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Setoguchi exceeding expectations this season

by Eric Stephens
Devin Setoguchi's first game in the NHL only served to enhance the reputation he built in junior hockey.

On Oct. 29, 2007 in a nationally televised game against Dallas, Setoguchi scored his first goal on a bang-bang play off one of Joe Thornton's trademark passes from behind the net. Two minutes and 34 seconds later in the third period, it was another pass from Thornton, another goal from the 20-year-old.

The two goals were the tying and winning scores in the Sharks' 4-2 come-from-behind victory against the Stars. In doing that, Setoguchi became the first San Jose rookie to get two goals in his first game.

A memory certain to last a lifetime.

"I'll never forget that," he said. "I remember them exactly. They were both kind of the same place. Joe made great passes. To say that you're first NHL goal was assisted by Joe Thornton was pretty cool.

"Hopefully it's start of something that's going to be good for years to come."

The Sharks would certainly like it that way. Setoguchi, who turned 22 on Jan. 1, has entrenched himself in the San Jose lineup by finishing off passes, often from either Thornton, his All-Star center and former Hart Trophy winner, or Patrick Marleau, the Sharks' longtime captain and fine playmaker in his own right. Setoguchi also was named to the Sophomore squad for the NHL YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck during the 2009 Honda/NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition on Jan. 24 at Montreal's Bell Centre.

Setoguchi's game is easily defined. It's all about offense. Always has been.

Between Saskatoon and Prince George in three seasons in the rough-and-tumble Western Hockey League, the Taber, Alberta, native scored 105 goals and 212 points in 189 games. He hasn't been at a point-per-game pace in the NHL, but he's awfully close.
After scoring 11 goals in his 47-game baptism last season, Setoguchi has 19 goals and 21 assists in 40 games for a perennially strong San Jose team that has led the League in points all season and is in position to defend its Pacific Division title.      

But then, this is to be expected from the eighth pick in the 2005 Entry Draft.

"Just watching one or two practices, you realize how talented he is and the skill he has," Marleau said, recalling when he saw Setoguchi during the rookie's first training camp. "And what a great shot and release he has. He's playing hard, putting the work in and getting results."

It didn't take long for new Sharks coach Todd McLellan to see Setoguchi's talent. Even with a roster full of skilled forwards that includes former 56-goal scorer and Rocket Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo, McLellan saw fit to pair the youngster with Thornton and Marleau.

"He's quick," McLellan said of Setoguchi. "Where he's good is he's tenacious. And he releases the puck. He's prepared to shoot it all the time, which when you put a young player on a line with two dominant bodies like Joe and Patty, a lot of times they're dishing it off and not prepared to take the puck and go with it.

"They want him to shoot. So it works well for him and he's learned how to use that."

Even so, McLellan wasn't counting on Setoguchi to deliver the number of points he has near the season's midway point.

"Am I surprised?" McLellan said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. We didn't pencil him in that situation coming into the season. But what we did have a plan to do was create a real competition situation for a spot on that line. And we've had a few guys through there, and Devin's been the one that's stepped up and continually produces.

"Credit to him for earning it, credit to him for keeping it. But we've got a long way to go."

Setoguchi said it's been easier to stay confident playing alongside two bonafide stars on what may be the League's best team. But he also acknowledged the pressure to put up numbers when given the plum spot.

"When you get your opportunity, you're going to have to be able to stay with those guys," he said. "It definitely helps who I'm playing with. I'm not going to lie and say it doesn't because they're two of the best players in the League.

"Just watching one or two practices, you realize how talented he is and the skill he has."
-- Patrick Marleau, on Devin Setoguchi

"You've got to make sure you're playing every night because you don't want to hold yourself back and let your teammates down." Setoguchi's emergence has also brought attention to his Japanese-Canadian ancestry. He is one of a handful of current NHL players with an Asian lineage.

Not surprisingly, Setoguchi counts St. Louis Blues veteran winger Paul Kariya as one of his favorite players growing up. Because of their similar Japanese-Canadian pedigree, the right wing is often compared to Kariya even though that's the extent of their similarities.

Setoguchi isn't offended by the comparison.

"To be one of those guys and to be here is a pretty cool feeling," he said. "And it's great. I hope a lot more kids kind of get inspired by that. I want to go out and play hockey and get people aware of that.

"Who knows? Maybe I'll be a role model for someone someday."

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