Sunday, September 18, 2011

San Jose Sharks 2011-12 Preview

Will the Sharks ever get over the hump? Will Brent Burns get them there?

Another year full of expectations and another disappointment for the San Jose Sharks. Eliminated from the playoffs by the Vancouver Canucks, they at least went one game further than they did against the Chicago Blackhawks the year before.

To address concerns from the post-season, the under-producing Dany Heatley was shipped to Minnesota for Martin Havlat, while Dan Boyle will also receive some assistance on the back end with the acquisition of Brent Burns from Minnesota as well.
This year, the Sharks will have a better, more mobile defense which seemed exposed in the post-season at times. Up front, they will still be dangerous, but may lack some of the depth they’ve had in previous years.

Big things will be expected from Logan Couture after a great rookie season, and the Sharks will be expected to repeat as Pacific Division Champions. Expect a good battle with Los Angeles for the division, and likely a fourth place conference finish at the very worst.

San Jose’s window of opportunity is closing, the hope is swapping some talent will yield better results this year.



Forwards The Sharks have mixed things up, but are still very talented up front. Lots of fantasy options here.

Joe Thornton
Jumbo Joe had a below average regular season, but a gutsy playoff performance worthy of a leader. Thornton’s 100 point days may be behind him, but it will be interesting to see what chemistry he develops with Martin Havlat. Expect 75-80 points at least.

Patrick Marleau The speedy Marleau had yet another strong season, this time leading the team in scoring 37 goals and 73 points. So long as Marleau plays alongside Joe Thornton, he appears poised for another 30 goal, 65-70 point season.

Martin Havlat Acquired from Minnesota and replacing Dany Heatley, Havlat will bring some additional speed to the Sharks line up. Durability has been a concern over his career, but if he can stay healthy, 70 points are within reach. He and Marleau may give Thornton the speediest line he’s ever been on.

Logan Couture A deserving Calder Trophy nominee, Couture was tremendous all year for the Sharks. If he can avoid the sophomore slump, he should improve upon his 32 goals and 56 points. A versatile player with considerable offensive upside, there is definitely more room to grow for this youngster. Expect 65 points.

Joe Pavelski Pavelski has been one of the better Sharks forwards over the past couple of years. He’ll enjoy plenty of quality ice time this year, and enjoys some solid company as well with Ryane Clowe and potentially Logan Couture. 60 points should be expected here.

Ryane Clowe A rugged player with lots of heart, Clowe is an ideal teammate that any franchise would like to have. He notched 62 points last year and 24 goals, and will look to duplicate those totals this time out. Playing alongside Thornton, Pavelski or Couture will help ensure a return to form.

Michal Handzus
The big two-way center has seen his offense decline in recent years. He never really found his groove with the Los Angeles Kings, but takes his solid play to the San Jose Sharks in an effort to make their bottom two lines more skilled and defensively aware. In handzus, the Sharks get a bit of offense, but not too much.

Defence
Brent Burns
The newly acquired Burns may flourish this year with the embarrassment of riches the Sharks possess offensively compared to the Minnesota Wild. Burns will see plenty of power play time and may forge excellent chemistry with Dan Boyle and Joe Thornton. Expect a breakout year.

Dan Boyle No longer the only show in town, Boyle’s offensive production may decline. He’ll be happy to have the assistance of another all-star defender, but Burns’ presence may reduce Boyle’s role slightly. Nevertheless, expect 45-50 points.

Jason Demers The young defender shows promise for the future. If Boyle or Burns succumb to injury, Demers may emerge as a legitimate offensively-minded defender. For now, 35 points are within reach.

Goaltending
Antti Niemi
Niemi proved that his Stanley Cup ring was certainly no fluke. He provided some solid and timely goaltending. Having said that, few would tout him as one of the best in the league. He plays in front of a good team with an improved defense, and his numbers should improve accordingly.

Prediction - 32 Wins

Antero Niittymaki The Finn and former Flyer stepped in admirably when Niemi struggled, but failed to put multiple strong performances together. He’ll support Niemi, but do not expect anything miraculous.

Prediction - 12 wins

TOP SLEEPER
Brent Burns Burns has shown tremendous potential as an offensive defenseman. The man originally drafted as a forward was converted by Minnesota, and has had a couple of strong campaigns.

Despite being held back by injuries, the future remains bright. Now in San Jose, Burns will have the chance to shine in a more offensively minded environment. Expect big things this year with an improved supporting cast.

With Boyle getting a bit older, this may be Burns’ team to lead (at least on defense) before long.

TOP ROOKIE
D— Nick Petrecki The 6’3”, 230lbs defender was the Sharks’ first round pick, 28th overall in 2007.

He does not boast top-notch offensive instincts, but is a solid shutdown defenseman.

The Sharks do not have many rookies that seem poised to make the lineup this year, but as far as impact in the future is concerned, Petrecki may have the longest NHL career of the bunch.

Potential Breakout Player

Logan Couture
Few players had a better year (and more surprising year) than Logan Couture. While most rookies earn ice time on younger teams with less depth, Couture managed to pry ice time away from strong, veteran players.

Couture was responsible beyond his years and even killed penalties.

This year, he’ll garner more attention, but if he continues to demonstrate the skill level and determination from last year, he’ll be just fine.

Unlike some other players that have played alongside Joe Thornton, Couture was not the lucky recipient of amazing passes. He created and earned his goals, and largely did so on a separate line. He’s the real deal.




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