The San Jose Sharks are down to 23 players on their roster leading into opening night after sending veteran Todd Harvey to the Sharks AHL affiliate in Cleveland. Harvey was exposed and unclaimed in last week’s NHL Waiver Draft and can now be assigned to Cleveland without having to clear waivers the entire season.
“Todd had a good camp,” said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson. “We’ve given him permission to visit any other situations that might present themselves.”
Also exposed in the Waiver Draft was 23-year-old forward Miroslav Zalesak, who was assigned to Cleveland Oct. 3 after going unclaimed. Zalesak’s spot on the roster has been taken Nils Ekman, who led the team in preseason scoring with seven points (all assists).
“Nils Ekman earned a roster spot with his play,” said Wilson. “All through camp, we’ve talked about speed and details and that playing time would come from what happened on the ice.”
San Jose’s two back-up goalies, Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala, are still on the roster behind starter Evgeni Nabokov. Sharks management does not think either would clear the waivers if assigned to Cleveland Barons. Based on pre-season performance, Toskala appears to be the frontrunner in the “Battle of the Finns.” However, the Sharks have not made a commitment to either player in the backup role as Wilson appears to be working to move one of the two.
The Sharks will have several rookies in the lineup, each expected to make a contribution to the team.
“Too much is made of it,” said Sharks head coach Ron Wilson. “They will see a little more speed and intensity during the regular season, but they have earned their spots. The last couple of preseason opponents were good teams and they were only missing a couple of regulars.”
Returning veterans: Patrick Marleau, Scott Thornton, Alexander Korolyuk, Marco Sturm, Vincent Damphousse, Alyn McCauley Mike Ricci, Jonathan Cheechoo, Wayne Primeau, Mark Smith and Scott Parker will be joined by offseason acquision Nils Ekman. Also cracking the lineup is and Sharks first round pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft Milan Michalek. Michalek made the team after an impressive preseason in which he scored the winning goal against Colorado Oct. 4. He’s been able to adjust his game for the North American style with some success.
“When I first came to camp it was a little bit tough,” said Michalek. “I had to learn to deal with the smaller ice and the rougher style of play, but now I feel very comfortable.”
“He pays attention to what he is doing without the puck,” said Coach Ron Wilson. “That is a big hurdle for any young player.”
Brad Stuart will likely start the season on IR due to a shoulder injury – the remaining seven are set for opening night with veterans Kyle McLaren, Mike Rathje, Scott Hannan joining second-year Shark Jim Fahey (43 games with the Sharks last season). Three rookies with fill out the defensive corps including Rob Davison (15 games with the Sharks last season), Christian Ehrhoff and Tom Preissing, both looking to play in their first NHL game on opening night.
Evgeni Nabokov is a lock to start on opening night against the Oilers with both Kiprusoff and Toskala as backups.
Making the Playoffs?
Sharks coaches, management and players all expect to rebound this season and make the playoffs.
“We expect to make the playoffs,” said Coach Wilson. “That will take between 90 and 92 points and that is 10 games over .500. You can’t go for your final goal, which is the Cup, if you don’t make the playoffs.”
Special teams will be key to the team success this season. The penalty killing unit ranked first in the NHL the last half of the season and looks for continued success this season.
“We use just about everyone and it keeps people fresh,” said Coach Wilson. “I anticipate a lot of penalties in the early season – there always are. If we have to kill off 10 and we only use six guys, the skill guys are not in the game. The parts have to be interchangeable. If we do it the way we are supposed to, it doesn’t matter who is out there.”
The team is also working on the power play before the season starts and special team practice time is harder to come by.
This year’s Sharks team is younger and faster with the addition of rookies Ehrhoff, Preissing and Michalek as well as Davison and Ekman, both of whom have proven that they are ready for NHL action this season. Look for Ehrhoff and Michalek to challenge for the Calder this season if they can maintain good offensive production and play consistently over the 82 game schedule. Both players come from teams that play around 60 games during the regular season. Only time will tell how well conditioned both are for the season’s grind.
In the Locker Room
The Sharks will start the season without naming a captain.
“We may have different captains for each game,” said Wilson. “Doug (Wilson), myself and the coaches will talk about it, but we have not felt any urgency. We have sensed that the players are not too anxious about it.”