Andrew Desjardins was the latest of the San Jose Sharks to be featured in an outlook series by CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz on Sunday, Aug. 31. He also is one of five players to be 28 before this time next year, all pictured with a summary caption of what can be expected of them that is examined further below.
In the last column, Examiner profiled five players that will end the 2014-15 NHL season at the age of 26. Players that young are a few years away from being their best, but most players nowadays peak before they are 30. That means everyone on the list of 28-year old Sharks is likely to peak in one of the next two seasons, and their current level of play is already high.
Like the other article, the youngest appear primed to have the biggest impact. Alex Stalock will not turn 28 until July 28, 2015 and by simply playing more could have a larger impact than anyone on improving San Jose's 2013-14 NHL season.
Stalock was outstanding in his first season as a backup at this level: 12-5-2 with a .932 save percentage and 1.87 goals-against average. He will at the very least give Antti Niemi more rest and more of a push in the 2014-15 NHL season. If he handles the heavy load as well as he has his sporadic opportunities, he should play because his puck-moving skills could support a young blue line and really make the Sharks better.
The next youngest is the ever-reliable Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who turns 28 on March 30. Pickles took a step last season to becoming a better offensive threat, and after the Sochi Olympics the world now knows how good he is defensively. While he is young enough to get better, he is already a veteran of eight seasons.
It is more likely that Vlasic maintains his play than that it grows noticeably. He should get even more offensive chances, so he should push for 30 points even if it turns out last season was just a second career scoring anomaly. Coupled with his defensive prowess, that is plenty to anchor San Jose.
Vlasic goes about his job every shift of every game. He is rarely unavailable to play or out of position when he is on the ice. He is accountable and does not whine while he takes care of the little things, fundamentals and dirty work.
Also clearly the best player on the blue line and almost certainly the most indispensable of Sharks, Vlasic is Examiner's choice to be the new captain. One way he can provide more for them in the 2014-15 NHL season is through whatever leadership role he gets, as he is sure to wear at least an "A" on his sweater.
Justin Braun is almost seven weeks older than Vlasic, but has more potential for growth. In the 189 games since his brief stint on the San Jose blue line in the 2010-11 NHL season, he has been focused on defending and scored only 35 points. However, he had 11 points in that 28-game rookie season and has 32 points in 49 other professional games (for both the Worcester Sharks and in Finland).
Braun is not going to get that much better defensively, but he should be able to peak a little more offensively and take advantage of more opportunities with Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart gone. If he both gets a little better and gets a few more chances to be in scoring situations (none of his teammates played as many of their minutes in the defensive zone), that could result in scoring a couple dozen points. That would make him second or even third of San Jose's blue-line elite.
Desjardins turned 28 a little over a month ago, and is probably the least-known player on this list. He is not going to provide much secondary scoring, with only 17 points in each of his two seasons with over 42 games played. However, he is reliable defensively and in the faceoff circle, works hard and will back up his teammates.
Desjardins will play every game he is healthy, working with line-mate variations while still being effective in his own end and especially killing penalties. His age might not suggest much opportunity for growth, but he has only played 216 NHL games and the game should keep getting slower for him before he gets slower for them.
Look for Desjardins to grow a little and get a few more opportunities, maybe even centering the third line for stretches while other Sharks are injured or ineffective. That should help him crawl over 20 points for the first time in his career, and he should spend at least a couple years peaking at that level.
Finally, Tyler Kennedy is older than Desjardins by 12 days but is the biggest unknown on this list. He found himself among San Jose's healthy scratches frequently in the 2013-14 NHL season, with just 17 points in 67 games. That is unacceptable for someone in there for scoring, because he sure is not there to defend.
Kennedy should get an opportunity to show he was worth a second-round pick last summer during the 2014-15 NHL season. There are fewer contending forwards, particularly with his potential for secondary scoring. For four seasons prior to the latest lockout, he had 60 goals and 78 assists in 271 games.
If Kennedy shows improvement on either end of the ice from last season, he will not be among the healthy scratches again. If he can show a little on both sides, he might get enough ice time to score more than a dozen goals and nearly 30 points. That would give the Sharks the secondary scoring they have lacked the last three Stanley Cup playoffs.
Just what role each of these players will play will not be known when training camp opens Sept. 19 (also per CSN Bay Area). They may not be totally set by October, but San Jose will make the Stanley Cup playoffs if these five are playing well when the 2014-15 NHL season finishes.