Next year will be an interesting one for the Sharks’ primary affiliate, the Kentucky Thoroughblades. Much of the core of Kentucky will be, or is already gone from last year’s team, which was just one game shy of playing in the Calder Cup Finals.
Names that are already gone include Andrei Zyuzin, Shawn Burr, and co-leading scorer Steve Guolla-all traded in the deal that brought Nik Sundstrom to San Jose. The team’s other leading scorer, Herbert Vasiljevs (Florida prospect) was also traded, to Atlanta, for Trevor Kidd. With their two main offensive threats gone, they then found themselves without one of their starting goalies, as Sean Gauthier will not return, as he is an Unrestricted Free Agent, and is looking for playing time somewhere else. To cap it off, Dan Boyle will likely find himself playing in Florida next year. He was one of the main guys on defense last year. Other names who may not be back include: Jarrett Deuling (possible), Mike Craig (possible), Steve Lingren (gone), Peter Allen (gone).
New additions to the team will include forwards Adam Colagiacomo, Adam Nittel and Eric Landry. Colagiacomo and Landry should provide good scoring punch, and Nittel should provide an amount of toughness blended with decent point production. On defense, either Brad Stuart or Scott Hannan (most likely Stuart) will make their debuts on defense. Hannan played briefly for Kentucky in the playoffs, but did not play in the regular season. Stuart should provide a dominating force on defense for the T-Blades that they’ve never seen before. In goal, there’s Finnish prospect, Miikka Kiprusoff, making his pro debut. He will battle with Terry Friesen for the job behind John Nabokov, a battle I predict Kiprusoff to win.
Clearly, you can not discount the losses of Guolla and Vasiljevs. Guolla has led the league in scoring, and Vasiljevs has not been far behind. The additions of Colagiacomo and Landry will not offset those losses. However, Kentucky will have more on offense than just those two. Another year under the belts of Mark Smith and Matt Bradley should also account for a decent amount of goals. Playing in their rookie season this year, both men had very impressive seasons, also showing a surprising amount of leadership, especially out of Smith.
In the past, offense has been one of Kentucky’s strengths. While it will no longer be one of their strengths, it won’t be a weakness either. Instead of having two players with 75+ points, then a drop off; they should have several players in the 50-60 point area.
On defense, while loosing Boyle will certainly hurt, whether it be Scott Hannan or Brad Stuart, the T-Blades will inherit a top NHL prospect. One who can dominate their defense, run the PP, and be their #1 defenseman. Especially if it’s Stuart, the player will probably add more scoring production than Boyle did as well. If Hannan, then Kentucky will get more of an all around type of player than Stuart. One who should still shut down his opponent, and put up impressive numbers as well.
Last year, Sean Gauthier and John Nabokov split duty. Gauthier was the goalie of record in 39 contests, Nabokov in the remaining 41, despite missing time due to emergency appendectomy surgery. While Nabokov had the better numbers, one could make a good case that Gauthier was the one who kept things together. However, Guathier did not fit in the Sharks plans, and the feeling is that Nabokov has earned the chance. Miikka Kiprusoff is a very good goalie who should get minutes playing behind Nabokov, and learn the game. Kentucky should remain as having a strong 1-2 punch between the pipes.
What the T-Blades lose to free agency and trades, they make up for in a more well rounded team. What they’ve lost is obvious. They’ve lost a lot of goal production, which is not easily replaced. What they’ve gained can not be accurately assessed this early. The additions of Nittel, Stuart, and Colagiacomo, in addition to the extra year on Bradley and Smith are all wild cards (yea, I know, bad pun with my nickname for Colagiacomo being “The Wild Card,” so sue me).
My prediction for the T-Blades would have to be similar to where they finished this year. They got through the playoffs this year without much of their key players, due to call-ups or injuries, including Guolla, Zyuzin, and an ineffective Vasiljevs. Next year, they shouldn’t have the same problem with call-ups, although injuries could hurt them. While they have plenty of players who can produce, they don’t have a ton of depth at each position.
Plus, with one of the best coaches in the AHL, Roy Summer, they will find a way to win. I have spoken to fans of the T-Blades who are worried about the state of their team. My only advice to them would be too not worry too much. While you’ll see a different team on the ice, you should see one that’s just as competitive as it was this year.