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Sharks will go as far as youth takes them, Martin says

Veteran defenseman thinks Meier, Labanc can pick up slack after departure of Marleau

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- As one of the elder statesmen on the San Jose Sharks, defenseman Paul Martin, 36, is ready to see what the next generation can contribute this season.

The Sharks lost one of their core veterans when center Patrick Marleau signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract (average annual value $6.25 million) with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2. It will be the first time Marleau, who turns 38 on Sept. 15, will play for an NHL team other than the Sharks, who selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 1997 NHL Draft.

But Martin, who spoke between games in Da Beauty League at Braemar Arena, where NHL players are playing for charity twice a week through Wednesday, is eager to see who will pick up the slack.

 

[RELATED: Marleau will be huge hit for Maple Leafs, former teammates say]

 

"Obviously losing [Marleau] to Toronto is going to hurt us on the [penalty kill] and on the power play," Martin said. "There's obviously going to be some growing pains there. But it gives a chance for a young guy to step in and fill a big role. Hopefully we are better in that area than we were last year too."

The responsibility of helping improve a power play that finished 25th (16.7 percent) in the League last season could fall to forward Timo Meier, 20, the No. 9 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Meier had six points (three goals, three assists) in 34 games with the Sharks and 23 points (14 goals, nine assists) in 33 games for San Jose of the American Hockey League.

Forwards Kevin Labanc and Daniel O'Regan are other candidates to see time on the power play. Labanc, 21, had 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 55 games with the Sharks. O'Regan, 23, was named AHL Rookie of the Year after he had 58 points (23 goals, 35 assists) in 63 games.

"Those young guys really know how to play the game, and they can play a huge role this year," Martin said. "We have a lot of guys that can play with the speed and skill, and we're going to find ways to win games with that. But it's going to be about getting a couple of pieces of the puzzle filled with the young guys like [Meier] or Labanc.

Video: VAN@SJS: Labanc turns around to score 18 seconds in

"It's about getting them into the fabric of the way we want to play. Hopefully with their help we can get back to where we were playing the year before."

Martin is now the third-oldest player on the Sharks behind center Joe Thornton, 38, and forward Joel Ward, who at 36 is three months older than Martin. He said the offseason was too long for his liking following a six-game loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference First Round. He'd prefer a much shorter summer, like the one the Sharks experienced in 2016 after their six-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. 

"It's a little bit disappointing when you come that close and then follow it up with an early postseason exit like we did last year," Martin said. "Hopefully we come back a bit hungry and prepared to play better hockey this season."

Though the Sharks return Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, and remain deep at center with Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, Martin said it will be up to the new breed to make the difference that could lead to another long playoff run.

Video: WPG@SJS: Meier buries wrister on breakaway

"These young guys coming up have so much speed and so much skill that it's exciting to see what they could bring to our team," he said. "I think once they learn how to recognize when to make some of those plays and when to let their skill really take over, that's when they are going to become dangerous and that's when we're going to become dangerous too.

"I like our group of guys up front and on the back end, and I hope with addition of some of the young guys stepping into the lineup, we can get back to the team we were a year ago."

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