With 29 players left in camp and two preseason games remaining, every shift will count for those trying to make San Jose’s final 23-man roster – especially those on defense.
“You want to play as many games as possible because the more games you play, the more opportunities you have to show the coaches what you’ve got,” rookie defenseman Derek Joslin said. “I think the coaches know each and every one of us and what we bring to the table and it’s just going to come down to consistency and playing within the system.”
Joslin is vying for one of the openings on the blueline. Veterans Dan Boyle
, Rob Blake, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
, Douglas Murray
and Kent Huskins will open the regular season on Oct. 1 in Colorado. Assuming Head Coach Todd McLellan keeps seven D-men, that leaves five fighting for two NHL spots: Joslin and fellow rookies Joe Callahan, Jason Demers
and Mike Moore
and veteran Mathieu Dandenault.
Each brings a unique skill set to the Sharks. Dandenault could even make the team as a forward who could play defense when necessary.
Of the other four, Callahan has the most National Hockey League experience. Last year, he skated in 18 games for the New York Islanders and had two assists. Callahan, who played college hockey at Yale, brings size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds). While he lacks in NHL experience, he’s got the size, age (26) and professional experience (five American Hockey League seasons).
Joslin is right behind in NHL experience, having skating in 12 games for San Jose last year. Joslin may have fewer NHL games, but those games were played within the Sharks system and he has a season of McLellan’s teaching under his belt.
“Being able to play those games last year and being able to learn the system was important,” Joslin said. “Playing with some of these guys like Blake and Boyle, it’s helped me a lot this year being able to jump in the center of lines and drills. So, it’s helped me tremendously and I’m just using that to my advantage.”
Moore, like Callahan, is an Ivy Leaguer who played at Princeton. In 76 games with San Jose’s top development affiliate in Worcester last year. During that time, he earned a reputation as one of the hardest open-ice hitters in the AHL.
Demers also played in Worcester last year, skating in 78 games and posting 33 points (two goals and 31 assists). Along with Moore, he spent some time in San Jose and helped Worcester reach the Calder Cup Playoffs. Demers may be the least known of those fighting for a roster spot, but he’s still in San Jose and doing something to catch the attention of the coaching staff.
One major transaction helped everyone’s chances: the pre-training camp trade that sent veterans Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver. That meant two roster spots became available.
Now with a week left before the regular season begins, these four rookies know they’ve got a chance.
“I think you go in every year hoping and thinking in your own mind, ‘I am going to make the team,’” Callahan said. “You stick around as long as you can every year. So, I want to stick around as long as I can and want to be here all year.”
The players have put themselves in a prime position, but they realize the work is only getting more difficult.
“The later you stay, the harder it gets, but that’s what the season is and that’s what hockey is,” Callahan said. “You’re never safe no matter where you are or who you are. Guys like myself come in and push other guys for jobs and I think the further camp goes, the more you want it. But the more you want it, the harder you have to work to stay.”
As the oldest of the group, Callahan can look just down his row see an example of a player who made his mark later than most.
“I’ve played six full seasons in the American League and am going to be 27 at beginning of the season here,” Callahan said. “That’s what’s so great about hockey. A guy like Boyle, he fought his way here and now he’s probably the best offensive defenseman in the game. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much experience you have. You’ve got to prove to everyone that you’re the guy and that’s what we are all trying to do.”
On the flip side, the younger players can look at Marc-Edouard Vlasic
and see that the Sharks will keep the player who can help the club the most, no matter whether they are a teenager or a 10-year pro.
For the blueline hopefuls, the Sharks final two preseason games may be the most important game they play this year.
The Sharks play hosts to Anaheim in their last home preseason game tomorrow night at 7:30.