Monday, September 10, 2007

Training camp thoughts

Well, that was fast. It seems like only yesterday Chris Pronger was knocking out Dean McAmmond and the Anaheim Ducks were lifting Lord Stanley. Yet training camp is upon us, with the Ducks and Kings setting up shop today and the rest of the league following suit later this week. The Sharks will open camp on Wednesday and are faced with a reasonable number of questions as they prepare for a season which they hope will bring a Stanley Cup to Northern California. Here's a look at five of those queries.

5) Is Jeremy Roenick ready to play?
True, this answer is unlikely to be derived until Christmas at the earliest, but we should get a feel for whether JR is in as good shape as he claims he is in and -- more importantly -- is as concerned with "blending in" as he says he is during camp. Doug Wilson has maintained that those who play the best will play and if Roenick has a lackluster showing at camp, it's possible he may not make the team at all.

4) Can Lukas Kaspar land a roster spot?
Members of the Sharks' braintrust were high on Kaspar when they selected him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The Russian forward's transition to the North American game, however, hasn't quite been seamless. While he had an excellent season with the Ottawa 67s in 2004-05, tallying 51 points in 59 regular-season games, then adding 20 in 21 playoff games as Ottawa advanced to the Memorial Cup Final, Kaspar's scoring prowess has been absent in his first two professional seasons in the AHL. While his two-way play has progressed considerably, Kaspar only has 76 points in 154 career AHL games. At this point, he would need a particularly exceptional showing in camp to make the opening-night roster, especially with the signing of Jeremy Roenick. However, if the injury bells toll for the Sharks later this season, it's very plausible Kaspar will see his first shift in the big leagues before the end of this year.

3) Can Devin Setoguchi land a roster spot?
Setoguchi, the eighth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, endured a trying campaign last season. Injury woes wiped out any chance of Setoguchi making the Sharks, rendering him unable to show up at camp. The Alberta native was then traded from the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL to the Prince George Cougars, where his production dipped initially. However, an extremely strong finish to the season saw Setoguchi post 36 goals and 65 points in 55 games with Prince George, a campaign that was overshadowed by Setoguchi's amazing playoffs. The forward scored 11 goals, 4 of them game-winners and 21 points in 15 postseason games, dramatically raising his stock. Setoguchi will likely compete against Joe Pavelski for the final roster opening and his chances are good. Although Setoguchi's development is significantly ahead of Kaspar's, he is in a similar situation to the Russian forward in that even if he fails to make the opening night cut, he will likely begin the season in Worcester and be the first potential call-up.

2) Which one of Davison/Murray/Semenov will make the team?
Which member of the club's three-headed monster will step up and claim the sixth defense spot? Of the three, Rob Davison has the most NHL experience, but that doesn't guarantee him a spot in the lineup. Alexei Semenov was the club's biggest (monetary-wise) unrestricted free-agent signing, as the ex-Panther and Oiler inked a 1-year deal for a whopping $650,000. Suffice to say, Doug Wilson didn't embark on much of an off-season spending spree. Regardless, all three are large, physical specimen with Davison listed at 6'3", 220 lbs., Murray at 6'3", 240 and the beastly Semenov at 6'6", 232. As in most cases, with size comes sub-par skating ability. Murray is easily one of the team's hardest hitters, but his repeated flat-footedness impinges upon his ability to deliver his trademark, open-ice bodychecks. The pugnacious Davison is a good fighter, but doesn't accomplish much else. He's primarily been a spare part in the equation for the Sharks since entering the NHL and has even been slotted in at left wing for a game or two. However, with Scott Parker gone and Ryane Clowe cast in a more offensive role, his pugilism could give Davison an advantage, although to be fair, Murray's above-average with the gloves off as well.

Semenov is decidedly the wild card here. Drafted in the second round by Edmonton back in 1999, he was named the top defenseman in the OHL in 2001, but mediocre play with the Oilers got him a one-way ticket to Florida in late 2005. A lack of ice time with the Panthers motivated him to pack up and play in Russia last season, but he's back in the NHL now and hoping to do damage with the Sharks. I honestly believe that if the Sharks can inspire this guy, they can have a real gem here. Still only 27, Semenov, who has one of the hardest slapshots in the NHL, can easily turn his career around and become a very reliable two-way defenseman. He's my pick to round out the top six on the back end, but Murray and Davison are capable defenders as well, if given limited ice time.

1) Who will back up Evgeni Nabokov?
For the first time in over a decade, the Sharks enter training camp without a crease controversy regarding who will stop the majority of the pucks for the upcoming season. No Vernon/Shields tussle, no Nabokov/Toskala/Kiprusoff issue, nothing. Instead, a new position between the pipes is in dispute: who will serve as Nabokov's backup? The Sharks brass largely perceives Thomas Greiss as the goalie of the future, but his development would likely benefit greater from 80% of the starts in Worcester than limited action with the Sharks. So with Greiss likely penciled in as the AHL starter, the Sharks' backup job is largely up for grabs. Many teams focus on goaltending in regards to scouting, but for the Sharks, netminder development is more of an obsession. San Jose currently has the likes of Greiss, Dmitri Patzold, Timo Pielmeier, Taylor Dakers and Tyson Sexsmith in the pipeline -- all of whom have the potential to be NHL-calibre goalies someday.

Pielmeier and Sexsmith, while impressive in the Sharks rookies' recent two-game sweep of Ducks' prospects, were just selected in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and are unlikely to land the backup job, leaving Patzold and Dakers. Before his death, former Sharks goalie coach Warren Strelow commented that Patzold was more than capable of handling a job as a No. 2 stopper in the NHL, leading to mass speculation that the Kazakhstan native will play behind his countryman Nabokov this season. That's probably true, but Dakers has a chance as well, and there is a slight possibility that the Sharks will in fact turn to Greiss.

1 comment:

BratGirl97 said...

Having watched JR skate the last few weeks at the Alltel Ice Den in Scottsdale, I can assure you that he is in the best shape he has been in years. No worries about JR. He has a lot to give his new team.