The Worcester Sharks will embark upon their 2010-11 season with many familiar faces, mixed in with a group of new ones that will strive to fill in the blanks that are inevitably left when the parent team breaks camp for the NHL season. Winning their regular-season division crown with a strong second half, finishing with a 49-25-3-3 record, the Baby Sharks formula is similar to the parent club: a balanced attack, a good mix of offensive and defensive rearguards, and solid goaltending. Whether that formula will bring success to the 2010-11 version of Worcester will depend largely on whether the new additions perform at the level expected of them.
While the parent club did not have quite the housecleaning that some pundits predicted, there were still a few open spots on San Jose going into this season. Several Worcester players who played significant roles for the parent club last season were viewed as locks to break camp with San Jose, including Logan Couture and Jason Demers. Both are, indeed, on San Jose’s opening night roster, and hope to remain there permanently.
Beyond those obvious two, four more Worcester players broke camp with San Jose, including Frazer McLaren, Mike Moore, John McCarthy, and Tommy Wingels.
Replacing those players is an interesting mix of prospects and veterans, including long-time NHLer Jonathon Cheechoo.
The Baby Sharks lose their most effective offensive weapon from last season, center Logan Couture, who scorched the AHL with a point-per-game pace last season. But Worcester remains strong in the middle, which will be manned by experienced centers Steven Zalewski and Benn Ferriero, both of whom saw time with San Jose last season. Andrew Desjardins will center a new version of the "Crazed Rat" line, with linemate Dan DeSilva, but without McCarthy.
Rounding out the top lines will likely be veterans T.J. Trevelyan and Cheechoo, along with the still-developing Brandon Mashinter, Corey Quirk, and a pair of recent NCAA grads, Tony Lucia and James Marcou. Agitator Garet Hunt joins the Sharks after a stint with Stockton of the ECHL, and will likely toil on the fourth line, perhaps with newcomer Leigh Salters and returning checker Kevin Henderson. Winger Cam MacIntyre is something of a wildcard, after suffering two injury-plagued seasons with Princeton University. Prior to the injuries, MacIntyre had been an effective scorer at the NCAA level. If he can stay healthy, he could make a move for top-six consideration. Former Worcester Shark Ryan Vesce departed for Europe this off-season, joining Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod of the KHL.
The Worcester defense should be very familiar to hockey fans in Massachusetts, as every player patrolling the blue line for the Baby Sharks has a connection to the state. Former Boston College rearguard Nick Petrecki will look to put a disappointing 2009-10 season behind him, and show the talent that made him a first-round pick three years ago.
Merrimack College product Joe Loprieno provides steady, unspectacular defensive play, while Boston-born AHL veteran Sean Sullivan will bring his offensive flair (12 goals, 37 assists with San Antonio last season) to a blue line that lacks a true scoring threat.
The trio of college players brought in late in the season last year return, including UMass-Amherst grads Justin Braun and Matt Irwin, and UMass-Lowell’s Nick Schaus. All three will be counted on to help jump-start Worcesters transition game with their puck-carrying abilities and creativity. Former Boston Bruin Jay Leach joins the Sharks as the resident "greybeard. At 31 years of age, Leach will provide leadership and toughness on the Sharks blue line, which can be invaluable asset to developing prospects. Fan favorite Mike Moore made the San Jose roster out of training camp, but may see some time back in Worcester. Derek Joslin was re-signed by the parent club, but is currently injured. A stint with Worcester upon his return will likely determine where he and/or Moore play the bulk of their games this season
2009-10 AHL All-Rookie netminder Alex Stalock returns to the Worcester crease, where he racked up an impressive 39 wins in 61 appearances last season. He will again look to inspire the Baby Sharks with his fiercely competitive nature and winner’s demeanor. Stalock’s puck-handling skills should help the Worcester defensemen will their zone breakouts, and if he can match his performance from last season, the Sharks should have little worries in net.
Backing Stalock will be free-agent signee Carter Hutton, another UMass-Lowell product. With Tyson Sexsmith joining the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder, Harri Sateri back in Finland, and the trade of Henrik Karlsson to Calgary, Hutton gets the nod as Worcester’s number two netminder. Hutton will look to build on his last NCAA season, where he posted an impressive 2.04 goals against average and .928 save percentage. He plays a similar game to Stalock’s, with good puck-handling skills and agility.
Nowhere has the Worcester franchise enjoyed more stability than behind the bench, as Roy Sommer returns for his thirteenth consecutive season. Enjoying his 400th career coaching victory last year, Sommer has done a very good job turning raw prospects into NHL-ready talent, as the transfusion of Worcester players to San Jose this season will attest to.
As he has for the past nine season, Sommer will be joined by assistant coach David Cunniff.
While the cupboard is by no means bare, the Worcester Sharks will have fewer blue ribbon prospects (at this point) on their bench this season. Couture and Demers’ promotions to San Jose will mean that new riders on the "Worcester Shuttle" will have to step up. Besides the aforementioned players that broke camp with San Jose (McLaren, Moore, McCarthy, and Wingels), there are a few other candidates to get some playing time at the NHL level this year.
Alex Stalock would be the most obvious prospect, but with the signing of Antero Nittymaki and Stanley Cup-winner Antti Niemi and the presence of 2009-10 backup Thomas Greiss, the net in San Jose is very crowded. Barring a rash of injuries, Stalock will likely play another full year at the AHL level.
Center Steve Zalewski appeared in 3 games for San Jose last season, and was called up during the playoffs once Worcester’s postseason run ended. He is capable of filling a spot on the bottom lines, if need be. A year in the AHL as the top center could determine where he’ll be playing in the future.
Brandon Mashinter is in a similar situation, as he could bring his size and decent goalscoring abilities to an NHL third line. His development as a player has been impressive to this point, and if he can continue to do so, he may find himself in a position to fill on San Jose’s roster.