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Youth remains top focus of 2014-15 San Jose Sharks

San Jose's outdoor game at Levi's Stadium in nearby Santa Clara became official Wednesday. The Los Angeles Kings are the guests for the February 21 event.
San Jose's outdoor game at Levi's Stadium in nearby Santa Clara became official Wednesday. The Los Angeles Kings are the guests for the February 21 event.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

San Jose Sharks blue-line prospects


Pro Hockey Talk (PHT) focused on the San Jose Sharks Wednesday, Aug. 6. Articles were telling that the team's focus for the 2014-15 NHL season remains on the blue line—both a perceived weakness and the only position of any real change.

Among the pictured summaries of events were anticlimactic announcements like this one on ESPN that the Sharks would host an outdoor game against the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings at nearby Levi's Stadium Feb. 21. As examined here and reported by Yahoo earlier this week, Ticketmaster briefly had the event on sale days before it was made official.

San Jose's focus that week will be on beating the team it has lost to in the last two Stanley Cup playoffs. It has been well-documented that they are turning the team over to youth, particularly on the blue line. (For those needing the background, PHT had a recap of the logical speculation that has dominated chat sites like SJ Chomp on Facebook as to how general manager Doug Wilson's rebuild has unfolded.)

Three of the other articles Wednesday looked at either the young Sharks capable of making an impact on the 2014-15 NHL season, the blue-line transition or both. Those will be further examined in this column, with the remainder of their pieces left for the next column.

The first analysis of any player was 19-year old Mirco Mueller. The blue-line prospect is already penciled in for the nine-game tryout before Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan must decide if they want to commit to keeping him in San Jose for the entire 2014-15 NHL season or send him back to juniors.

Mueller has added over 20 pounds since Wilson picked him in the first round of the 2013 NHL draft. He has skill and skates well, and adding that to the unit would make up for off-season losses if he can be trusted enough to dress for every game the Sharks play.

They correctly point out his obstacles: Matt Tennyson and Taylor Fedun have four games of NHL experience already, not to mention seasons in the minor leagues; Taylor Doherty should be added to PHT's list after spending the last two-plus seasons as San Jose's leading blue-line prospect. On top of that deep field, Mueller has only nine games at even the AHL level (2A, -5) and is still trying to bulk up. He can also overcome those obstacles because he has potentially grown past them while carrying the most talent in the field.

The next PHT piece that pertained to youth or the blue line talked about why Brent Burns was moved back from the right wing of Joe Thornton. In short, the Sharks have good forward depth but the role of the departed Dan Boyle had to be filled for that unit to be effective.

Finally, PHT ended their day of coverage with a late night (10:50 p.m. EDT) outline of how important Tomas Hertl will be to the team's success. However, San Jose's depth of forward scoring was somewhat overlooked: Matt Nieto, James Sheppard and Tyler Kennedy could be a potent third scoring line.

Still, they are dead on about Hertl being the key to the Sharks being strong on the attack. At least in the regular season, Wilson knows what he will get from Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. With Burns moving back, he needs to supply them with another consistent offensive threat to spread out the opposition's best defenders.

If enough of San Jose's youth can fill larger roles in the 2014-15 NHL season, this team can go past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If not, Wilson could feel the sting of losing veteran blue-line contributions from Boyle and Stuart enough to end up a seller at the trade deadline.