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Burns' transition, forward depth concerns for Sharks

by Eric Gilmore continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

The San Jose Sharks have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10 straight seasons, a streak that seems likely to continue despite a tumultuous offseason and little help through free agency or trades.

But for the Sharks to bounce back from last season's first-round collapse against the Los Angeles Kings and become a team capable of making a strong run at a Stanley Cup title, they'll need the following three things to happen.

1. Brent Burns becomes a dominant defenseman -- After playing forward for the past season and a half, Burns has returned to his original NHL position. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson believes Burns can become the Sharks' answer to defensemen such as the Kings' Drew Doughty and the Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban.

Burns was an All-Star defenseman for the Minnesota Wild in the 2010-11 season, scoring 17 goals with 29 assists. After that season, the Sharks acquired Burns in a trade for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round draft pick.

"Brent was acquired to provide us with a long-term, quarterback offensive defenseman," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "He's an NHL All-Star defenseman, and he's earned the right to be there in those types of situations. We think he's capable of being one of the top defensemen in the League."

2. Develop some quality depth on the third and fourth lines -- A lack of scoring from the bottom six plagued the Sharks for most of last season, especially after left wing Tomas Hertl sustained a knee injury that forced third-line center Joe Pavelski to replace him on the top line.

When training camp opened, Pavelski was skating with center Joe Thornton and Hertl. What's more, forwards Raffi Torres and James Sheppard, two players the Sharks hoped would boost their third line, were sidelined by knee injuries. Sheppard is expected back soon, but there's no clear timetable for Torres' return.

Tommy Wingels, who scored a career-high 16 goals last season, could help solve the bottom-six problem. So could Tye McGinn, acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in an offseason trade for a third-round draft pick, and possibly Tyler Kennedy, a former Pittsburgh Penguin who had a disastrous first season with the Sharks.

3. New leaders emerge -- In the wake of last season's playoff meltdown, Thornton lost his captaincy and Patrick Marleau is no longer an alternate captain. There was plenty of offseason talk about a divided locker room, and the Sharks decided to open camp as a captain-less team.

Who will emerge as the new Sharks captain? Pavelski, a no-nonsense player coming off a career season, appears to be the top candidate. Forward Logan Couture and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic are likely also in the mix.

"We all need to step it up as leaders and let each other know how the team is playing and how we're feeling," Pavelski said.

The true test for the Sharks' new leaders won't come until the postseason begins and the team comes face-to-face with its playoff demons.

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