutes, or approximately 73% of the Sharks’ power play last year. Karlsson was 6th in power play minutes among defensemen despite the Sharks’ lack of power play opportunities last season. While other defensemen played more power play minutes, Karlsson played the largest percentage of his team’s minutes. If/when Karlsson is traded, who will run the Sharks power play?
To say Karlsson was important to the Sharks power play would be an understatement. He was the catalyst to the power play. While Karlsson did most of his damage at 5 v 5, the Sharks’ lack of talent really showed up on the power play. When Nick Bonino finished the season sixth on the team in power play minutes, that should tell everything about the state of the Sharks’ power play.
The way too early first unit projects to be Logan Couture, Tomas Hert, Anthony Duclair, William Eklund, and a defenseman to be named later. On the second unit, look for Alexander Barabanov, Jacob Peterson, Kevin Labanc, and Luke Kunin with a defenseman.
The In-House Candidates
Matt Benning was second on the team in power play minutes among defensemen last season with 63. Benning is known as a defensive defenseman but did set career highs in points last season with 24 in his first year in teal. The issue is that one of those points came on the power play. At the same time, Benning was manning the second unit; that was a mishmash of whatever players they could be scrounged up while the first unit was resting. If playing with the likes of Hertl, Couture, and Eklund, Benning would have much better support but would be the weakest link. His role would be more of the shot from the point, while the forwards would take on more of the creative role.
After getting paid last season with a four-year $13 million contract, Ferraro still hasn’t taken the offensive step that was expected from him after a stellar start to his career. While Ferraro has been asked to do too much defensively at times, he hasn’t been asked to do much in the offensive end. Ferraro was third among defensemen in power play ice time last year and had one assist. Ferraro would also bring a no-nonsense approach to the power play where he’d be more of a secondary player behind the Shark’s creative forwards. In the 2020-21 season, Ferraro did rack up four assists on the power play all on the second unit behind Brent Burns. Maybe with a larger opportunity, Ferraro can unlock some scoring potential that Sharks fans have been waiting for.
Henry Thrun looked good in his debut last season, mostly playing with Erik Karlsson. Last season, Thrun and his Harvard Crimson men’s team was the 9th in the country on the power play with a 24.3% conversion rate. While making the jump from NCAA to NHL is a huge jump, Thrun has been basically tied to Head Coach David Quinn’s hip all offseason when he went to the World Championships, where Coach Quinn was the bench boss of Team USA, and Thrun was also at Sharks development camp working on his skills. Thrun’s vision and ability to think the game could eventually lead him to see more power play opportunities down the line, but would be a lot to ask the rookie to jump in now.
Leon Gawanke was acquired last week for Artemi Kniazev and quickly signed a one-year deal. The right-handed German has yet to make his NHL debut but seems poised to take that step this season. Gawanke led all AHL defensemen with seven goals last year, and his Manitoba Moose were fifth in the AHL on the power play, scoring at a clip of 22.5%. The Sharks have few offensive right-handed defensemen who are ready to contribute in the pipeline. Gawanke is a dark-horse candidate to make the Sharks out of training camp, and his offense could be the reason why.
The former alternate captain of the Minnesota Wild is the best of what’s left of the defensemen on the market. Dumba does have 26 career power play goals and 48 assists but has seen his power play minutes steadily decline over the past few seasons to the point of playing only 10 minutes for the Wild last season. While Dumba is only 28, he was passed by other defensemen on the team for power play minutes after being ineffective the last few seasons. Maybe Dumba could be seen as a short-term solution while Thrun and Shakir Mukhamadullin prepare to take on a larger role.
After spending the last few seasons playing with his brother, Seth Jones, on the Chicago Blackhawks, Caleb Jones was not given a qualifying offer. Caleb has seven career power play points in his five seasons in the NHL. While the Sharks need another left-handed defenseman on the roster, like they need a hole in the head, Jones could provide more offense than anyone else currently on the roster. Caleb did provide ok expected goals for playing on the second-team power play for a terrible Blackhawks team last year. Maybe given a chance to run his own, he could outperform expectations.
The Chaos Approach
Just play five forwards. The Sharks will be bad this season, and why not just have fun? Putting a first-team unit of Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, William Eklund, Alexander Barabanov, and Anthony Duclair and letting them figure it out could be the best option for a team that will struggle to score goals and win games. Duclair was on the Florida Panthers team that ran a five-forward unit at the end of the 2021-22 season. While that unit ran into issues in the postseason, they opted just to put their five best players on the ice. Allowing players like Barabanov and Eklund to use their vision to create and find open pockets on the ice while Duclair finds open shooting areas. Couture can play the “defensive” role if necessary, and Hertl would be the net-front presence. The San Jose Barracuda ran a five-forward unit midseason when Derrick Pouliot was out with an elbow injury to try and put their five best players on the ice.
If Karlsson is traded, the Sharks might have to think outside of the box to try and generate offense on the power play while some in-house options continue to develop. If players like Thrun, Mukhamadullin, and Gawanke can eventually take the role as QB1 on the power play, that’s a win for the Sharks, but until they are ready, someone is going to have to fill the massive skates left by a potential Karlsson trade.