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31 in 31

Inside look at San Jose Sharks

Healthy Thornton looks to click with Kane, return to Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Eric Gilmore / NHL.com Correspondent

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

Joe Thornton is excited for the upcoming San Jose Sharks season, and Evander Kane is a big reason why.

Thornton, 39, who missed the final 35 games of the regular season and all of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee Jan. 23, is expected to play center on the top line with Kane at left wing.

 

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"He's young. He's just getting into his prime now," Thornton said of Kane, 27, who the Sharks acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 26 and signed to a seven-year extension May 24. "I don't think we've seen the best of him yet. I think he's figured out the game now and now he's ready to explode, and hopefully I get a chance to play with him this year because being a passer I think it sets up pretty good for playing with each other. Just a lot of grit and a lot of scoring ability, and his skating is so dynamic."

Kane had 14 points (nine goals, five assists) in 17 regular-season games with the Sharks and five points (four goals, one assist) in nine playoff games. San Jose was eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Second Round in six games.

The Sharks pursued but were unable to add free agent center John Tavares, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but all but two key contributors return from a team that went 45-27-10 in 2017-18.

"We feel that we have a very good hockey team," general manager Doug Wilson said. "I mean, we had 100 points last year without [Thornton] and actually without [Kane] most of the year. We've got a good hockey team, but I've always explored every opportunity to add players of this ilk to our team, and that's what we did."

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Kane is a big reason the Sharks are confident.

"He brings an edge to our team," Thornton said. "When he came over, he scored some huge goals for us as well. He's been a great teammate to all of us."

Thornton, who had surgery on his left knee April 25, 2017, and on his right knee Jan. 25, said he is healthy.

"My left knee that I hurt two years ago feels great," Thornton said. "Obviously playing the first 40-odd some games last year I felt really, really strong. Now with the right one, I expect to play in all 82 games and contribute a lot. It gave me a break to rest my body and I feel great and hungry again."

The Sharks didn't make any major additions but signed some of their key players to multiyear contracts. Center Logan Couture signed an eight-year extension July 1; forward Tomas Hertl, who scored an NHL career-high 22 goals last season, signed a four-year contract as a restricted free agent July 2; defenseman Dylan DeMelo, who became an unrestricted free agent after San Jose did not extend him a qualifying offer, signed a two-year contract July 7; and forward Chris Tierney, a restricted free agent, signed a two-year contract July 18.

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In the offseason, the Sharks lost two regulars from their lineup during the 2018 playoffs, forwards Mikkel Boedker (traded to the Ottawa Senators) and Eric Fehr (signed with Wild).

Thornton will take one of those spots, and veteran forward Barclay Goodrow, who played 47 games last season, could fill the other. Goodrow likely will have competition from Antti Suomela, a free agent forward who played in Finland last season, and rookie Dylan Gambrell, among others, for a spot on the fourth line.

However, the Sharks will continue looking to improve.

"Trust me, we will continue to explore anything to make us better," Wilson said. "And if it's now, if it's next week, it it's early in the season or any time prior to the [NHL] Trade Deadline, we have the assets and the [NHL salary] cap space to be able to do that."

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