SAN JOSEFew NHL teams are in greater need of a shot in the arm right now than the San Jose Sharks.
Losers of five of their last six games, the Sharks are simply running out of time if they want to try and get back into the playoff race. Maybe, with a 7-13-4 record after Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, that dye has already been cast.
Just don’t expect the Sharks to call up one of their top prospects from the AHL to perhaps provide a spark, or even shake things up a bit. For now, barring a trade or more injuries, the answer for the Sharks, if one exists, has to come from within the four walls of the team’s dressing room.
“We don’t want to bring someone up, because it just really does not do anybody any good,” Sharks coach David Quinn said last week.
“I know that temptation, and I know that the fans and everybody want a new young player in the lineup. But you’ve got to be disciplined as an organization to do what’s right for the prospect and for the long-term impact on your organization.”
The Sharks right now have injuries to defenseman Mario Ferraro (lower body), forward Nico Sturm (upper body), and goalie James Reimer (lower body). Ferraro is out for at least another week as he will not travel with the team as it begins a four-game road trip on Tuesday in Montreal, and it remains unclear when Sturm and Reimer might be able to play again.
In response to the injuries, the Sharks recalled goalie Aaron Dell and defenseman Scott Harrington from the Barracuda, two seasoned professionals. The kids on the AHL team were left in San Jose.
But if the Sharks’ season continues on its downward trajectory, there likely will come a point when some of their top prospects, such as forwards William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, and Tristen Robins, get a look at the NHL level.
That’s not unusual, as there came a time over the last three years when the Sharks wanted to get a look at some of the organization’s younger players once they fell out of playoff contention. Usually, that took place after the trade deadline, as some forwards, defensemen and even a goalie or two got a taste of the NHL.
Few of those players, though, had the upsides of Bordeleau and Robins, drafted in the second round in 2020, or Eklund, who was taken seventh overall in 2021. Bordeleau and Robins both have 11 points after 18 and 16 games with the Barracuda, respectively, and Eklund, after a so-so start, has two goals and four assists in his last six AHL games.
Surely one of these players could help shake up a forward group that has been the same since the start of the season, no? Maybe provide a push from underneath? Disrupt the status quo?
“We’d love to have that,” push from underneath, Quinn said. “We talk, I wouldn’t say daily, but frequently, about what we have in the minors and who can come up here and make people a little uncomfortable. That’s something that this organization’s continuing to build towards.
“We feel good about some guys down there for sure that, eventually, at the right time, will be able to make an impact for us.”
For now, the Sharks need more from some of their depth forwards, players who have had success earlier in their careers.
Nick Bonino, who has averaged 15 goals per season over the last nine years, has three assists in 21 games, although he had two assists Sunday. Oskar Lindblom, who had 26 points in 76 games last season, has one assist in his last 17 games and four assists for the year.
Steven Lorentz and Evgeny Svechnikov have both gone without a point in their last seven and six games, respectively.
Still, even though those players have had slow starts from an offensive standpoint, they’re not going anywhere. From the Sharks’ perspective, the development of the younger players is too important to fool around with right now.
“Mike (Grier) and I have talked about this. It can be really detrimental to call someone up who’s not ready. It really can,” Quinn said. “I don’t think enough people pay attention to the players that have suffered for that. I think they hang on to the guys that have been called up and have an impact and are successful.
“Well, I guarantee you, if everybody did a study, the guys that have been hurt by being called up too early is way more glaring than the other end of it.”
That approach won’t last forever. The Sharks will likely be sellers once again at the March 3 trade deadline and some pending unrestricted free agents like Reimer, Bonino, and Matt Nieto could be on the move. If so, some AHL players will likely get their shot with the Sharks.
“Every organization is balancing the present and the future, so, we’re no different,” Quinn said Friday. “Obviously when you’re not, as of today … in a playoff spot, maybe the approach changes a little bit as you go through the season.
“So, if we’re in the same situation in two months, then yeah, I would say that does change things.”