San Jose Sharks fans will have a much better idea of what their opening night roster will look like following the club’s upcoming road trip to Canada. On Monday, the Sharks trimmed their roster to 34 and Head Coach Ron Wilson indicated the number could be even tighter after the team returns to the United States.
The position battles are more than underway and barring injuries, the Sharks will have to move 11 other players back to juniors or Worcester. If there is no movement on the goaltending situation, the Sharks could be forced to carry three netminders, leaving room for seven defensemen and 13 forwards.
For the final two preseason games in San Jose, Wilson hopes to have the bulk of his opening night lineup skating together.
“If we’re healthy, I would like to be as close as we can for opening night in the last two games,” Wilson said.
Up front, 19 players remain for those 13 valued spots and the cuts could be difficult. Players on the roster who spent all or most of 2005-06 on an NHL roster include: Mark Bell, Joe Thornton
, Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, Patrick Marleau
, Steve Bernier (though played less than half a season, seems to have a spot on Marleau’s line again), Ville Nieminen, Marcel Goc, Mike Grier, Curtis Brown, Mark Smith, Scott Parker. Players like Patrick Rissmiller, Grant Stevenson and Ryane Clowe
assisted in the Sharks playoff run and others like Craig Valette, Tomas Plihal, Graham Mink and Devin Setoguchi (yet to play in a preseason game in do to injury) are still scrambling for a final roster spot.
On the blueline, 11 players are still standing including Doug Murray, Kyle McLaren, Rob Davison, Josh Gorges, Christian Ehrhoff, Matt Carle, Jim Fahey, Scott Hannan, Mathieu Biron, Patrick Traverse and Marc-Edouard Vlasic
With the exception of Vlasic, all 10 listed above spent some time in the NHL last year. However, the youngster is turning heads in San Jose and could be in town on Oct. 5. Wilson will keep giving Vlasic looks as long as he likes what he is seeing. However, Wilson is quick to point out that the obstacles in making the Sharks roster are getting more difficult for everybody as each game goes by.
“The lineups we face are getter harder each game,” said Wilson. “Vlasic has turned some heads.”
Players who could be in Wilson’s top six defensemen positions on Oct. 5 are also still fighting for roster spots, so nothing is assured.
“Some guys assume they have a spot and they’re in a dog fight just to make the team,” said Wilson about the depth in the organization. “It is a good thing from our point of view. The best will make the rotations. If a kid is 10-years-old and he is better, he is in.”
In the nets, Wilson will rotate his top two goalies the rest of the way.
“More than likely, Toskala will go the distance tomorrow,” said Wilson. “I plan to alternate them (Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov) for full games from here on out.”
Some Sharks veteran players remember what some of the youngsters are going through in their efforts to stay in San Jose. Marleau was in San Jose for opening night back in 1997, but had to sweat it out through his 10th NHL game before being assured that he wouldn’t be sent back to Seattle of the Western Hockey League. He recalls the day-to-day grind of trying to become a permanent fixture on an NHL roster.
“I was tired,” Marleau said. “You’re going non-stop. The pace is quicker than you’re used to. Playing in games is always fun though. You’re definitely anxious because you want to make the team.”
Marleau says what players fighting for spots need to do is not much different than when he was starting out.
“You just have to go hard and have fun at the same time,” said Marleau.
Hannan looks back on his time as a good learning opportunity. The World Cup blueliner made the opening night roster in 1998-99, but was returned to Kelowna of the WHL after five games.
“It’s exciting your first camp,” said Hannan. “You want to come and play hard, but not try and do too much. The scouts and coaches know your strengths, so play to those. If you’re a puck mover, move the puck. If you’re a scorer, it helps to score. There were guys like Mush (Bryan Marchment) and (Gary) Suter that you could draw a lot of good things from.”
Hannan took his new found knowledge back and made himself a stronger player.
“I think it helped me a lot with leadership on my junior team.”
Bell, the eighth overall pick by Chicago in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft is skating alongside the NHL’s reigning MVP in Joe Thornton
and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner in Jonathan Cheechoo. He was not only returned to junior club two years in a row, but spent the bulk of the year following his third camp in the AHL.
“My first camp was probably my best because there were no expectations to make the team,” Bell said. “I just came and played and almost made it. The next year I didn’t play as well and was sent back again.”
Bell found a way to turn the 60 AHL games into a positive.
“I was very upset when I was cut, but it was probably the best thing for me. I got down there and Trent Yawney worked with me every day. It was more mental than physical what I gained there. I learned the pro game.”
Plus, he realized pro hockey was not always flying in first class seats.
“Unless you’re playing a lot of minutes, it’s probably best for everyone to go down and ride the buses so they appreciate the charter planes.”
Fahey will travel with the club, but may not be ready to join play.
“I doubt he’s ready for a game,” said Wilson. “He’s not quite ready for the physical stuff.”
Cheechoo and Bell will skip the trip to Canada to rest sore groins.
The Sharks will play Vancouver at GM Place tomorrow night at 7 p.m. and in Calgary on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. Both games are available on the following web sites.