To some, it may seem as if the 2005-06 National Hockey League season just ended. But it has been nearly four months since the San Jose Sharks took the ice for the last time.
The Sharks finished the season earlier than planned, after falling to the Edmonton Oilers in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals. But the Sharks look to build on their previous playoff experiences and this time, they won’t be satisfied with just getting into the playoffs.
A season that saw some of the greatest team and individual accomplishments in franchise history is now behind us, and the 2006-07 season is right around the corner. After 20 days of solid preparation in training camp, the Sharks are ready to embark on their quest for the Stanley Cup.
Coming into training camp, competition was the key word. There were only a few spots available on both offense and defense and both Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala were battling for the No. 1 goaltender spot.
The goaltending issue is no clearer now than it was before camp started. The only thing known for sure is that the Sharks have two No. 1 goaltenders on their roster, which is a huge advantage.
Perhaps the biggest surprise coming into the season is the play of rookie defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
(pictured above). At the start of camp, Vlasic, a second-round selection of the Sharks in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, was merely a top prospect with a lot of upside. But the 19-year old Montreal native proved through his play that he deserved a spot on the opening night roster.
Vlasic notched one goal and one assist, while playing in all of the team’s eight preseason games. The rookie blueliner was given the opportunity to run the power play on occasion and was often thrown into high pressure situations including being on the ice for a couple five-on-three penalty kills.
“He's looked really good against top-level people,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “More than likely he'll play on Opening Night, too. We don't look at people's birth certificate. If he's going to help you win, he's going to play.”
The rest of the blueline has some familiar faces. Veterans such as Kyle McLaren and Scott Hannan are staples, while guys like Christian Ehrhoff, Josh Gorges, Matt Carle, Doug Murray and Rob Davison look to build on the success they’ve gained in the League.
One thing that was evident throughout the preseason was that the Sharks have one of the most dominant first and second lines in the entire League. Battling through several nicks and bruises during camp, the line of newly acquired left wing Mark Bell, the League’s defending scoring champion in Joe Thornton
and the 2005-06 NHL goal scoring leader Jonathan Cheechoo played together as a line in only two games. But in their final preseason tune-up against Calgary Sept. 30, the top line showed signs of what’s to come this season when they registered a combined five points.
Not only is the top line looking forward to more big numbers in 2006-07, but the second line of Milan Michalek, Captain Patrick Marleau
and Steve Bernier are ready to wreak havoc on opposing teams. With one year under their belts on the same line together, the tandem racked up the points in the preseason. Marleau led all NHL scorers with 12 points (three goals, nine assists), while Michalek led everyone in goals with seven to go with his two assists. Bernier ranked second on the team and tied for second in the NHL in preseason points with 10 (four goals, six assists).
The third and fourth lines for the Sharks are shaping up just as Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson planned when he made moves in the offseason to improve the team’s penalty kill. Newcomers Curtis Brown and Mike Grier showed just why they’re considered among the top penalty killers in the League. In addition, forwards Marcel Goc, Patrick Rissmiller, Mark Smith, Ville Nieminen and Scott Parker all look to play significant roles in the upcoming season.
“I love our team,” Thornton said. “We’re very deep. We have great forwards, good size in back and two great goaltenders. Obviously, we face some good tests in our own division. I like our chances this year.”