In an exclusive interview with Examiner, Tommy Wingels of the San Jose Sharks weighed in for the SF Christian page on his role with the You Can Play Project following Michael Sam being the first openly-gay player at the NFL Scouting Combine (February 22-25). He was also asked about his role on a team preparing for the stretch run to the 2014 Stanley Cup.
The photo list here includes Wingels' three answers about his role on the Sharks this far and the rest of the season. Just where Wingels fits in could be influenced by his play and that of other depth forwards on the team that is healthier than it has been all season.
Until now there has been more room because at least three forwards have been out in each of the first 59 games played in the 2013-14 NHL season. San Jose limped into the break for the Sochi Olympics with six players out and at one point had seven forwards alone unavailable to them.
There are going to be some people sent back to Worcester. Scott Hannan, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Nieto, Raffi Torres and Logan Couture were skating full in a practice spent on dump-ins during an even-man rush followed by drills to dig the puck out and get a breakout going. All are likely to play, leaving James Sheppard, Mike Brown and Bracken Kearns battling Adam Burish and Martin Havlat for the final active spots.
The Sharks need seven on the blue line, so that means no more than 14 forwards can be carried on the NHL roster and one of the above has to go. It might make more sense to send Nieto down because he will not have to be exposed to waivers, but his speed has started to create some offensive chances. The best lines they could have are as follows:
- Matt Nieto-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns because the rookie has the speed to take advantage of the captain's play-making and the space created by the wrecking ball that plays right wing.
- Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Tommy Wingels was San Jose's best line before its best player went down with injury. This line has three players capable of defending, physicality, speed and skill.
- Raffi Torres-Joe Pavelski-Tyler Kennedy works because the American Olympian has had success with both of his wingers, each possessing better skating while bearing near equal skill on one side of the ice or the other. The result is him leading a checking line that is good on both ends of the ice.
- Martin Havlat-Andrew Desjardins-Adam Burish because the enigmatic Czech winger was playing well into the Olympic break and would provide some offense on that line, while the others could cover for his defensive liabilities. However, any combination of the remaining available players would produce similar results so long as the penalty-killing "Desi" as his teammates and coaches call him anchors it.
It is not known whether Tomas Hertl will make it back at all this season. At the very least, a return during the final 23 games of the regular season is unlikely given he is not even scheduled to take the ice for simple skating when the 2013-14 NHL season resumes for San Jose Thursday, February 27.
That means the Sharks have one winger on each of the top three lines playing higher than he is suited: Nieto is a third- or fourth-line winger on the first line, Wingels is a good third-line winger on a scoring line and Kennedy has not played any better than a fourth-line winger during the 2013-14 NHL season.
That being said, they also have an All-Star centering each of the top three lines, and each of them has one winger more than worthy to be on that line: Burns is a capable first-line forward, Marleau is definitely worthy of the top line but sits on the second and Torres is among the best checking-line forwards in the NHL.
The Sharks should be deep and have fresh legs for the run to the 2014 Stanley Cup. Over the days leading up to Thursday's game in Philadelphia, look for an examination of what that will mean for them.
Tommy Wingels had this to say about why his production is higher in the 2013-14 NHL season:
(A) different confidence level. You know I think as you play more games, you feel more comfortable, you feel more experienced out there. With that, guys will tell you, you play 100 games to 500 games to 1000 games it gets easier as time goes on. For me, I can see that, you feel more comfortable in your day-to-day life, you feel more comfortable out on the ice.
And I'm playing with some good players this year, not that I haven't in the past, but playing with a lot of good players, this team is clicking and guys are doing well because of it.
When asked how important being more consistent is to winning games in May and what needed to be done to turn around the streakiness that has defined the San Jose Sharks for years, Tommy Wingels had this to say:
Just stick to our game. Obviously in the playoffs you can't go through a losing streak. You lose four in a series and it's over. Obviously we've got to eliminate some of those hot/cold streaks.
This team's capable of going on a run and has proven we can string a bunch of games together, so we're going to look to stay pretty consistent and keep playing hard night after night.
As noted in this piece, the San Jose Sharks have a number of players coming back. Tommy Wingels was glad for the reinforcements coming, but also noted the team's success (they went 10-6-0 without star Logan Couture) while battling injuries:
Our team did a great job prior to break. We had a lot of players step up and a lot of players produce like they're capable of.
Getting some guys back in Raffi (Torres) and Logan (Couture) who has missed some time and TK (Tyler Kennedy) has missed a little bit, it will really help us. Obviously, who knows with Tomas (Hertl), but getting those kinds of guys back in the lineup who have proven themselves will be helpful additions.