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Sharks’ 2022-23 Opening Night roster projection: Good, bad problems

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Sharks predicted Opening Night roster has good and bad problems originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

What will the Sharks lineup look like at the premiere?

That’s too early a guess considering the Sharks’ season opener against the Nashville Predators on October 7 in Prague, Czech Republic is still two months away. Trades and free agent signings are still possible for San Jose.

But right now, the Sharks have a couple of big problems: too many NHL-level hitters and starting goaltenders.

Let’s start forward.

The Sharks have 10 established NHL forwards: Thomas Hurtle, Logan Couture, Timo Meyer, Kevin Labank, Luke Kunin, Oscar Lindblom, Alexander Barabanov, Nick Bonino, Nico Sturm and Matt Nieto.

They also have nine young and/or inexperienced forwards who can be expected to compete for a spot on the roster: William Eklund, Thomas Bordelo, Stephen Lorenz, Max Veronneau, Noah Gregor, Jasper Weatherby, Scott Ready, Jonah Gadjovic and Jeffrey Wil.

Now let’s look between the pipes: it’s well known that the Sharks have too many goaltenders, between Kaapo Kahkonen, James Reimer and Adin Hill.

This is good. The bad news?

The Sharks may have 19 hitters who could make it to the NHL, but they don’t have six clear hitters from the top six or nine undisputed skaters from the top nine. Thus, what they possess in quantity, they do not seem to show off in quality.

And their blue line appears to have been wiped out by the trade of Brent Burns to the Carolina Hurricanes.

They have six NHL-level defensemen: Erik Karlsson, Mario Ferraro, Mark-Eduard Vlasic, Radim Simek, Matt Benning and Jacob Megna.

The Sharks have a couple of question marks in regards to Nikolai Knyzhov and Markus Nutivaara, who are on a comeback path after missing all or most of the 2021-22 season.

Young players Ryan Merkley and Santeri Hatakka can also compete for a spot.

However, like the Sharks’ forwards, the group of defensemen is likely lacking a high level: Karlsson and Ferraro are the only two defensemen slated to be in the top four playoff-level defensemen. And they may also be undernumbered – if Karlsson goes down due to injury and/or Knyzhov and Nutivaara fail to come back strong, the Sharks’ defensive corps will be in a lot of trouble.

So how will the Sharks tackle these front, rear, and crease congestion? Here is the first guess.

forwards

You should be able to include the characters Hurtle, Couture, Meyer, and Barabanov in the line-up for the first evening.

Rookies Kunin, Lindblom and Sturm should also be safe.

Labanque was rumored to be in a trade, but his $4.725 million AAV in each of the next two seasons might not be attractive, especially given his dismal performance and season-ending injury last year. It might have been wiser to keep him and let him regain his value by the trade deadline or next offseason.

Bonino, who has another $2.05 million for another year, could be attractive to the opposition as a proven winner and a well-above-average four-way forward. His versatility as a center and winger, as well as special teams abilities, should add to his appeal. The two-time Stanley Cup winner is a bit overpaid, but if the top team has extra cap space, he’s a flashy fourth line figure, the type of forward that can make you a little better than your playoff opponent.

Nieto, with an AAV at just $850,000 for one more season, is probably very good as a top-notch penalty killer. Don’t expect much in return, but he’s a solid enough role player.

After this more established group, Gregor, Lorenz and Eklund stand out as my best guesses on who will start the season with the Sharks.

Gregor, 24, began to emerge as a full-fledged NHL forward last year, and if he can make another leap this year, he should have a long NHL career as a fast, pesky sixth-line winger. Now that Lorenz, 26, has come out from under the Carolina Hurricanes power forward, he should establish himself as an NHL regular in San Jose, albeit as a fourth liner. In addition, none of them are exempt from renunciation.

Meanwhile, sophomore Eklund should get a chance to inject a much-needed skill into the Sharks’ top nine.

It might be debatable to leave star prospect Thomas Bordelot out of the line-up for the premiere, but given that you want him to play in the top nine rather than languish in fourth – and I think the Sharks are ahead of Hertl, Couture and Sturm. his place in the center depth chart – he might have better luck if he plays big minutes in the AHL.

Bordello showed great skill in his NHL cup of coffee last year, but I also think his game is very raw. The good thing is that Bordelo is playing so well in training camp that you can’t keep him outside of San Jose’s middle six, but that’s a big if. He’s also exempt from abandonment, as are Weatherby, Reedy, and Veronno, so there’s no risk of losing them if you send them down.

That leaves Gadjovic and Wil as possible denial fodder, but at the moment both forwards are physically one-dimensional, so you can probably send them back and forth from the NHL to the AHL without the risk of either one being in demand.

Could the composition of the “Sharks” at the premiere look like this?

  • Meyer-Gertl-Drums

  • Eklund-Couture-Kunin

  • Lindblom-Sturm-Labank

  • Gregor-Bonino-Lorenz

  • Nieto

Each lane is staffed in the center by a capable two-way center, and the flanks are a good mix of fitness and gameplay.

Protection

Karlsson, Vlasic and Ferraro are not going anywhere.

The Sharks are also hoping that rookies Benning and Nutivaara will be able to show their best game.

The same with Knyzhov, who missed the whole last season with trauma. He is also exempt from waivers, so it seems possible that he will start the season with the Barracuda to regain his time.

Meghna established himself as an NHL-level guard last year, but on a stronger team, you can put him in the seventh guard spot. He is a true home protector.

Simek wants to stay in San Jose? In May, the Czech blueliner expressed his feelings about how the Sharks lied to him about his playing time last season. However, his contract – two years left on AAV$2.25 million – doesn’t make it an easy deal. He could also be insurance if Knyzhov or Nutivaara aren’t at full speed to start the season. First-year general manager Mike Grier has shown no interest in adding picks to net pay so far, so my guess is Simek is starting the year with the Sharks at this point and buried in the minors.

The Sharks would love it if Ryan Merkley, their 2018 first-round pick, was in the blue line. With Burns gone, the Sharks are in dire need of more creativity and puck handling in the back. But he’s exempt from the waiver and may need to keep improving his defensive game against the Barracuda.

Prospects Khatakka and Artemy Knyazev also don’t want to apply for NHL jobs, but they’ll need training camps to force the situation. For what it’s worth, the Sharks have had unexpected rearguards that have solidified their NHL foothold in each of their last five campaigns: Joakim Ryan in 2017/18, Simek in 2018/19, Ferraro in 2019/20, Knyzhov in the 2020/21 season and Jake Middleton and Meghna last year.

My guess is what the Sharks blue line looks like at the premiere?

  • Knyzhov-Karlsson

  • Ferraro-Benning

  • Vlašić Nutiwara

It’s tempting to put two of San Jose’s top defensemen, Karlsson and Ferraro, together, but I prefer to try and balance a non-intimidating top four. Also, in a limited time playing each other, Karlsson and Ferraro didn’t show much chemistry, although it could have happened with more reps.

RELATED: What Ferraro’s new contract means for the Sharks cap situation

Instead, I hope, like the Sharks, that the young, talented Knyzhov can pick up where he left off in his rookie campaign alongside Karlsson. I see Megna or Simek skating here if Knyzhov is not quite ready.

Ferraro and Benning could make the Sharks’ best bet on a closed pair.

In the Knyzhov-Karlsson and Ferraro-Benning matches, I managed to put each defender on their strong side. Not so with Vlašić-Nutivaara, both left-handers. But Nutivaara played on the right flank, and I think that Vlasic should play with a proven pucker.

I know there is an opinion in the organization that Vlašić could save some of his value and be at least a capable second pair defender, but I will believe it when I see it. There’s a reason former Sharks coach Bob Bowner has driven him into the bottom pair over the last two seasons, and not because the Sharks had a strong defensive body.

If Merkley makes a big move during the summer, the Sharks could very well field these pairs – this could be considered the optimal scenario:

  • Ferraro-Carlsson

  • Nutiwara-Benning

  • Vlašić Merkli

That would be a good problem: Knyzhov can find his game in the AHL, and there is a balance of left-handed-right-handed and attack-defense in every pair. I know I said I don’t like Ferraro and Karlsson together, but attacking dynamo Karlsson should be playing with someone more physical, so he and Nutivaara might not be the perfect match.

But I guess Merkley starts the year with Barracuda.

Goalkeeper

There aren’t many organizations looking for a goaltender right now, so it could be a problem for the Sharks to move either Reimer or Hill. Let’s pretend that newly signed Kahkonen will get his first chance to be a starting player for the Sharks.

I’ve seen the Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks, or Philadelphia Flyers want to improve their reserve position if they can clear cap space. It could be Reimer.

Meanwhile, Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabers or…



Source: sports.yahoo.com

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