San Jose Sharks Trimester Report Card: Forwards

Here are my thoughts on the Sharks players through 25 games, with letter grades for each. I’ll start with the forwards today, and post the grades for the defencemen and goaltenders tomorrow.
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LINE 1:

Joe Thornton (25 GP, 5 G, 23 PTS, +7 Plus/Minus) looks as good as ever to me. His production may not quite be at the point-per-game mark we’re accustomed to seeing him at, but he’s doing all the not-so-little things. He’s a beast in the faceoff circle, impossible to take the puck from along the boards, and really just a positive presence all over the ice. He also seems to enjoy playing with right-handed shot Joe Pavelski. GRADE: A

 
Joe Pavelski (25 GP, 12 G, 21 PTS, +7 Plus/Minus) has been the Sharks best player this season perhaps along with Thornton. He used to be good at everything; now he’s getting really good at everything, flirting with a 40-goal pace to start the year. There is nothing little about little Joe, in fact I’ve recently started to wonder if he uses steroids, such is his strength on the puck. Like Thornton, no one can knock him off it; the only difference is Pavelski is supposed to be undersized, and Thornton is a 6’4″ monster.

Pavelski’s hockey sense, strength on the puck, and finishing ability have helped him to a great start, with 12 goals in 25 games. I’ve always seen him as the perfect second line center, but not necessarily someone you wanted as a top line player. Now he’s even calling that into question, proving himself more than capable on the top line. The Sharks really hit the jackpot with Pavelski. GRADE: A


Patrick Marleau (25 GP, 10 G, 20 PTS, +2 Plus/Minus) has quietly been the Sharks third best scorer this season, with 10 goals and 20 points in 25 games. As usual with Marleau, the offense has come in flashes, but at least it’s coming. By now, every Sharks fan knows what to expect from Marleau, the good and the bad, and this season has been more of the same. At times he is the best player on the ice, at times he’s not. Overall, you can’t knock the production. GRADE: B+

 
 
LINE 2:

Logan Couture (25 GP, 11 G, 20 PTS, +7 Plus/Minus) started slow, but has heated up the last few weeks. Much like Pavelski, Couture has been very involved on the ice, and come away rewarded thanks to his ability to finish his chances. That’s the advantage to having elite an elite wrist shot, which Couture definitely has. It’s a very big advantage, and Couture makes great use of it.
GRADE: B+/A-

Ryane Clowe (25 GP, 6 G, 18 PTS, +2 Plus/Minus) has struggled to find the scoresheet at times, but his physicality and compete level rarely wavers. His season has been the opposite of teammate Patrick Marleau’s in many ways. Clowe has actually been more regularly visible and in-the-thick-of-things than Marleau; he just hasn’t gotten the points to show for it.

First and foremost, that’s a credit to Marleau’s superior goal-scoring touch and quick-strike ability. But, part of it is also just chance. Clowe’s points will come because he’s been playing better than his numbers indicate. Taking a quick look at his shooting percentage shows as much. Clowe has a career shot percentage of 12.1%, but he’s shooting at only an 8.2% clip this season. Shot percentage usually reverts back to its mean, which suggests Clowe has just been unlucky so far.

Stats aside, I have liked Clowe’s game this season as much as I always have (at least when he’s not sucker-punching people). He is the type of player who brings more to the ice than just what the stats show. GRADE: B/B+

Martin Havlat (21 GP, 1 G, 12 PTS, +8 Plus/Minus) has had a difficult season to judge. His production has been up and down, but almost always in the assists column when it does come. It would be nice to see him score more goals, but then again, he is playing with such good shooters in Couture and Clowe, it makes sense that he would look to set them up.

Not that Havlat’s 1 goal in 21 games is by design, mind you. I’m sure he would like to score more. Still, even without the goals, his speed, skill, and vision have helped create opportunities for his teammates. The stats may not bear it out, but he has shown more engagement for the Sharks than he did with the Wild. He’s a quality player who has had a good, not great, start with the Sharks. GRADE: B

 
LINE 3:

Torrey Mitchell (22 GP, 3 G, 6 PTS, 0 Plus/Minus) looks like he’s finally getting up to the level of play he displayed before his leg injury. He’s making more happen on offense than he ever has before, even if he’s not lighting up the stat sheet. He’s still not a top offensive player by any means, but he’s fast and relentless, and plays with a lot of energy. The downside is he doesn’t bring anything fancy to the table, but neither do most bottom-six forwards.

Mitchell is a good checking forward with the required speed and determination to play his role. His offense is better than it used to be, but still not a strength. Overall, he is an acceptable third-line winger, although he, along with everyone else on the team, needs to improve his play on the penalty kill. GRADE: C+

Michal Handzus (24 GP, 2 G, 8 PTS, +4 Plus/Minus) has been one of the quietest players in the Sharks top-nine forward group. Many nights I can’t remember one thing about him, or that he was even in the game, which is both good and bad. The good: mistakes are few and far between with Handzus. The bad: he hasn’t created as much offensively as some might have hoped, with only 2 goals and 8 points in 24 games.

Even so, Handzus has underrated talent, and he has made his fair share of plays on offense. Granted, he’s no Pavelski, but Doug Wilson was never going to replace Pavelski’s offensive presence on the third line once they moved him into the top-six, and Handzus is only a step down if you compare him to that ridiculously high standard. Compared to the Sharks other past third-line centers, or to third-line centers around the league, Handzus is elite. He is the best and truest non-Pavelski third-line center the Sharks have had since I can remember. He blows former-Shark Manny Malhotra out of the water, and many Sharks fans considered Malhotra the Sharks best third-line center since the lockout up until last season.

Sure, there are better third-line centers out there–Jordan Staal, Dave Bolland when healthy, possibly Jarret Stoll, but Handzus is right up there in the top 5-10 whether he’s producing well offensively or not.

Overall, a pretty good start to the season by a good player. His impact has been subtle, but it’s definitely there. GRADE: B-

Jamie Mcginn (25 GP, 5 G, 8 PTS, +5 Plus/Minus) started the season on the Sharks fourth line, and has worked his way to being the Sharks best third-line winger the last few games. Torrey Mitchell might still be the better player overall, but Mcginn has turned up the heat this season, and seems to have developed more chemistry with Handzus than Mitchell has.

Mcginn is another player like Pavelski where you wonder how he does it. Mcginn was a scorer in junior, matching Logan Couture offensively, but who hasn’t found his scoring touch since reaching the NHL. It seemed like one day last season he realized as much, that he wasn’t cutting it on offense, and that he had to bring more to the table if he wanted to stick on the big team. And seemingly out of the blue, he started fighting, hitting everything that moved, and knocking down players twice his size with his mere shoulder-checks. It amazes how some of these Sharks players gain impossible strength seemingly overnight. How did an average-sized scorer from junior turn into such a strong NHL power forward on a whim? I joke about steroids, but it makes you wonder.

Regardless of how he got it, Mcginn certainly has the strength now, and he’s been putting it to good use, laying lots of hits and playing more of a power game than in years past, just like he did last postseason. He also brings a bit more offense to the table than Mitchell, as reflected by his 5 goals this season to Mtichell’s 3. Although, to be fair, at least two of Mcginn’s goals were absolute gifts from Michal Handzus, who set him up for near-empty nets.

Overall, Mcginn is playing the best hockey of his career. He still has holes in his game–he’s not a playmaker by any means, and he doesn’t really have high hockey sense in any area of the game, which is particularly evident on defense. But, when he plays a simple, straight-lines game, he has the speed, strength, and nose for the net to be an effective bottom-six forward. GRADE: C+

 
LINE 4:

Andrew Murray (24 GP, 1 G, 2 PTS, +2 Plus/Minus) I touched on in my 30 Teams, 30,000 Thoughts: San Jose Sharks blog, along with the rest of the bottom-six, actually. He is someone who brings a fixed skillset, where you get the same strengths and weaknesses every night. As a GM or coach, either you like the trade-off he brings and you want him on your team, or you don’t. Clearly, Doug Wilson likes Murray, and I can’t say I disagree within the right parameters. I can’t say I’m gushing over him either, but as a fourth liner I like what he brings.

And what he brings is speed, size, “forecheck,” and “cycle.” He is a bigger, stronger version of Torrey Mitchell, with perhaps less on-ice awareness and hockey sense. He will dump the puck in, sprint after it, hit the defenseman, start cycling the puck, try to get it on net, and if it doesn’t go in and the other team gets it, then he will sprint back after them. Rinse and repeat until it’s time for him to go back to the bench.

That’s what he does. It’s also all he does. I think he’s pretty good at it, which makes him a more than acceptable player for the fourth line. GRADE: C

Brad Winchester (25 GP, 3 G, 5 PTS, +1 Plus/Minus) has also played the best hockey of his career this season. The dump-and-chase strategy the Sharks bottom lines play is perfectly suited to his skillset of size, size, and more size, which I think is the main reason for his success in San Jose.

I saw him last season in Anaheim after the trade deadline, and he was insignificant. He never got anything going in the offensive zone because he didn’t have any support down low; his line-mates weren’t on the same page. In San Jose, he and players like Andrew Murray, Michal Handzus, Torrey Mitchell, Andrew Desjardins, they all like to play the same way. They dump the puck in, retrieve it behind the net, and start shielding it with their big bodies (and no one’s body is bigger than Winchester’s). They are always in close proximity to each other so if one of them loses it, another is there to pick it up and start protecting it again. That is what was missing for Winchester in Anaheim, but he has it here in San Jose, whether on the bottom lines, or most recently, with Thornton and Pavelski on the top line.

Overall, Winchester’s size is so dominant, he can keep puck-possesion down low all by himself, and if you partner him with other players who play the same style and have the same strengths, they can keep possession for a long time just by passing it from one huge forward to another and shielding the puck from the defense.

But if you play him with finesse players, or players who don’t like playing that strategy, then Winchester won’t be very good. He doesn’t have the speed, hockey sense, or skill to play any other type of game besides the one he’s playing now with the Sharks. But, as long as you make sure to get him out there with other like-minded players, all on the same page, playing the same strategy behind the net and along the boards, Winchester is an asset to have as a bottom-six forward. GRADE: B-

Andrew Desjardins (25 GP, 2 G, 5 PTS, +1 Plus/Minus) looked very good to me in the postseason last year, but watching him this year as early as the preseason, I was unimpressed. He looked to have lost a step. Why? I have no idea why a 25-year-old player like Desjardins would lose a step right as he should be entering his prime years, but that’s the impression I got.

Since the preseason, he has picked it up a bit, but he’s still not having the same impact he had in the playoffs last season. What I saw then was pretty good hockey sense, above average hands for a fourth liner, and speed that wasn’t half bad. He looked like a half-decent two-way hockey player.

This season, while I’m sure the hockey sense and hands remain, his speed and strength seems to be slightly less than it was, and more than anything tangible he just has not been as noticeable. To be fair, coach Todd Mclellan does not rely on him heavily, but all I can say is something is different and “less” about Andrew Desjardins so far this season, and it’s disappointing. I would caution though that he deserves the benefit of the doubt, as it’s possible he is playing through a nagging injury. Whatever it is, I have to grade on what I see, and Desjardins, while not performing poorly, has definitely not built on his success last season. GRADE: D+

Check back tomorrow for grades on the defencemen and goaltenders.

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