Evander Kane Suspension Adds Holes to Sharks' Roster
The San Jose Sharks already lack the forward depth that made them successful last season, but the three-game suspension to Evander Kane for abusing an official shows how vulnerable the team is if they lose one of their established NHL forwards.
After letting Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi walk in the offseason—largely due to limited cap space after Erik Karlsson signed his eight-year, $92 million deal—the Sharks were left with three forward spots to fill.
Those spots were on the second, third, and fourth lines, presumably playing beside Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton, and Barclay Goodrow.
Filling out the bottom two lines effectively isn’t an issue for San Jose. They have a number of AHL players and prospects who can fill that role, including Dylan Gambrell and Jonny Brodzinski.
The problem is that lone spot in the top six.
One thing the Sharks don’t have in their pipeline is a lot of top-end forward talent, especially with the players who were still with the team when camp ended.
That spot on Hertl’s wing could go to someone like Lukas Radil, who played in the NHL briefly last season and had stretches of success. Or, it could go to someone who has never played in the league before.
But now with Kane out for the start of the year, that issue is doubled.
San Jose needs to find two wingers to play alongside Hertl for the first three games of the season, but it would benefit them to find a stable solution in case one of Kane, Hertl, Logan Couture, Timo Meier, or Kevin Labanc gets injured during the year.
San Jose doesn’t have a safety net at the forward position anymore, and now they need to do something about it.
Perhaps the easiest way for the team to fill Kane’s spot during his absence is to move up one of their established forwards in the bottom six.
The most likely candidate is Marcus Sorensen, who had a solid 2018-19 season playing with Thornton and Labanc on the third line.
Sorensen is a good middle-six forward, and his speed could complement Hertl’s physical game nicely, but that would leave Thornton centering two rookies in what may be their first NHL games.
Still, it’s better to have that issue on the third line—where ice time can be limited—instead of on the second line.
Shifting Ice Time
The other simple solution is to deploy lines differently, with Hertl’s group getting third-line minutes and Thornton’s group playing a second-line role.
Hertl is, without a doubt, San Jose’s second-line center. But with no established NHL linemates to play with for the first three games, it may be better to allow Thornton and Sorenson to play those minutes, since they’ve established chemistry with each other.
This could also help Hertl’s game while he awaits Kane’s return. The Czech forward is one of the most creative players on the team, often making plays happen by himself.
By giving him third-line matchups, he’ll have the opportunity to make an impact even without solidified NHL players on his wings.
While Thornton and Sorensen will have their chemistry to help them in the top six, Hertl will have time and space to help him in the bottom six.
Playing with Potential
The Sharks don’t have a lot of highly-talented forward prospects, but there are three players who could develop into top-six forwards: Sasha Chmelevski, Joachim Blichfeld, and Ivan Chekhovich.
All three of them were sent to the San Jose Barracuda before the end of camp, but they have the potential to be quality players.
According to Corey Pronman’s farm system rankings, Chekhovich, Chmelevski, and Blichfeld are the team’s second, third, and sixth most valuable prospects, respectively.
If one of these skaters gets the opportunity to play on the second line and has success, then San Jose gets a long-term solution to its forward depth issue.
If they aren’t successful, then at least they gain experience at the NHL level before going back down to the AHL.
This is an opportunity for head coach Peter Deboer to see what he has in Chmelevski, Blichfeld, and Checkhovich during games that actually matter, rather than preseason games that hold no meaning.
One final option is looking for help outside of the organization, either via trade or free agency.
The Sharks still have $3.4 million in cap space to work with, giving them enough room to acquire someone who can help in the middle six.
One highly-publicized option is Patrick Marleau, who is still without a contract after being bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason.
Although Marleau’s best days are behind him, he can be a serviceable forward on a cheap deal, perhaps even one who can play on the second line if someone is out with injury, or in this case—a suspension.
San Jose could also use the waiver wire to pick up someone, although that seems unlikely since the team passed on Daniel Sprong of the Anaheim Ducks, who cleared waivers on Tuesday after scoring 14 goals in 47 games for his team last season.
Acquiring someone outside of the organization is likely the Sharks’ best option if none of their prospects are able to fill the spots on the second line. The only problem is finding someone of that caliber who is available for the right price.