5 San Jose Sharks Who Have Surprised This Season
San Jose Sharks Who Have Surprised This Season
With 52 games in the books, the San Jose Sharks rank fourth in the highly competitive Western Conference. They hold a record of 34-12-6, have climbed to second in the Pacific Division, have won eight of their last 10 games and are in the midst of an impressive six-game winning streak – which is, in fact, the longest active chain of victories in the league. In other words, the Sharks are firing on all cylinders.
The club's top players are playing some of the best hockey of their careers, and goaltender Antti Niemi has been a brick wall between the pipes all year. Captain Joe Thornton leads the Sharks in points with 55 and has a league-best 47 assists so far this season. Patrick Marleau is scoring at just under a point-per-game clip, with 48 points on the year. The 34-year-old forward has been a big-time contributor on the power play, where he has scored seven of his 22 goals. Meanwhile, veteran rearguards Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are leading the way on a defense corps that has allowed just 125 goals, ranking fourth in the league in goals against.
But it's not just San Jose's stars who are contributing to the team's success. In fact, some of the best performances this season have come from the most unlikely sources. It's been a year of pleasant surprises for the Sharks, with contributions coming from up and down the lineup at all positions.
Let's take a look at the five players who have surprised the most through this point of the season.
Selected by the Sharks in the seventh round of the 2007 entry draft, Justin Braun has developed into an outstanding two-way defenseman. He was an offensive force throughout his college career, managing 31 points in 38 games during his senior year at the University of Massachusetts. Though his point totals haven't reached that level in the NHL, the 26-year-old still possesses a powerful shot, solid passing skills and tremendous skating abilities.
Playing alongside defensive stalwart Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Braun has become one of the most underrated shutdown rearguards in the league. He has 14 points in 52 games played this season, and boasts an impressive plus/minus rating of +20.
Another late-round pick, 25-year-old winger Tommy Wingels has taken a significant step forward this year after playing mostly fourth-line minutes up until this point in his career. With a number of San Jose forwards sidelined by injuries, Wingels has stepped into a top-six role and has made his presence felt on the score sheet. The forward has 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points and has already fired a career-high 91 shots on goal.
Wingels' improvements in the offensive zone, along with his speed, physicality and penalty-killing prowess, have solidified his position as one of the Sharks' key role players.
Alex Stalock suffered a career-threatening injury in 2011 when a nerve behind his knee was sliced by a skate blade. The goalie missed a full year of action before returning to play for the Sharks' minor league affiliate in Worcester last season.
Now, he's getting his chance in the NHL as Antti Niemi's backup -- and his play has been terrific. In 12 appearances, Stalock has seven wins, a .942 save percentage, a goals-against average of 1.62 and two shutouts. It might not be long until the 26-year-old Minnesota native dethrones Niemi as the team's starter.
Rookie sensation Tomas Hertl began the season as a relatively unknown 19-year-old kid before quickly becoming a household name. He scored four goals against the New York Rangers, including a beautiful through-the-legs tally that appeared in highlight reels for weeks, in just his first month in the league.
Hertl's strong play continued until a hit from Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown knocked him out of the lineup on Dec. 19. He hasn't played since, but is expected to return before the end of the regular season.
In 35 games, Hertl potted 15 goals and added 10 assists for 25 points. Despite having missed over a month of action, he's still ranked third in goals among all rookies.
Everyone who follows hockey knows that Joe Pavelski is a terrific player, and perhaps one of the best two-way forwards in the game. It's not that surprising that he's having yet another great season with the Sharks.
So why is he on this list? Well, I'm going to guess that nobody thought he'd be playing this well. Pavelski has always been a reliable player capable of putting up 50 to 60 points over the course of a full season. This year, he has 53 points in just 52 games. This includes 28 goals, putting him just three shy of the career-high 31 goals he netted two seasons ago.
It's all but guaranteed that the 29-year-old forward will set new personal records for both goals and points, despite playing on the third line for a hefty chunk of the year. Pavelski is having the best offensive season of his career while continuing to play outstanding defense and remaining one of San Jose's key penalty killers.