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31 in 31

Inside look at San Jose Sharks

Role players must produce to support Burns, Thornton, Jones

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the San Jose Sharks.

The San Jose Sharks return Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Brent Burns, veteran center Joe Thornton and all-star goaltender Martin Jones, but their success this season ultimately could hinge on the performances of depth players.

The Sharks lost their all-time leading scorer, Patrick Marleau, 37, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an unrestricted free agent July 2, and will need others to step up.

That task falls to a group of young forwards, including Tomas Hertl, 23, who had an NHL career-low 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 49 games last season; Joonas Donskoi, 25, who had 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 61 games; Chris Tierney, 23, who had 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 80 games; and Timo Meier, 20, the No. 9 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, who had three goals and three assists in 34 games.

 

[SHARKS 31 IN 31: Top prospects | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

Forward Melker Karlsson, 27, also will be expected to pick up some of the slack. He had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 67 games last season, his third in the NHL.

Secondary scoring helped the Sharks reach the 2016 Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their history before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. But that wasn't the case last season during their six-game loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference First Round, when Hertl, Tierney and Donskoi were held without a goal, and Karlsson and forward Joel Ward each had one.The drought came at a time when Thornton and center Logan Couture each was playing through an injury.

Thornton had a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, and missed the final three regular-season games and first two playoff games. The 38-year-old signed a one-year contract worth $8 million, according to his agents, to remain in San Jose on July 2. He had 50 points (seven goals, 43 assists) last season and no goals and two assists in the playoffs.

Couture, who had 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists) in 73 games last season, was hit in the mouth by a deflected shot against the Nashville Predators on March 25. He missed the final seven regular-season games but returned for the playoffs.

Video: 31 in 31: San Jose Sharks 2017-18 season preview

"I'm lucky it's an injury that didn't affect my training," Couture told NHL Network in July. "A lot of guys didn't have the season they wanted last year, so I'm looking forward to seeing the way guys come back and compete. There's many younger players competing for jobs and pushing the veterans to get better. I think we have some good young talent and veteran players who will have good years."

Burns led the Sharks in points (76) and assists (47), and tied center Joe Pavelski for the lead in goals (29) during the regular season. He had three assists in the playoffs.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (eight years) and Jones (six years) each signed a contract extension July 1; each could have become an unrestricted free agent following this season. Vlasic, 30, had 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 75 games last season, and has 254 points (53 goals, 201 assists) in 812 games in 11 seasons with San Jose. He's part of an impressive top four on defense with Burns, Paul Martin and Justin Braun.

"[Vlasic] can play in all situations and has blossomed into a very trusted player on both sides of the puck," general manager Doug Wilson said.

The Sharks lost defenseman David Schlemko to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft (he was later traded to the Montreal Canadiens), so coach Peter DeBoer will need to figure out his third pair during training camp, with Dylan DeMelo, 24, and Brenden Dillon, 26, considered the frontrunners. 

Jones, 27, is 72-46-10 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 130 games for San Jose after being acquired in a trade from the Boston Bruins on June 30, 2015. The Bruins acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings four days earlier.

Video: Sharks sign Vlasic, Jones to long-term deals

The parts are in place for another successful regular season and a playoff run if the Sharks receive consistency throughout the lineup.

"We've been competitive every year since I've been on this team, and I don't see us dropping off in the near future," Vlasic told the Sharks website. "I see us being very competitive many years down the road."

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