5 Bold Predictions for San Jose Sharks' 2013-14 Season
With that in mind, here are five bold predictions for the Sharks in the upcoming season.
These predictions are made based on the club's talent level, performance in the preseason, chemistry and the injuries the team has suffered thus far.
Feel free to comment on any of these predictions or to mention one you feel belonged on the list. As always, state why you feel the way you do.
Logan Couture Will Continue to Improve
At 24, Logan Couture is just entering his prime as an NHL player.
Couture scored 31 goals in 2011-12 and then added 21 during last year's lockout-shortened season.
This season, the London, Ontario, native should take over as San Jose's first line center, surpassing Joe Thornton for that honor.
Expect Couture to approach a point-per-game pace this season for the first time in his career. He'll see plenty of time on the power play. If he does assume top-line duties, expect Couture to see more than the 18:05 average ice time he saw last season, good for fourth among San Jose forwards.
A season with 35 goals and 80 points is realistic for Couture this year.
Antti Niemi Will Be Overworked
Last season, Antti Niemi played in 43 of Team Teal's 48 games or roughly 90 percent of the time. He did quite well, finishing with a 24-12-6 record, a 2.16 GAA and a .924 save percentage. Those numbers were good enough to make him a Vezina Trophy finalist.
But if he keeps up a similar pace over 82 games, that would mean Niemi would play roughly 74 games for the Sharks. He may also play for Finland in the Olympics, which is a very heavy load for any goalie in one season.
The backup job is still a contest between rookies Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri. Stalock has appeared in three NHL games in his career while Sateri has yet to make his NHL debut.
Expect both of them to see some action as the backup goalie in San Jose over the course of the season. The Sharks may send both of them down to the minors at various times during the campaign to keep them sharp and get them ice time.
The Western Conference and the Pacific Division should be very competitive which suggests that head coach Todd McLellan won't be able to give Niemi much rest this season.
This could be a problem by the time the playoffs arrive.
Brent Burns Will Be Successful as a Forward
Big Brent Burns made a successful transition from defenseman to winger last season. The move worked well as the Ajax, Ontario, native scored nine goals and 20 points in 24 games as a forward.
Burns clearly has some advantages playing up front. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, he has the size to create trouble for opposing goalies if he ventures near the crease. Burns also has good hands and the skating ability to be a dangerous force on the attack.
As of now, Burns is projected to be on the Sharks' top line and see plenty of ice time on the power play. That means he will be playing with either Logan Couture or Joe Thornton and with Patrick Marleau. It all should add up to plenty of opportunities for Burns to be productive.
Expect Burns to score about 23 goals and 58 points for the Sharks this season and to be a valuable contributor on the San Jose power play.
Tomas Hertl Will Have a Successful Rookie Season
Tomas Hertl is considered the top prospect in the San Jose organization right now and the rookie most likely to make a major contribution to the team this year.
Hertl won't turn 20 until November, but he's already played two full seasons against men in the Czech Republic. It's not the NHL, but it's not playing against teenagers in major junior either.
Last season, Hertl scored 18 goals and 30 points in 43 games and then added eight points in 11 playoff contests.
Hertl has a good mix of offensive skills. He has a solid shot and good vision and playmaking skills as well. Early on in his NHL career, he may have some trouble in his own zone and in winning physical battles along the boards, but that's to be expected early in a player's career.
Expect Hertl to make the roster and see ice time on the third line. He may also get some time on the second power-play unit.
Don't look for huge offensive numbers from Hertl, but 12-15 goals and 30 points would be a good start to a promising NHL career.
The Sharks Will Need to Add More Sandpaper to Their Lineup
The Sharks roster has one glaring weakness when you look at it: a lack of grit and sandpaper.
To add to the problem, two of Team Teal's grittiest players are now out of the lineup with injuries.
Raffi Torres is out until at least the end of October with a right knee injury.
Meanwhile, defenseman Brad Stuart is skating again at practice after missing the early part of training camp, but still may not be ready to start the season on time. We also don't know how long it will take him to play his way into shape once the season starts.
That this all adds up to is a team that lacks a certain toughness. Few opponents will feel physically over matched when facing San Jose early this season.
A trade for some more grit is one possibility, but it's also possible McLellan goes with Anthony Stewart or Freddie Hamilton up front to fill the void left by Torres.
Either way, the Sharks will feel the absence of these two physical players early in the season and it may result in a slower-than-expected start for San Jose.