2014-15 NHL Pacific Division preview: After an epic playoff collapse, how will the San Jose Sharks respond?
COACH: Todd McLellan
2013-14 RECORD: 51-22-9, 111 points (second in Pacific, lost to Kings, 4-3, in first round))
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Patrick Marleau — Joe Pavelski — Tommy Wingels
Tomas Hertl — Logan Couture — Matt Nieto
Raffi Torres — Joe Thornton — Tyler Kennedy
Tye McGinn — Andrew Desjardins — Mike Brown
Adam Burish, James Sheppard*, John Scott
San Jose still has two of the most fearsome forward lines in hockey. The defense lost two veterans in Dan Boyle (free agency) and Brad Stuart (trade), but the ferocious Brent Burns will shift from forward to his former position on the blue line where he'll be the puck-moving complement to shutdown defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Yet, despite this team’s formidable star power and a proven regular-season track record, the big question now is how the Sharks will respond after the worst postseason collapse in franchise history. They would do well to remember the Bruins who squandered a 3-0 lead to the Flyers in the 2010 playoffs only to come back and win the Stanley Cup in 2011. Bitter defeat can be inspiring. The Sharks should have no trouble making the playoffs, but a stumble out of the gate or an exit before the Western Conference Finals will mean that wholesale changes finally come to Silicon Valley.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tomas Hertl
Hockey fans gawked (while some players and coaches bristled) at Hertl’s flashy play last season, but the 20-year old winger’s skills are worth more than a handful of YouTube highlights. He scored eight goals in last season’s opening month and appeared to be on his way to Rookie of the Year honors before sustaining a knee injury in an ugly collision with the Kings’ Dustin Brown in December and missing 45 games. Paired with perennially underrated Logan Couture, Hertl may be destined for a 30-plus goal season if he stays healthy and avoids a sophomore slump.
PREDICTION: 101 points (third in Pacific)