The San Jose Sharks trimmed their training camp roster three times in three days. There were very telling surprises among the team’s latest reported eight players cut Monday, Sept. 29.
It may be true that head coach Todd McLellan wants to keep seeing how some prospects look against elite competition, but anyone sent to the AHL Worcester Sharks is clearly not considered a contender for a roster spot in San Jose. It is more likely that the 30 remaining players all have a legitimate chance to be on the roster for the start of the 2014-15 NHL season.
It currently appears as though James Sheppard will not be back by the season-opening game in the arena of Tuesday’s preseason guest, the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings that CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz previewed Tuesday. Add the Raffi Torres injury and there are four openings at forward, and Kurz detailed three openings on the blue line Monday.
In fact, Kurz quoted McLellan saying only Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns as even almost certain to earn a roster spot. Kurz added Justin Braun to the list of Sharks that (despite their coach’s reluctance to declare it) are already set atop the blue-line depth chart. On a team short on blue-line scoring, Jason Demers is certainly on the roster for every game he is healthy on the 2014-15 NHL season.
With only two goalies left, San Jose can now really let that battle begin for the starting job. While who places where on the depth chart is still very much up in the air at every position, the most interesting roster battles are the ones for the remaining six dressed positions.
Veterans fighting for jobs may be healthy scratches, leaving nine active positions but three spots only available to Tyler Kennedy, Mike Brown, Adam Burish, John Scott, Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin. Half of them will be in the press box on any given night the Sharks have exactly their current injury status of two missing forwards.
The others would have to be waived or traded to be off San Jose’s active roster. Irwin would never clear waivers and teams rarely part with recent low-cost free agents, leaving only Kennedy or Burish as legitimate veteran possibilities to not be on the roster to start the 2014-15 NHL season.
Both will be Sharks because neither has enough trade value to compensate for what they might provide. When healthy, Burish is capable of agitating, leading, fighting and defending to the point that he will take faceoffs on the penalty kill. Kennedy is also a champion with some history of big goals acquired to fill the void of secondary scoring. Neither is old enough to be washed up.
There is a good chance they both are on another roster by the time the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs begin (especially with the pending returns of Torres and Sheppard), but their presence at the start of the 2014-15 NHL season really leaves just two forward spots and two more on the blue line. The prospects looking to claim the last spots are Mirco Mueller, Taylor Fedun, Taylor Doherty, Nikolay Goldobin, Barclay Goodrow, Chris Tierney, Eriah Hayes and Tye McGinn.
Of those, only Mueller and Goldobin are young enough to require a season-long commitment after a nine-game trial. Both are playing well enough to get that, pushing other prospects to the minor leagues. Will either be able to stick or will those spots just re-open in late October?
Meanwhile, Hayes, McGinn and Doherty cannot be moved back and forth from San Jose to Worcester without clearing waivers. That said, there is a good chance they would and none of them remain such hot prospects as to give them NHL roster spots.
The pictured four forwards and two defensemen will (barring changes to the team’s injury report) hold the last six roster spots when the Sharks visit the Pacific Division rival Anaheim Ducks on the 10th game of the season Sunday, October 26. The reasons why are further examined below, along with why other do not make it.
Mueller has not grabbed attention yet and will be sent to juniors for further development to make room for Fedun, who has leapfrogged four players ahead of him on San Jose’s blue-line depth chart when training camp began. The abundance of right-handed shots will not hurt the former Edmonton Oiler as much as his offensive skill will be valued on a unit lacking it.
By contrast, Doherty shoots right but lacks offensive skill and thus once again loses out and heads for Worcester. Irwin is both left-handed and has offensive skills, and thus should get the nod most nights over the aging Hannan.
Goldobin simply lacks the body to hold up the entire 2014-15 NHL season at forward, and San Jose should be reluctant to risk such a talent beyond the trial. Goodrow is a late-blooming prospect that will likely need to prove himself at the AHL level to be in McLellan’s lineup. The same reluctance will be there for the fast-rising Tierney, who has never played above the OHL.
That leaves Hayes and McGinn to earn the last two spots on the NHL roster. That decision is also supported by the fact that they are both old enough that they will not develop much more at the AHL level. Like with the blue line, the forward choices could occasionally be scratched to make sure the right mix is on the ice without stunting their development.