Examiner pictured a list of players most likely to make a difference for the 2013-14 San Jose Sharks on Thursday, Sept. 5. The team's Director of Broadcasting Frank Albin profiled one of those players later the same day on The Daily Chomp—the blog on the their website—and also mentioned Tyler Kennedy as a potential difference-maker.
He is one of the few changes from in the 12 forwards the Sharks will dress every night from those that almost advanced to the fourth Western Conference Finals in the nine seasons Doug Wilson has been general manager. As good as they were in 2013, there were at least three teams better in the NHL.
San Jose lost Tim Kennedy, Scott Gomez and T.J. Galiardi this summer from an already-thin forward corps. The loss was minimal, as all three were healthy scratches at some point in the season. In fact, they combined for 88 games, meaning on average two were out there for five games to every game that had only one dressed.
They can hope role-players like Anthony Stewart, James Sheppard, Matt Pelech and Bracken Kearns are enough for the bottom of the depth chart without the departed Kennedy. That means if they are going to get better, they will have to rely on either Tomas Hertl to improve over the fourth-line and second-power play role of Gomez, or on the improvement their new Kennedy brings over Galiardi.
As promising as he is, it is important to remember Hertl is a teenager who has never played above the fourth-best league in the world. The 17th pick of the 2012 draft has never played North American hockey. Expecting him to produce much of an upgrade over Gomez so early is unrealistic.
For every player around the rest of the team that would be expected to be better this coming season than last, there is one expected to be declining from age. Hoping for a better season in net than 2013 Vezina Trophy finalist Antti Niemi had is unrealistic, and they will be lucky to get as much from the green Alex Stalock than they did from former backup Thomas Greiss, who had just one win in five games.
Really, the most likely improvement to start the season has to come from the play of the former Stanley Cup-winning, scoring-line forward of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is clearly a better scorer than Galiardi, but used to playing in the more wide-open Eastern Conference.
Kennedy is gritty and even feisty, but only an average hitter and finished 11th among Pittsburgh forwards in blocks in each of the last two seasons. If he can adapt to San Jose's shot-blocking, defensive approach by the end of the season, he can certainly add more to the attack than is lost defensively from him replacing a good defensive forward.
It is a lot of responsibility for one player to raise San Jose's game enough to close the gap with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Fortunately, he should only have to be one half of the partnership making a difference: Martin Havlat will either come back or provide salary cap relief Wilson can use to add another player.
By the end of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, a short list of important statistics will tell us whether he did his part.