When your team is usually near the top of the standings, it's hard to bring youngsters into the fold. It's also hard to find blue-chip prospects when you're drafting so low, but lately San Jose's fortunes have begun to turn in the rookie department.
Last season, Tomas Hertl was a revelation until a knee injury torpedoed his Calder Trophy aspirations. Matt Nieto, fresh out of Boston University, joined the team as well, using his speed to create offense.
Heading into the 2014-15 campaign, the Sharks will continue to mine the youth, even more so than before.
"We'll be a young team," said GM Doug Wilson. "Maybe the youngest in the league."
Two names to keep an eye out for are Nikolay Goldobin and Mirco Mueller.
Goldobin, an offensive right winger from Russia who has played in the Ontario League for Sarnia the past two seasons, was taken 27th overall in the 2014 draft, but will get a long look right away. A late birthday, he'll turn 19 in October.
"He was one of the smartest players in the draft," Wilson said. "His hockey IQ and spatial awareness will really help him."
One year prior, the Sharks tabbed Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller with the franchise's first selection, taking the teen 18th overall. Mueller played in the Western League for Everett and will be given every opportunity to stick with the Sharks in the fall. Wilson noted that the 6-foot-3 blueliner is now up to 210 pounds – a far cry from the 184 pounds he was listed at prior to last season.
Both players must come to camp prepared and nothing will be handed to them, but Wilson is confident that his team's composition will allow for a smooth transition.
"It's easier to integrate wingers and even defensemen into the lineup when you have depth at center," he said. "Especially in our system, where the center is like a third D-man in the defensive zone."
To that end, Wilson has Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski at his disposal (though Pavelski also played wing last year). All can play the game at both ends and win faceoffs. Last season, Hertl played on a line with Thornton and Brent Burns (who will return to his natural defense position in 2014-15) and rocked the league early on.
For Sharks fans hungry to erase the sting of the 2014 playoffs, the prospect of more youngsters making a Hertl-like impact will be a nice one to consider.