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The San Jose Sharks Are Defying All Expectations

San Jose is off to a nice start and there are a variety of reasons why - including the emergence of a new generation of Sharks.
William Eklund. Photo by Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports.

William Eklund. Photo by Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, outside expectations for the San Jose Sharks were pretty low. Then Evander Kane, one of the team's best offensive threats, was suspended for 21 games for violating league Covid protocols. So if the Sharks turned out to be chum this year, it wouldn't have been a real surprise. As it turns out, the team is off to an excellent start with four wins in their first six games, slotting them third in the Pacific Division behind undefeated Edmonton and Calgary.

So what's up with the Sharks?

Well, they are getting more positive contributions from veteran offensive defenseman Erik Karlsson, who struggled mightily last season but seems to have found his productive side once again (he's getting buried when it comes to possession hockey, but we'll get into that later) with six points through five games. Karlsson had just 22 points all of last season.

There's also something to be said for the absence of Kane from the dressing room, a sort of addition by subtraction to the team's chemistry, as the power forward has long been dogged by not-so-subtle venom from teammates dating back to his days with the Winnipeg Jets.

But I also wonder how well the Sharks can do this season if a third factor continues, which is the contributions being made by the newest members of the team.

For years now, San Jose has attempted to hang on to their reputation as a consistent playoff team and contender and that has gotten more difficult recently as veterans such as Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have left the organization.

There was always hope that a new wave of prospects would distinguish themselves to help the cause, but there never seemed to be enough of them. Tomas Hertl was the first to breakthrough in that manner and behind him you had Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc. But all those players are in their mid-to-late twenties now and the backup didn't really arrive - until now.

While there had been high hopes for the likes of Dylan Gambrell, Sasha Chmelevski, Joachim Blichfeld and Noah Gregor, among others, that crew couldn't hit the next level in the NHL. And sure, they're still in their early twenties, but it sure seems as though they've been passed by in favor of another group that has gotten off to a great start this season.

William Eklund, Jasper Weatherby and Jonathan Dahlen have all been positive adds to the Sharks' forward corps early this season and that concentration of talent has helped augment an offense led by Meier, Karlsson and Logan Couture right now.

Eklund is the most intriguing since he has gone straight from the draft to the NHL. Teams always love to say that they didn't think a player was going to be available when they picked him, but the Sharks can legitimately make that claim: Eklund was rated as high as third or fourth overall for the 2021 draft and San Jose nabbed the kid seventh overall. Sometimes things just break your way and you pick up a smart, skilled, hardworking forward who is ready to go.

With Weatherby, age isn't as much a factor since the big pivot is 23 years old, but his ascent was a bit of a surprise because he could have stayed in college this season. Weatherby would have been a senior at the University of North Dakota and after the Fighting Hawks were knocked out of last year's national tournament in a heartbreaking five-overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth, it would have been understandable if Weatherby wanted more kick at a Frozen Four title. Instead, North Dakota's loss has been San Jose's gain.

Then there's Dahlen, a prospect that has been on the Sharks' radar for a while without earning a spot on the big club. Dahlen had been acquired from Vancouver in 2019 and played a few games with the AHL's Barracuda before returning to Sweden for the past two seasons, where he dominated the scoresheet with Timra.

Dahlen turns 24 in December, but he has just played his first NHL games, ringing up four points in five games with the Sharks. Originally drafted by Ottawa, Dahlen clearly needed more time than the typical second-round draft pick to develop his game, but now that he's ready, San Jose is reaping the benefits.

Can the Sharks keep up their great start? They are the worst possession team in the NHL right now and while it's a small sample size, it is something to keep an eye on. But if San Jose can get contributions from throughout the lineup, plus competent goaltending from newcomers Adin Hill and James Reimer (so far so good there), maybe they won't be the bottom-feeders many expected.



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