NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the San Jose Sharks.
The San Jose Sharks relied heavily on depth and speed last season to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, defeating the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues along the way.
But the Sharks ran into the Pittsburgh Penguins, a deeper and faster group, in the Cup Final and lost in six games.
So on July 1, the first day of free agency, the Sharks made two moves aimed at improving their depth and speed at each end of the ice, signing forward Mikkel Boedker to a four-year contract and defenseman David Schlemko to a four-year contract.
"I think it was important for our group to add some speed," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who coached Boedker, 26, with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League in 2007-08. "[Boedker] is a world-class skater, and Schlemko is an above-average skating defenseman. That was a key element for both guys."
Boedker, the No. 8 pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, matched his NHL career high of 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) last season in 80 games between the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche. He'll likely find a spot on one of San Jose's top two lines, creating more balance among the forwards.
The Sharks believe Boedker will take his game to a higher level playing alongside either Joe Thornton or Logan Couture.
"Mikkel's tremendous speed is his best attribute, and he has the ability to back off defenders with his combination of quickness and soft hands," general manager Doug Wilson said. "His creativity and puck-handling abilities make him a threat in the transition game. ... We think he will thrive with our group."
San Jose will be even faster if forward Timo Meier, the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft, or forward Marcus Sorensen, a free agent addition from Sweden, earns a roster spot.
Making the Sharks roster, however, won't be easy for any young player. Eleven of the top 13 forwards from their Western Conference championship team are returning: Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl, Joel Ward, Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson, Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney and Tommy Wingels, with Boedker joining that veteran mix.
Unrestricted free agent forwards Nick Spaling and Dainius Zubrus, who each played on San Jose's fourth line last season, were not re-signed.
Forward Barclay Goodrow, who played 60 games for the Sharks two seasons ago but spent most of last season with the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League, will be fighting for a roster spot, along with forward Nikolay Goldobin, the No. 27 pick in the 2014 draft.
DeBoer said he welcomes the increased forward depth, despite the tough roster decisions he will face.
"We just got beat by a team with Phil Kessel on the third line," DeBoer said. "That shows you what kind of mismatches you can create when you have that type of depth. It's a nice problem to have, and we'll find a way to deal with it."
Five of the Sharks' top six defensemen from last season return: Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin, Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon. Schlemko likely will skate on the third pair with Dillon, taking the spot of Roman Polak, who signed as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dylan DeMelo and Mirco Mueller provide depth.
Schlemko, 29, who spent most of his NHL career with the Coyotes, had career highs of four goals, 13 assists and 67 games last season with the New Jersey Devils.
"[We're] very pleased that he chose us with the ingredients that he has," Wilson said of Schlemko. "He's a puck-mover, great poise with the puck, had a really good year last year. There's speed in his game."
Backup goaltender James Reimer signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers. Aaron Dell, coming off a solid season in the AHL (17-16-6, 2.42 goals-against average, .922 save percentage), likely will fill that role. Martin Jones won 37 games and had a 2.27 GAA in his first season as a starting goalie in the NHL.
The Sharks re-signed three key restricted free agents in the offseason: Nieto, one of their fastest skaters, received a one-year contract; DeMelo signed a two-year contract; and Hertl, coming off his best season with 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists), signed a two-year contract.
"He just gets better and better," Wilson said of Hertl. "When we drafted him, we expected him to be a dominant player, and so does he. He has high expectations for himself, loves to play the game."