Last season the Worcester Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time in three years. This season, Worchester will see several roster changes as many San Jose draft picks have finished there junior eligibility and will make their debuts as professionals. The biggest questions to start the season are, who will play in the top six forwards and what goaltenders will Head Coach Roy Sommer have at his disposal.
With several younger forwards in the lineup, goal scoring may be at a premium as the young players learn the pro game. With several talented young defenseman, the blue line will be a team strength once again.
The Sharks finished with only 210 goals for the 2010-11 season, fourth worst in the league. AHL veteran free agent Ben Guite was added to lead the young group and should add 15 to 20 goals.
Brandon Mashinter and Benn Ferriero will be asked to take the next step in their development and help lead the team in goal scoring. Both have shown a scoring touch and both have earned call ups to the San Jose roster. They should be expected to break the 20 goal marker this season.
Mike Connolly was added as a free agent and is making the jump from the NCAA ranks where he scored twenty-eight goals for Minnesota-Duluth.
Rounding out the rest of the forwards will be tryout holdover Ryan Del Monte and veteran AHL enforcer Jimmy Bonneau, who came over as a free agent from Hamilton.
The wild cards of the roster are John McCarthy and Nathan Moon. McCarthy was up and down with Worcester and San Jose last season and will start in the AHL. He is a gifted penalty killer. Moon made the team on a try out and put up eye-popping numbers in junior last season.
As mentioned before, the strength of the roster will be on the blue line. Several of Worcester’s defensemen have more than fifty games of AHL experience under their belts.
The top pairing will be San Jose draft picks Justin Braun and Nick Petrecki. Braun is a solid two-way defenseman and has twenty-eight NHL games under his belt. He will be asked to play huge minutes and take his game to the next level.
Petrecki is a stay-at-home type. He will be asked to take on the top lines of the AHL and to cut down on his penalty minutes.
Sena Acolatse and Taylor Doherty will also be vying for ice time. Both are making the jump from junior to the AHL, and will try to work their way out of the press box and on to the ice. Doherty skated in the final three games of the season last year, and Acolatse, who was born in the Bay Area, was a free agent added by the parent club.
The San Jose Sharks have always had strong goaltending depth and it has been tested early this season because of injuries.
When NHL goaltenders Anti Niemi and Antero Nittymaki return to health, Worcester will be getting back last year’s starter Alex Stalock and prized prospect Harri Sateri. In the meantime, Worcester will have Tyson Sexsmith and rookie pro Thomas Heemskerk minding the net. Sexsmith put up good numbers in the ECHL and did not look out of place in six starts with Worcester last season. Heemskerk had a great junior season. The Sharks are very high on this player. He is still young and might not be AHL ready.
Thomas Greiss, who is back with San Jose as a free agent after a season in Europe, is another goaltender to monitor.
Roy Sommer has been the head coach of the franchise since 1996 and is only the fourth coach in AHL history with more than 400 wins. Sommer had a 13 year minor league career himself, which included three games in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. A Bay Area native, Sommer has been with the San Jose Sharks for fifteen seasons, including thirteen as the head coach of the Sharks’ top minor league team. This season, Sommer will have David Cunniff as his assistant.
There are two young players who will not be in the AHL this season, but had excellent showings at camp. They are Matthew Nieto and Sean Kurlay. Nieto is a 2011 draft pick, who is a strong forward. He will be heading back to Boston University for his sophomore season. Kurlay is a shut-down center, who will spend one more season with Indiana of the USHL before heading to the University of Miami of Ohio.
Article was written by Mike Murangi.