CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz detailed the first of six San Jose Sharks that will be 26 years old at some point during the 2014-15 NHL season with an outlook of Logan Couture Friday, Aug. 29. He leads the five pictured everyday players summed in the captions and examined further below, including Jason Demers he detailed Saturday.
The youngest but best of them is Logan Couture. He will turn 26 at the end of March and is already San Jose's best player. His combination of defensive and offensive skills has few matches.
Brandon Dubinsky is the only better shot-blocking forward in the entire world. Couture wins faceoffs and can take the puck away. He plays the toughest lines, is not always in the offensive zone and still is the third best offensive threat the Sharks have.
The scary thing for the rest of the NHL is that he should continue to get better. There is not a lot of room for growth outside of developing a physical game he may not be big enough for, but one area Couture can boost comes with taking more of a leadership role.
If he can take that next step, he will be an elite player. It will be a good sign for the team's growth if Couture leads San Jose forwards in minutes, goals or even points in the 2014-15 NHL season.
Demers certainly does not have as lofty a role on the ice or in the dressing room, but has more potential for growth. He took leaps on both ends of the ice last season, and is now a decent defender and viable offensive threat. That improvement was not only the reason for his fairly lucrative new contract, but why the Sharks could even rebuild the blue line.
Demers does the turn the puck over but that is partially a function of handling it a lot. As the second quarterback from the point and the top puck-moving option on his pair in his own end, there are bound to be giveaways. If anything they will increase with the departure of Dan Boyle, but so will the points.
Taking better care of the puck or continuing to improve in hits or blocked shots could land Demers over 20 minutes a night. That should be expected given his age and experience, would be a great sign for and make him a key player in San Jose's new generation of talent.
Tommy Wingels is in a similar situation. The scrappy forward has led the Sharks in each season as a regular and developed into an offensive threat in the 2013-14 NHL season. His 16 goals should have been at least 18 if not 19 but for officiating oversights, and he added 22 assists even though he spent only part of the season on a scoring line.
San Jose will be best if Wingels locks down a scoring-line role in the 2014-15 NHL season. As he continues to improve, he could score more than 20 goals and nearly 50 points while maintaining his role as a tough defender.
Matt Irwin is currently 26 and has a chance to make a difference in the 2014-15 NHL season. He has played in over three of every four regular season games in each of the last two seasons and is expected to have an everyday role moving forward.
Irwin still must improve his defending and especially skating. He struggles to turn around and has a tendency to get caught out of position. His scoring also dropped from almost one in every three games in his rookie season to under one in every four in the 2013-14 NHL season.
If Irwin can step up as a third-pair offensive threat and grow defensively, San Jose will have enough blue-line depth to compete in the Western Conference. As he reaches his peak in a couple years, he could score 30 points in a season and be a key player in the next generation.
Finally, James Sheppard is another player expected to be in the lineup for every game for the first time with the Sharks. The former ninth overall pick is not a goal scorer, but has good offensive instincts. He needs defensive improvement to get more ice time, but is a pretty good skater. If he develops just a little more on both sides of the ice, he could find just enough power play or scoring-line time to alleviate the team's need for one more good depth forward.
The last 26-year old likely to spend ample time in San Jose is Eriah Hayes. He needs to work on his game to even be a frequent NHL reserve, so it is unlikely he exceeds that enough to make an impact.
The other players can determine the fortunes of the Sharks. Couture, Wingels and Demers should be better than last season, but maybe not by much. Improvement from Irwin or Sheppard probably makes them as good as last year, while growth from both might be enough to carry them over the hump.