It is an age-old axiom that the cream rises to the top. The San Jose Sharks may have already skimmed that cream entering the final two weeks before the 2014-15 NHL season based on the roster split described by CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz Wednesday, Sept. 24.
The pictured young Sharks all earned opportunities of various nature summed in the captions but examined further below. While it would be irresponsible to reject head coach Todd McLellan’s warning not to read too much into the split, players have little time left to make an impression and that gives the ones who get the first opportunities the inside track.
Taylor Fedun was used as one of the examples to support McLellan’s cautionary tale. After calling the off-season signing one of the better defensemen in the loss to the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday, the coach said “he was in the smaller group…so he could get more reps and get used to the language and we could work more hands on with him than with the big group.”
Obviously the San Jose coaching staff sees enough in Fedun early in camp and in one preseason game to not only believe a little extra work could make him an asset, but feel compelled to mention him. That means he is among those getting an early opportunity. While that may also explain potential rookie Mirco Mueller and recent trade acquisition Tye McGinn being on the smaller split, one cannot assume that since they were not mentioned by McLellan.
The opportunities for prospects Nikolay Goldobin and Barclay Goodrow are hard to deny. They were the only two Sharks to score in either game that the team does not owe over $17 million to over the next three or more seasons.
Goodrow took the place of Tomas Hertl on Joe Thornton’s wing opposite Joe Pavelski. Patrick Marleau slid over to take the place of a banged-up Logan Couture—who Kurz reported Wednesday is now fine—and Goldobin took his wing opposite Matt Nieto. Neither of those spots are going to be available, but both prospects are being afforded a great opportunity to show their ability alongside elite forwards.
Eriah Hayes, Chris Tierney, Matt Tennyson and Taylor Doherty were the other prospects to be put with the group that includes almost every player to take part in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. While their placement in that group by itself might be meaningless, taken in context of the rest of camp there may be some positives.
Kurz mentioned Tierney standing out in his live chat before the game Tuesday, and he has already been a junior hockey standout with the London Knights: 70 goals and 114 assists over his last 165 OHL games, including 38 points in 30 playoff games. McLellan even mentioned him as a possibility to take over the third-line pivot to Curtis Pashelka of the San Jose Mercury News.
McLellan also mentioned Freddie Hamilton who started camp in that position as well as Melker Karlsson and Travis Oleksuk among prospects. Veterans Adam Burish or Andrew Desjardins were also mentioned as possibilities.
In reality, Karlsson and Oleksuk have probably not done enough to believe their mention on a list of eight possible checking-line centers means they have an inside track. Hamilton has at least been extremely successful in the AHL, been to the NHL and has the advantage of starting training camp in that third-line role.
The same can almost be said of Hayes, though his role was much less significant in the AHL. Adding that context to his placement with what was more the NHL roster does suggest he will get a long look. The same probably goes for Tennyson (four NHL games in 2013) and Doherty (the top blue-line prospect in San Jose’s system the last two seasons).
At the very least, working with other NHL talent should help McLellan see what they would do if the Sharks were forced to go to them. Even a minimal or temporary advantage is huge with so many prospects to evaluate in so short a time.