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Sharks season preview: Couture to take on leadership role

Forward named captain after Pavelski departure; Jones needs to find consistency

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for all 31 teams. Today, the San Jose Sharks.

 

Coach: Peter DeBoer (fifth season)

Last season: 46-27-9; second place Pacific Division, lost to St. Louis Blues in Western Conference Final

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Adjusting without Pavelski

Joe Pavelski signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Stars as a free agent July 1 after playing his first 13 NHL seasons in San Jose, where he had 761 points (355 goals, 406 assists) in 963 regular-season games and 100 points (48 goals, 52 assists) in 134 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

It will be an adjustment for the Sharks without Pavelski, who was their captain the past four seasons and ranks in the top five in San Jose history in every major offensive category.

Video: Logan Couture named captain of San Jose Sharks

 

2. Couture's role as captain

Logan Couture was named the 10th captain in Sharks history Sept. 12. Couture, who is entering his 11th season with San Jose and the first of an eight-year contract extension he signed July 1, 2018, had an NHL career-high 70 points (27 goals, 43 assists) last season and led the NHL with 14 goals in the playoffs.

Couture was an alternate captain the past four seasons, so he's used to having a leadership role, but the question remains how the captaincy will affect his game on the ice, if at all.

 

3. Impact of Thornton

Joe Thornton will play his 22nd NHL season, and 15th with the Sharks, after agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with San Jose on Sept. 6. The 40-year-old forward had 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 73 games last season and is their all-time leader in assists (780), ranks second in games (1,034) and points (1,024), and is third in goals (244).

Thornton is loved by his teammates and coaches, but it's fair to ask how much is left in the tank for the veteran who played 15:33 per game last season, his lowest average since 1998-99 with the Boston Bruins (15:21).

Video: Joe Thornton agrees to contract with San Jose Sharks

 

4. Consistent goaltending

Martin Jones had his worst statistical season in the NHL in 2018-19 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .896 save percentage, which was fourth lowest among goalies to play at least 30 games. In the playoffs, he had a 5.33 GAA and .838 save percentage in his first four games before rebounding with a 2.68 GAA and .908 save percentage in his final 16 games.

The Sharks are hoping Jones can put up numbers closer to his first three seasons with them (2015-18), when he had a 2.40 GAA and .915 save percentage in 190 games.

 

5. Health of Karlsson

When healthy, Erik Karlsson is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NHL. Last season, he had 45 points (three goals, 42 assists) in 53 regular-season games and was tied for second on the Sharks with 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 19 playoff games.

However, Karlsson, who signed an eight-year contract with the Sharks on June 17, missed time during the regular season because of a groin injury and did not play when San Jose was eliminated by St. Louis in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

The departures of Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Joonas Donskoi (Colorado Avalanche) in free agency leave at least three forward spots open. Dylan Gambrell will likely earn one of those spots, and Jonny Brodzinski, who signed a one-year contract as a free agent July 2, is also an option. The final spot likely will be determined in training camp.

At defenseman, two of their top six from last season, Joakim Ryan (signed with Los Angeles Kings) and Justin Braun (traded to Philadelphia Flyers), will need to be replaced. Tim Heed, who played 37 games last season, Dalton Prout, who signed a one-year contract as a free agent July 2, and rookie Jacob Middleton are the likely candidates.

 

Most intriguing addition

Alexander Chmelevski likely will begin the season with the San Jose Barracuda in the American Hockey League, but the 20-year-old forward could be called up if the Sharks sustain an injury at forward. Chmelevski had 75 points (35 goals, 40 assists) in 56 games with Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League last season and had four points (three goals, one assist) in six AHL games in 2017-18.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Gambrell doesn't have a point in 11 NHL regular-season games, including eight last season, but the 23-year-old forward scored San Jose's lone goal in Game 6 of the conference final against the Blues and is expected to have a greater role offensively this season.

 

Ready to break through

Kevin Labanc has increased his goals, assists and points in each of his three NHL seasons, and he could top them again in 2019-20. The right wing had 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists) in 82 games last season and a shooting percentage of 13.1 percent, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him score at least 20 goals and top 65 points with an increased role this season.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm1: Labanc rifles wrist shot by Jones

 

Fantasy sleeper

Labanc (average draft position: 169.5) had 20 power-play points last season skating on the first unit and could be elevated to the top line with Couture and forward Timo Meier after the departure of Pavelski. -- Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Timo Meier -- Logan Couture -- Kevin Labanc

Evander Kane -- Tomas Hertl -- Melker Karlsson

Marcus Sorensen -- Joe Thornton -- Dylan Gambrell

Jonny Brodzinski -- Barclay Goodrow -- Antti Suomela

Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon -- Erik Karlsson

Radim Simek -- Tim Heed

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

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