Worcester Sharks 2008-09 season preview

By Dan Aronen

The San Jose SharksAHL clubs haven’t had a lot of success in the standings in recent years. The most recent playoff appearance was two seasons ago, a fourth place finish in the Atlantic Division and last season saw them finish sixth and out of the playoff picture. Expectations are that this year’s squad will be stronger. Only seven skaters are returning that saw significant action last season, so there will be many new faces. Should any impress, a hometown AHL All-Star Game appearance could be a nice mid-season reward. Regardless of team successes, the Worcester Sharks, and before that, the Cleveland Barons, have served as a good incubator for developing talent, with over 60 NHL players getting ice time at some point along the way for coach Roy Sommer, who will be coaching his 10th season for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate.

Forwards


With last season’s leading point getters Mike Iggulden, Grant Mink and Tom Walsh gone, the Sharks will be looking to AHL veteran Tom Cavanagh and newcomers Jamie McGinn and Steven Zalewski to help pick up the slack. McGinn and Zalewski both got their first taste of AHL action at the end of last season. The 2004 fifth-round pick, Zalewski is a two-way center who can play in all situations. He picked up six points in seven games after a solid career at Clarkson. Former Ottawa 67 and 2006 second-round pick McGinn is in the power forward mold and was impressive in the San Jose training camp after getting a couple of points last year with Worcester in eight games.

2002 first-round pick Mike Morris is hoping the injuries that have limited his action and derailed his game since a 2005 car accident are put into the past and he can get his game back on track. He had a good camp in San Jose, and was one of the last cuts, which is a promising sign. Expectations are high and, if healthy, he could provide some playmaking ability from the wing.

Rookies up front include bruising scorer Matt Jones at wing and scrappy center Matt Fornataro, a couple of undrafted rookies out of the NCAA ranks. Jones scored 15 goals for Merrimack College last season while Fornataro had 18 goals along with 28 assists for the University of New Hampshire. Rookie enforcer Frazer McLaren will be playing his first full season of pro hockey after playing four games with the Sharks last season. He put in 19 goals to go with his 164 penalty minutes last season in the WHL for the Portland Winter Hawks and the Moose Jaw Warriors. Checker P.J. Fenton, out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, rounds out the rookies up front.

Returnees T.J. Fox and Ashton Rome are another pair of big forwards with scoring potential. Four-year pro Riley Armstrong is a tenacious checker who is probably on the short list of NHL call-ups. Fox and Armstrong are also undrafted free agent signings by the Sharks. Veterans Ryan Vesce and Cory Larose are returning to the AHL after a season in Europe. Tough guy Brad Staubitz rounds out the forwards. Vesce will serve as team captain.

Defensemen

The big news heading into the season is that 12-year NHL veteran Kyle McLaren cleared waivers and was sent down to Worcester, where he will start the season. It is likely that the Sharks will try to trade him,  but as long as he is there, opposing forwards should beware his devastating hip checks.

Prospect Derek Joslin emerged as the Worcester Sharks best defenseman last season as a rookie. He has a solid all-around game and could see some NHL action this season if needed. Undrafted rookie Mike Moore is a big hitter with promise. He came out of Princeton last season and hung around the San Jose camp this fall longer than many people expected.

Puck-moving defenseman Jason Demers was the Sharks’ seventh-round pick this past summer as a 20-year-old and should initiate some offense from the back line. He had 55 assists in 67 games for Victoriaville (QMJHL) last season. Another puck mover, 21-year-old rookie Michael Wilson is yet another undrafted pickup by the Sharks. Listed at 165 pounds, he played for the Swift Current Broncos (WHL) last season where he picked up 41 assists in 64 games.

Returning veteran Patrick Traverse will be joined by minor league veteran newcomers Brett Westgarth, Brendan Buckley and Matt Kinch to provide some leadership on the blue line. Buckley, along with Joslin, will be wearing the ‘A’ on the front of their jerseys this season.

Goaltenders

With the expectation of a stronger club, Thomas Greiss should benefit and see his numbers improve from last season’s 3.09 GAA and .892 save percentage. The Sharks are very high on the athletic Greiss, and he should see the bulk of the action in his third AHL season.

Taylor Dakers is injured to start the season, so Kyle Jones will start the season as the backup, but Dakers will take over that role once healthy. Dakers started slowly last season, his rookie year, and spent some time in the ECHL, but played well down the stretch.