Sharks 2005-06 rookie review

By Kevin Wey

It would be easy to solely credit the acquisition of Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins as the source of the Sharks success in 2005-06. Thornton scored 20 goals and added 72 assists in 58 games with the Sharks during the regular season, one point shy of leading San Jose in scoring despite being acquired Nov. 30. Thornton helped turn Jonathan Cheechoo into the Rocket Richard Trophy winner with 56 goals in 82 games, 49 of which he scored after Thornton was acquired. Before Thornton, San Jose had a record of 8-12-4. After Thornton, San Jose went 36-15-7. Thornton also helped give the Sharks perhaps the best one-two punch at center in the NHL with Patrick Marleau, helping balance San Jose’s scoring by creating two high-scoring lines.

But, who were the players on the second line with Marleau? Two rookies, Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier.

Who was the defenseman who gave San Jose the offensive infusion they needed down the stretch? Rookie Matt Carle, straight out of college no less.

Who has been called upon by Ron Wilson to play quality minutes against opposing teams’ top lines? Rookie Josh Gorges.

Who was the rookie forward that San Jose added to the line-up in late November that provided a much-needed offensive spark to a struggling team? Grant Stevenson.

What physical defenseman was used to shut down the opponent’s top lines after Brad Stuart was traded to Boston in the Thornton trade? Rookie Doug Murray.

Which goalie won five games in six starts for the Sharks in late October and early November and kept the Sharks floundering playoff hopes alive? Rookie goaltender Nolan Schaefer.

What two-way forward did San Jose call upon to play a consistent, defensively responsible game all season? Rookie Marcel Goc.

San Jose dressed 10 rookies in 2005-06, and the group made significant contributions to the Sharks success this season. Thornton may have been the single most visible catalyst, but without the rookies, the Sharks would have been dead in the water.

Steve Bernier, RW (21)
1st Rd, 16th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

When the Sharks selected Steve Bernier with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, he was 6’2, and reported to be over 230 pounds. Bernier’s conditioning, skating, and defensive awareness were all questioned. Two years of hard work in the QMJHL and in the summers, Bernier was ready for pro hockey, and how.

Bernier started his rookie pro season strong, scoring four goals and six assists in his first nine games for the AHL Cleveland Barons. Averaging over a point per game in the AHL, the Sharks subsequently recalled their 20-year-old right winger. The Sharks were 8-5-1 when Bernier was recalled Nov. 4, but the team began a 10-game losing streak Nov. 5 against Minnesota, a 3-1 loss. Midway through the skid, on Nov. 21, Bernier was sent back down to Cleveland, but not for anything in particular he had done wrong.

“Sometimes it’s better to get the younger kids out of there, because they think it’s their fault,” San Jose Sharks Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke said in an interview with Hockey’s Future.

“You explain to them, ‘Look, we’re struggling right now, it’s not your fault,’ because, if you keep them there, they’re pressured even more,” Burke said.

Bernier scored his first NHL goal Nov. 12 in San Jose in a 3-2 overtime win over Dallas, savoring the moment, but he took his reassignment to Cleveland in stride. By January, Bernier was on fire again, scoring seven goals and 10 assists in 14 games, and the Sharks were a different team, having acquired Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins. With 19 goals and 23 assists in 44 games by the end of January, Bernier was again recalled by San Jose Jan. 30. Playing eight games before the Olympic break, Bernier tallied four assists and was starting to establish himself in the Sharks line-up.

After spending the Olympic break with Cleveland, Bernier was again recalled in late February and skated with the Sharks for the rest of the season. Earning a spot on San Jose’s second line, featuring Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek, Bernier was nearly able to lead San Jose in rookie scoring after playing only 39 games with the Sharks. In 26 games after the Olympic break, Bernier scored 13 goals and 9 assists, earning him 27 points for the season, only eight behind Michalek’s team rookie-leading 35 points. Bernier led all Sharks rookie in playoff scoring with one goal and five assists, although Edmonton was able to shut him down in the three final games of the series.

Bernier became more proactive in pursuing the puck during his time with the Cleveland Barons, helping him graduate to San Jose, but the primary reason for the increased success in his second recall was the state of the Sharks.

“When a team is winning, it’s easier to fit a younger guy in and find him ice time,” Burke said. “When a team is losing, you’re afraid you might lose that kid.”

While the dynamic added by Thornton and the minor changes Bernier made in the AHL made the difference this year, the now 21-year-old power forward set the stage through hard work over two years of training. Bernier tested poorly at the NHL Combine in 2003, and he’s worked hard to bring his weight down to about 220 and allow himself to compete at a high intensity over shorter shifts, instead of pacing himself for long periods of time. The Sharks knew Bernier had to make a change.

“Have you ever heard of a forward that’s 6′ 1/2 and 230 pounds that’s ever played regular?” Burke asked rhetorically. “You can’t play in the league, you’d die.”

“In a two-year time frame, his body has changed,” Burke said of Bernier. “This guy is a man now.”

The Sharks refuse to take the credit, though.

“He did it, we’d didn’t do it, the kid did,” Burke said, redirecting the credit to Bernier. “We directed him, but he took the ball and ran with it.

“It’s amazing to see what his body looks like now.”

The other thing amazing about Bernier is his hands. Bernier is able to use his size along the boards and in front of the net to protect the puck and then use his stickhandling abilities in close to score. Although he has average skating and speed, especially compared to his super-fast linemates, Bernier is able to use his size and hands to create havoc. Defensively, Bernier puts in a good effort and can lay out some good hits, but these are both areas he can improve on and will improve on as he gains further experience and confidence.

Long term, Bernier should cement himself as a top-six forward in the Sharks line-up, on a team that has strong depth and should have even stronger depth as prospects such as Devin Setoguchi, Josh Hennessy, and Lukas Kaspar continue to develop, as well as Mike Morris, if he can regain his health after a severe concussion suffered in a car accident last summer.

Matt Carkner, D (25)
Free Agent originally signed June 7, 2001

In his five seasons in the Sharks organization, Matt Carkner has battled through nagging injuries and developed his offensive game sufficiently to gain consideration for insertion into the Sharks line-up, playing his first NHL game in 2005-06.

Carkner only played one game for the Sharks in 2005-06, but he did manage to tally an assist in his 6:01 of ice time Feb. 6 against the Calgary Flames.

The bulk of Carkner’s time in 2005-06 was spent with the Cleveland Barons, for the fifth straight season. With Christian Ehrhoff and Jim Fahey up in San Jose all season, and Josh Gorges and Doug Murray recalled mid-season, Carkner’s ice time and role with Cleveland expanded, including regular shifts on the power play. Carkner responded by scoring a career-high 10 goals and 20 assists in 69 games.

While Carkner has the point shot and the awareness to man the point on the power play at the AHL level, his biggest asset is, well, how big he is. At 6’4, 230 pounds, Carkner is huge, and can use his size in hits or in fights. The 25-year-old also has tremendous reach, not for hooking and holding, but to reach for the puck to clear it, keep it in the offensive zone, or in poke or sweep checks. Carkner has improved his skating and mobility over his five seasons and looked like an NHL defenseman with Cleveland this season. In fact, a chance in the NHL is all Carkner really needs to make the next step.

“I think with Carkner it’s just a matter of being in NHL practices and being at NHL speed,” Burke said.

With players such as Kyle McLaren, Rob Davison, and Murray already on the Sharks roster, finding a spot for Carkner in 2005-06 was tough. It also came down to the Sharks having to battle back from their terrible November to make the playoffs.

“Carkner only got one game this year because every game was so tight,” Burke said. “It was a hard thing to break a guy in.”

Carkner’s future with the Sharks will depend largely on how the Sharks roster shakes out over this summer. Davison, Murray and Fahey were the odd men out for the Sharks down the stretch and in the playoffs, so defensemen will have to make their own opening to crack San Jose’s line-up, as Matt Carle did down the stretch. Carkner does appear ready to become a contributing physical sixth or seventh defenseman, but it may have to come with a team other than San Jose. Signing a one-year contract before the 2005-06 season, Carkner is a Group VI unrestricted free agent this summer, so he could sign with another NHL club that needs his size on defense. Wherever Carkner ends up, he does not have much more to prove in the AHL.

Matt Carle, D (21)
2nd Rd, 47th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

The fact that Matt Carkner, Rob Davison, Jim Fahey, and Doug Murray were not able to consistently crack San Jose’s line-up down the stretch and in the playoffs is strong testament to exactly how good Matt Carle is.

When Matt Carle was drafted out of the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, few probably foresaw that the USHL Defenseman of the Year would go on to win the gold medal in the World Junior Championships, two NCAA championships with Denver University, and the Hobey Baker Award in his junior season, and then forego his senior season and crack a playoff-bound Sharks roster down the stretch and receive regular minutes in the playoffs. But that is what Carle has done.

Carle led the nation in defenseman scoring this year with 11 goals and 42 assists in 39 games and finished tied for seventh in overall NCAA DI scoring with Pioneers teammate Paul Stastny, a prospect of the Colorado Avalanche. Named to the All-WCHA First Team, the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, the WCHA Player of the Year, a West All-American First Team member, Carle’s personal awards for the 2005-06 season were topped off by being named the top player in college hockey, the recipient of the Hobey Baker Award.

Denver University head coach George Gwozdecky told Hockey’s Future earlier this season that, “When Matt and San Jose decide it’s time to pursue a professional career, he will be playing in San Jose, I don’t have any doubt about that.”

Gwozdecky was correct, Carle did not see a single game of AHL hockey before playing with the Sharks. Carle signed with the Sharks March 20 and played his first NHL game March 25 against the Minnesota Wild, a 5-1 victory in which Carle scored his first NHL goal. The 21-year-old scored three goals and three assists in 12 games after he was signed, a scoring pace that would have placed him second only behind Tom Preissing among Sharks defensemen. Carle’s points at the collegiate level garnered him a great deal of attention, but that production came down more to hockey sense than pure flash.

“Matt’s got a lot of little subtleties to his game that he does naturally,” Burke said. “He can make people miss, he can make diagonal plays, he can slip a puck places when you think there’s no other option.”

While Carle’s skating ability is evident to all, his poise under pressure, his hockey sense, and his playmaking abilities make him extremely effective in running the power play and in making the all-important first pass out of the zone. The Sharks began 2005-06 with question marks regarding offense from the blue line, but the full-fledged emergence of Preissing, Ehrhoff, and now Carle, have erased those doubts. In fact, Ehrhoff and Carle should run the Sharks power play and be their top two offensive defensemen for years to come.

“Ehrhoff can be speed through his feet and Carle can be speed through the puck,” Burke said of San Jose’s young, talented point-producing defensemen.

Ehrhoff’s skating and speed can help him skate the puck out, and his point shot makes him a triggerman on the power play. Carle’s skating, hockey sense, and playmaking abilities should help him become a puckmoving defenseman more along the lines of a Brian Leetch or Sergei Zubov. While there’s no certainty Carle can live up to those two, his performance down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Sharks, at such a young age and straight into the NHL, is encouraging.

Playing only 12 regular season games and all 11 playoff games for the Sharks, Carle will still be considered a rookie in 2006-07 and has a strong chance at becoming a member of the NHL All-Rookie Team. Long term, the odds are favorable that Carle will become one of San Jose’s top defensemen in an incredibly deep corps. The only thing that might prevent Carle from becoming San Jose’s top defenseman is that his 6’0, 195-pound frame will not allow him to be a physically dominant defenseman, but Nicklas Lidstrom’s skating and awareness has enabled him to overcome average size to become a future Hall of Fame defenseman. Lidstrom’s success does not ensure such success for Carle, but Carle, too, has no glaring weaknesses in his game. He just needs more NHL experience.

Ryane Clowe, RW (23)
6th Rd, 175th overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

The 2005-06 season was supposed to be the season that big 6’2, 215-pound Ryane Clowe provided the Sharks some size along the boards and chipped in a little offense after a sterling 2004-05 season for the Cleveland Barons, but it instead ended up being an up and down season.

Clowe led the Barons in scoring in 2004-05 with 27 goals and 35 assists, and he began 2005-06 up in San Jose. However, aside from a two-assist game against the St. Louis Blues Oct. 8, Clowe failed to tally for San Jose. After 15 games, and occasionally being scratched, Clowe was reassigned to Cleveland Nov. 20.

Upon his return to the AHL, Clowe proceeded to light the league up with two goals and four assists in his first three games. Clowe was recalled Dec. 3 and played in Toronto that same night, in place of an injured Michalek, who missed the game with a tweaked knee. Michalek returned to the line-up the next game and Clowe was reassigned to Cleveland Dec. 14. After three goals and three assists in seven games with Cleveland, Clowe was again recalled by the Sharks Dec. 26, before he went down with an injured ankle Dec. 30. Before he was injured, though, Clowe showed his checking prowess in checking Phoenix Coyotes forward Jamie Lundmark over the boards Dec. 28.

Upon healing from his ankle injury, Clowe was reassigned to Cleveland again on Jan. 16, where he played 25 more games and finished the AHL season with 13 goals and 21 assists, giving Clowe Cleveland’s best points-per game average at .97. The Sharks recalled Clowe again April 10, and he played the final game of the season, a 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings April 17. The St. John’s, Newfoundland, native was also up with the team for the playoffs and did play Game 4 against Edmonton, again playing for an injured Michalek, but he was not a regular in the line-up.

While Bernier got a chance to succeed when he was recalled to the Sharks in the midst of their success, Clowe did not have the opportunity to play many games with the Sharks after they acquired Thornton and turned their season around. If given the chance again, the Sharks think he will succeed.

“I think he knows now that if he gets in there and gets eight minutes, he knows what he’s going to do,” Burke said of Clowe. “I think before, when the team was struggling and he’s playing with Goc, they’re both trying to produce offense because the team needed it.”

Unfortunately for Clowe and the Sharks, the offense did not come. When Clowe was recalled to sub for the again-injured Scott Parker, Clowe himself went down to injury in late December, a time when Clowe could have seen success had he remained healthy. With the Sharks receiving plenty of offense from their top two lines, Clowe would only be counted on for 8 to 10 minutes per game as a fourth line banger along the walls, but he’d make an impact.

“I think the way the team’s set up now, if he was put into the line-up, I think you’d see him play productive minutes.”

Clowe would add welcome size to the San Jose line-up should he crack the team in 2006-07. Receiving 20-plus minutes of ice time a night in Cleveland, Clowe had to pace himself in the AHL. In the NHL, Clowe will have to play an up-tempo game and play his intimidating physical game to be successful and keep his spot in the Sharks line-up. Marcel Goc, Grant Stevenson and Patrick Rissmiller all accepted their roles, Clowe will need to follow his former AHL teammates’ lead in order to join them full time in San Jose.

Marcel Goc, C (22)
1st Rd, 20th overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Some criticized the San Jose Sharks when they drafted German center Marcel Goc in the first round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but nearly five years later, the Sharks seem to have made the right choice.

Playing 81 games for the Sharks in 2005-06, all but one regular season game, the 22-year-old Goc started the season playing on San Jose’s second or third line. In his 24 games before Joe Thornton was acquired, Goc had scored seven goals and four assists, respectable numbers for a rookie center on a struggling team. After Thornton was acquired, Goc only scored one goal and 10 assists, as his role decreased to a third and fourth line center.

“He was getting some points early and then Thornton comes,” Burke said of Goc. “Now you don’t get any power play time and now you’re in more of a role.”

A smooth skating forward with soft hands, either stickhandling or passing, the Sharks know Goc has some offensive upside.

“I think if he’s on another team and he’s getting a lot of power play time, I think you’d see some numbers out of this kid.”

With Thornton and Patrick Marleau at center on the top two lines, the Sharks don’t need a great deal of points from Goc. Instead, Goc is called upon to use his two-way hockey sense to prevent goals and his work ethic to finish his checks on the forecheck. Like Marco Sturm before him, the younger German has done whatever San Jose has asked of him.

However, should injuries strike one of San Jose’s top two centers, Goc would be called upon to move up. Regardless, the Sharks expect Goc’s offense to increase as he gets more NHL experience.

“He’ll show you a lot of little subtleties offensively, and I think he’ll be able to get more power play time,” Burke said.

The defensive subtleties of Goc’s game helped him jump from the fourth line to the third line in the first round of the playoffs. After Alyn McCauley went down to injury, Goc’s role expanded, and he managed to finish with three assists and an even rating in 11 playoff games. Long term, given the Sharks will likely keep Thornton and Marleau as their top two centers for the foreseeable future, Goc figures to be a top third line center who can fill in on higher lines as needed, similar to what 2004 Selke Finalist did for the Sharks in 2003-04. In fact, given the two-way awareness Goc has shown since he was a teenager in the German Elite League, he might challenge for a Selke himself one day.

Josh Gorges, D (22)
Free Agent originally signed Sept. 20, 2002

An undrafted defenseman out of the WHL, Josh Gorges has gone on to win the Memorial Cup with the Kelowna Rockets in 2004, win a silver medal for Team Canada at the 2004 World Junior Championships, be named the 2004 WHL Western Conference Defenseman of the Year, and be named the Cleveland Barons Rookie of the Year in 2004-05. Now, the unheralded blueliner is pairing with Scott Hannan on San Jose’s shutdown defense pairing.

Gorges started the 2005-06 season up with San Jose and played Oct. 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks in a 6-3 loss, but he was sent back down Cleveland Oct. 11 to play Oct. 12 in their second game of the season. Four games into his AHL season, Gorges injured his knee Oct. 21 against Rochester and did not return to the line-up until Nov. 17. When Brad Stuart was traded with Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau to Boston for Joe Thornton, Gorges’ Barons teammate Doug Murray was recalled, but when Kyle McLaren went down with a knee injury, Gorges was recalled Dec. 15. The 21-year-old never returned to the AHL.

Although Gorges made his NHL debut in 2005-06, he set the table for his NHL recall in 2004-05.

“In Cleveland last year, during the lockout, he was arguably our most consistent defensive defenseman,” Burke said of Gorges. “He always seemed to get the puck out, he always seemed to get the puck away from people.”

As the NHL season continued, Gorges began to pair with ace Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan to play against opponents’ top lines. Gorges played 49 games for the Sharks in 2005-06 and tallied six assists, but his true measure was in the offense he prevented, including in the first round of the NHL Playoffs against the Nashville Predators.

“How do you explain a coach trusting him out there every time Paul Kariya is on the ice?” Burke asked rhetorically. “Coaches aren’t stupid, they’re not going to put a guy out there that they think is going to get burnt.”

At 6’0, 190 pounds, Gorges is not a big defenseman, but his competitiveness makes up for any lack of size. Not overwhelmingly fast, Gorges succeeds using his exceptional hockey sense.

“When you talk about a player that can process information, he’s pretty high on the list,” Burke said. “Not only can he process it, he can repeat it, flawlessly, consistently.”

Gorges, who turns 22 years old May 26, earned ice time over older San Jose defensemen such as Rob Davison, Doug Murray, and Jim Fahey. Consistently underrated throughout his career, even before major juniors, Gorges proved in 2005-06 that he has a future as a top four defenseman in the NHL. He will never provide the offense of fellow Shark defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Matt Carle, but he will provide a smooth-skating defensive defenseman who can use his hockey sense and competitiveness to shut down opposing forwards. Gorges learned some hard lessons against Edmonton in the playoffs, but he should still be one of San Jose’s top six defensemen in 2006-07.

Milan Michalek, LW (21)
1st Rd, 6th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

After two seasons of knee problems, Michalek was finally able to play a full season of North American professional hockey in 2005-06, and he established himself as a vital cog in San Jose’s success.

Considered one of the most NHL-ready players in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Michalek cracked the Sharks line-up in training camp as a 19-year-old after two full seasons of pro hockey in the Czech Extraleague. Michalek scored in his first NHL game, but he tore his ACL in his second NHL game, tried to come back mid-season and re-tore the ACL while playing in the AHL, and the subsequent surgery to re-repair his knee resulted in a staph infection. The Czech winger missed nearly all of the 2003-04 season due to his knee injuries and he missed all of the 2004-05 season recovering from the staph infection and rehabbing his knee.

Thankfully for the Sharks, Michalek returned as strong as ever. The 6’2, 215-pound forward had the same powerful stride that he had in 2003, and added a great deal of speed and power to the Sharks line-up. With his work ethic in the training room, Michalek’s return did not surprise San Jose.

“He did train real hard, and the type of kid he is, you could lead him in the gym alone,” Burke said of Michalek. “You don’t have to worry about him.”

The 21-year-old started the season with one goal and four assists in his first five games, but the Sharks began to struggle when Michalek’s offense dried up.

“I think the pressure on Milan earlier was that he was probably frustrated he wasn’t scoring as much, but he still did a lot of the little things well and never came out of the line-up,” Burke said.

Michalek failed to tally in any of the Sharks 12 games in November, and he had a few other pointless streaks during the season that ranged from four to six games. However, skating with Patrick Marleau and Steve Bernier on the second line, Michalek had a fairly productive March. In 15 games, Michalek scored four goals and seven assists. Although the Sharks had tremendous success in April, winning eight of their 10 final regular season games, Michalek only had one goal, and no assists, in the Sharks final nine games of the season. For the season, Michalek led all Sharks rookies in scoring with 17 goals and 18 assists in 81 games.

Michalek’s worth became apparent in the playoffs, not in the five points he scored in nine games, but how badly San Jose struggled without Michalek in the line-up for Games 3 and 4 against Edmonton after he took a shoulder/elbow to the head from Raffi Torres in Game 2. Without Michalek on the second line with Patrick Marleau, the Sharks lost the combination of speed and size he provided. Although Grant Stevenson showed speed and quickness filling in for Michalek on the second line, he did not provide San Jose with the power needed to fight through the Edmonton checks, which allowed the Oilers to focus almost entirely on Marleau. When Michalek returned to the line-up for Game 5 and Game 6, he was not the same player that he was before the hit.

Assuming Michalek regains his form prior to the Torres hit, Michalek should retain his spot on the Sharks second line in 2006-07, but he does still need to work on certain aspects of his shooting.

“He’s got to release the puck quicker,” Burke said. “He’s got to get the puck up quicker when he’s in close.”

He must also utilize his shot more often and do “a little less stickhandling in the slot,” according to Burke. Like many European players, Michalek must also be a little more selfish at times.

“He’s a pretty good playmaker, but he’s got, in certain parts of the rink, to shoot first and pass second,” Burke said.

Michalek was considered one of the most NHL-ready players in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft because of his physical maturity and the maturity of his game. Even as a teenager, Michalek played a two-way game. Long term, Michalek figures to be a top six forward for San Jose who plays on the second power play unit but also receives some shifts on the penalty kill, as he has the speed and hockey sense to succeed on both of the special teams.

Doug Murray, D (26)
8th Rd, 241st overall, 1999 NHL Entry Draft

It’s been a long journey for Doug Murray, drafted in the eighth round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft out of the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s New York Apple Core, but the Cornell University grad’s hard work has paid off with NHL action in 2005-06.

The hard-hitting, 6’3, 240-pound blueliner established himself as one of the top open-ice hitters in the organization while with the Cleveland Barons When Brad Stuart was traded to Boston, Murray was the defenseman San Jose recalled to maintain a physical presence on the back end. Murray scored a goal and seven assists in 20 games for the Barons before being recalled Dec. 1 by San Jose. By late December, Murray was receiving a regular shift and being used to shut down opponents’ top forwards.

However, as January wore on, Murray’s ice time decreased from over 18 minutes per game to around 13 minutes per game, and then he suffered a shoulder injury Feb. 4 against Anaheim. By the time Murray was healthy in mid-March, although he did play three games in late February and early March, Christian Ehrhoff had solidified his game and was playing over 20 minutes per game and Josh Gorges too had solidified his spot in the Sharks line-up. Murray played only six games for the Sharks down the stretch and had yet to play in the NHL playoffs through ten playoff games.

It’s not because Murray isn’t an NHL-worthy defenseman, though.

“He played well, then he hurt his shoulder, and then he got healthy and he couldn’t get back into the line-up,” Burke said of Murray’s dilemma. “It’s not like he’s out of the line-up because he can’t be in the league, it’s just that we’ve gotten on a roll.”

Murray has been criticized for his skating and footspeed, but he’s been able to use his awareness to keep himself out of the penalty box while maintaining his physical presence.

“People would think he’d struggle with the new rules, but he doesn’t,” Burke said. “He’s not a stick guy and a hooker.”

Despite establishing himself on Cleveland’s power play with his heavy point shot, Murray was a defensive defenseman for San Jose. In 34 games, Murray had a lone assist and 21 shots. Although Murray had trouble cracking San Jose’s line-up down the stretch and in the playoffs, his work ethic should ensure that he stays in the NHL.

“He’s a kid that, you give him some information, he’ll do it a million times ’til he gets it right,” Burke said.

Murray is 26 years old, has played three pro seasons, and has played fewer than 80 NHL games, but the fact that he was not technically under an NHL contract during the lockout means he is not eligible for Group VI unrestricted free agency. Even though Murray did not play for the Sharks in the playoffs, he’s an NHL-caliber player, and the rest of the NHL knows it.

“I don’t think you’d be surprised to know that a lot of teams called about him at the trade deadline,” Burke said. “A lot of teams need this kind of player.”

Given how poorly Kyle McLaren played against Edmonton, Murray may be able to make McLaren expendable. McLaren was paid $1,900,000 in 2005-06, Murray may only make a third of that in 2006-07. In bang for your buck, Doug Murray is a smart choice, and he wouldn’t let Raffi Torres have his way with the team.

Nolan Schaefer, G (26)
5th Rd, 166th overall, 2000 NHL Entry Draft

Nolan Schaefer has consistently exceeded expectations throughout his career. After his debut stint in NHL, Schaefer will have to live of the expectations he created in saving a desperate Sharks team in late October and early November.

Schaefer’s pro career started with the Fresno Falcons in 2003-04, but injuries to the Cleveland Barons provided the Providence College grad with an opportunity to play in the AHL. By the end of the 2003-04 season, Schaefer had established himself as Cleveland’s top netminder. He platooned with Dimitri Patzold in 2004-05, but he was still re-signed by the Sharks to a one-year contract before the 2005-06 season. With Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala on the Sharks roster, playing time in San Jose did not look favorable for Schaefer entering 2005-06. Then Nabokov went down to injury in a collision with Christian Ehrhoff Oct. 21, necessitating Schaefer’s recall to San Jose, and then Toskala went down to a groin injury Oct. 26 against the Dallas Stars.

Toskala left the game at 7:12 into the second period, after Jussi Jokinen scored, and suddenly Schaefer was playing in his first NHL game. The Sharks were down 3-2, had lost their last four games, had a record of 3-6, and now looked poised to go 3-7 in their first 10 games. The 2005-06 season looked even more hopeless when Jokinen scored again at 9:39 to open a 4-2 Dallas lead.

But, that would be the only goal Schaefer would allow that night, and the Sharks came from behind to win 5-4. Schaefer won in relief Oct.26, and then won his first four NHL starts outright, including a 1-0, 21-save shutout victory over Anaheim Nov. 4. The Sharks lost Schaefer’s fifth start of the season, but the NHL rookie netminder made 22 saves on 24 shots in the 3-1 loss to Minnesota Nov. 5, which included an empty net goal. The Nov. 5 start would be Schaefer’s final start of the season, but he saved the Sharks season in his first six games of NHL action by helping them to an 8-7 record.

Schaefer had trouble receiving ice time after the Nov. 5 game. Toskala returned Nov. 8, only to re-injure his groin, but Nabokov returned to action Nov. 12 and relegated Schaefer to the backup role. Joe Thornton’s first game with San Jose was Schaefer’s last game action with San Jose in 2005-06, but he went out in style by saving seven shots in 11 minutes of action in a 5-0 shutout victory over Buffalo Dec. 2. Toskala returned to San Jose for good Dec. 3, and Nabokov after Nabokov healed from his own groin strain suffered Dec. 2, Schaefer was assigned to Cleveland again Dec. 8. Schaefer did receive brief call-ups in mid-January and mid-March, due to minor injuries to Nabokov, but Schaefer did not see any game action. On April 18, with Cleveland long since eliminated from playoff contention, Schaefer was again recalled to San Jose, this time to serve as the Sharks third-string goaltender during the playoffs.

At 26 years of age, and having played three seasons under a pro contract, Schaefer is a Group VI unrestricted free agent this summer. With both Toskala and Nabokov in San Jose, and a trio of German netminders chomping at the bit to play in Worcester, the Sharks face a difficult decision of what to do with Schaefer.

“He’s put in so much time with this organization,” Burke said of Schaefer. “He’s come to every camp we’ve had and he’s never stopped working and he’s exceeded everybody’s expectations.

“I don’t know how you can let go of this guy.”

Despite a .887 save percentage and 3.44 goals-against average with Cleveland in 2005-06, Schaefer is an NHL capable goalie, evidenced by his .920 save percentage and 1.87 goals against average in his seven games with the Sharks. At 6’2, 200 pounds, Schaefer has good size, but he also has excellent crease movement. Schaefer’s glove hand also proves handy. Over the course of his three seasons with the Sharks organization, Schaefer has also improved his puckhandling and rebound control. However, Schaefer’s best traits may be his work ethic and attitude.

“A lot of goalies would come into this organization and would say, ‘Get me out of here, because I’ll never play,’ because we’ve got so many guys,” Burke said. “But [Schaefer’s] never said that. ”

Unless San Jose trades one of their top two netminders, Schaefer’s NHL future might have to come with another NHL organization that needs a low-priced, capable backup goalie who could step into the starting spot if necessary. Schaefer now has the track record. As long as San Jose tenders him a qualifying offer, Schaefer figures to be a restricted free agent, as the lockout prevents him from being a Group VI unrestricted free agent. It is possible that the Sharks could trade Schaefer.

“We’ve actually had a lot of calls on him, because he’s been well coached by Wayne Thomas and Warren Strelow, he’s faced a lot of adversity, and he’s come into the NHL at a bad time and actually won,” Burke said of Schaefer.

“If he doesn’t go 5 and 1, we’re not in the playoffs.”

Indeed, Western Conference fifth seed San Jose finished with 99 points to ninth seed Vancouver’s 92 points. The Sharks may have lost to Edmonton in the Western Conference Semifinals, but just getting to the playoffs after the team’s November was a tremendous accomplishment.

Grant Stevenson, RW (24)
Free Agent originally signed April 18, 2003

The Sharks thought it would be a two- to three-year process with Minnesota State University-Mankato forward Grant Stevenson when they signed him April 18, 2003, after his sophomore season as a Maverick, and despite what appeared to be a plateau in 2004-05, Stevenson arrived in San Jose right on schedule.

Stevenson scored 13 goals and 26 assists in 77 games his rookie pro season, exploding after Cleveland signed his collegiate teammate Shane Joseph for the stretch drive, and followed it up with seven assists in nine playoff games for the Barons in 2004. After finishing the 2003-04 season strong, Stevenson looked poise to break out in 2004-05, but he again scored 39 points, tallying 14 goals and 25 assists in 71 games. Assigned to Cleveland Sept. 23, it was not apparent early that Stevenson would crack San Jose in 2005-06, but the start to his AHL season did.

Stevenson scored eight goals and eight assists in 17 games and was Cleveland’s best forward to start the season. Clowe and Bernier were assigned to Cleveland Nov. 20, and on Nov. 23 (after Scott Parker was put on the IR due to a concussion) Stevenson was recalled for his first NHL action. Scoring a power-play goal in his first NHL game, a 3-2 loss to Calgary Nov. 23, Stevenson continued his strong start by scoring 5 goals and 6 assists in his first 11 games. The Sharks didn’t know he’d break out as he did, but San Jose did expect Stevenson to crack the Sharks line-up in 2005-06 when they signed him in 2003.

“We said it was a three-year process,” Burke said of signing Stevenson. “We thought he would struggle a bit with the number of games, he’s not a big guy, how to use his speed, how to adjust to the game, and it took him a little while, but then, when it clicked…”

Stevenson cooled off as the season went on, scoring five goals and five assists in his final 36 games of the season, but his play still helped allow the Sharks to trade Niko Dimitrakos to the Philadelphia Flyers for a third round pick.

“Niko’s basically got to play with top players, that’s the type of player he is,” Burke said. “Grant showed that you can throw him out in a number of roles and he can do okay.”

Playing on San Jose’s top two lines during his hot streak to start his NHL career, Stevenson was moved to the third and fourth lines as the season wore on, and even lost his spot to Patrick Rissmiller down the stretch, but he still proved that he can use his speed in pursuit of the puck. Although the 6’0, 175-pound Stevenson is slight, it is not uncommon to see him finishing his checks.

Stevenson did not see playoff action until Alyn McCauley was put on the IR April 30 for a day-to-day knee injury, evidence that he’ll have to battle to maintain a spot in the Sharks roster in 2006-07. Not only will Stevenson be competing with Rissmiller in 2006-07 (assuming Rissmiller is still a Shark), but Tomas Plihal, Josh Hennessy, and Lukas Kaspar will be pushing for a spot in San Jose as well. Devin Setoguchi, signed by San Jose in April, also has a legitimate shot of cracking the Sharks line-up in 2006-07, but he will return to the Saskatoon Blades if he does not play at the HP Pavilion next season. In order to maintain his place in San Jose, Stevenson must, according to Burke, “be very, very responsible on the boards, and there’s a lot of little subtleties that he’s going to have to do in third and fourth line roles that he’s getting more and more used to so the coaches can trust him.”

Whether or not Stevenson is a regular in the Sharks line-up to start 2006-07, he should end up, in the long term, a better version of what he already is now: a third or fourth line winger who has the offensive ability to fill in on higher lines if necessary. San Jose’s depth at forward won’t make it easy, though.

San Jose Sharks Rookie Stats 2005-06
PlayerTeamLeag.GPGATP+/-PIMPGSGGWSH
Steve Bernier ClevelandAHL
49
20
23
43
-2
33
11
0
6
144
San Jose NHL
39
14
13
27
+4
35
2
1
1
75
San Jose NHL*
11
1
5
6
+4
8
1
0
1
14
Matt Carkner ClevelandAHL
69
10
20
30
-17
202
3
0
2
140
San Jose NHL
1
0
1
1
0
2
0
0
0
0
Matt Carle DenverNCAA
39
11
42
53
58
5
0
0
San Jose NHL
12
3
3
6
-2
14
2
0
1
11
San Jose NHL*
11
0
3
3
+1
4
0
0
0
13
Ryane CloweClevelandAHL
35
13
21
34
-22
35
7
1
1
67
San Jose NHL
18
0
2
2
-2
9
0
0
0
14
San Jose NHL*
1
0
0
0
-1
0
0
0
0
1
Marcel Goc San Jose NHL
81
8
11
19
-7
22
2
0
2
96
San Jose NHL*
11
0
3
3
0
0
0
0
0
9
GermanyOLY
5
1
0
1
-4
0
1
0
0
6
Josh Gorges ClevelandAHL
18
2
3
5
+1
12
0
0
0
27
San Jose NHL
49
0
6
6
+5
31
0
0
0
25
San Jose NHL*
11
0
1
1
-1
4
0
0
0
6
Milan Michalek San Jose NHL
81
17
18
35
+1
45
4
0
2
159
San Jose NHL*
9
1
4
5
+4
8
1
0
0
23
Doug Murray ClevelandAHL
20
1
7
8
-8
37
0
0
1
33
San Jose NHL
34
0
1
1
+3
27
0
0
0
21
Grant Stevenson ClevelandAHL
17
8
8
16
-1
8
3
0
0
53
San Jose NHL
47
10
12
22
-7
14
5
0
2
67
San Jose NHL*
5
0
0
0
-1
4
0
0
0
6

* = Playoffs

San Jose Sharks Rookie Goalie Stats 2005-06
GoaltenderTeamLeag.GPMINWLSHGASV%GAASO
Nolan Schaefer ClevelandAHL
36
2059
12
23
1047
118
.887
3.44
2
San Jose NHL
7
352
5
1
138
11
.920
1.87
1



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