Friday, July 6, 2007

Rounding out the top six

With Bill Guerin signing with the Islanders yesterday, the Sharks will potentially have two top-six forward spots open during training camp for youngsters (Steve Bernier, Ryane Clowe) and prospects (Devin Setoguchi [pictured], Lukas Kaspar) alike to vie for.

It's assumed that Milan Michalek, Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo will comprise the Sharks' top line. After all, the trio was white-hot down the stretch, when Cheechoo turned what looked to be a dissapointing post-Rocket Richard campaign into a respectable 37-goal season, Thornton leapt from 19th to 2nd in the NHL scoring race and Michalek quitely put up 26 goals and 66 points. But after that line, it's anybody's guess.

Despite persistent reports of Patrick Marleau's imminent trade, Doug Wilson has denied actively shopping the Sharks' captain, meaning Marleau will fill in as San Jose's second-line center for at least one more season. So which wingers should play with Marleau? It wouldn't be a stretch to slot the versatile Clowe in there. In addition to being able to use his 6'2", 225 frame to his advantage as an effective forechecker, Clowe has the skill and soft hands to play with Marleau, as evidenced by his impressive January in which he put up 9 goals and 7 assists in 11 games and was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month. Clowe has the ability to play either wing, but, being a left-handed shooter, is more comfortable on the left side.

So that leaves room open for a right winger to play with Marleau. Steve Bernier has the potential to be a top six forward and enjoyed top-six minutes in his rookie campaign in 05-06, but suffered a serious decline this past season, scoring just 15 goals and 31 points in 62 games and was exiled to the AHL for a month. Mike Grier is versatile enough to be able to play on any line, but it is advisable to keep the Rissmiller--Brown--Grier outfit together given how well the unit functioned in a defensive role. Joe Pavelski is also an option, but as a natural cente, it would probably be best to keep him at center ice, presumably San Jose's fourth-line pivot.

No, the right wing who I believe may be best suited to play with Marleau on the second line is a prospect: Devin Setoguchi. Setoguchi scored 65 points in 55 games for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL last season and has the speed and skill to bypass the AHL and make a direct transition into the National Hockey League. According to his impressive scouting report, Setoguchi is defensively conscious and "finishes his checks with authority," further leading to the belief that the kid may be ready for the NHL. If so, the Sharks' lineup would presumably resemble this:


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