The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps underway, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the San Jose Sharks, who will play in the West Division.
Coach: Bob Boughner (second season)
Last season: 29-36-5 (.450 points percentage); 15th place in Western Conference
1. Goaltending battle
Devan Dubnyk, who was acquired in a trade from the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 5, won 12 games last season after winning at least 31 in each of the four previous seasons and had a 3.35 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. He’ll compete with Martin Jones for the No. 1 job, though the two could end up splitting starts. Jones was 17-21-2 and had the worst GAA (3.00) and tied the worst save percentage (.896) of his seven-season NHL career. San Jose ranked 27th in the NHL in goals allowed per game (3.21) last season.
2. More consistent offense
The Sharks were 27th in the NHL in goals per game last season (2.57) and had two players who scored at least 20 (Evander Kane, 26; Timo Meier, 22). Forwards Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, two of their top scorers, each missed significant time because of injury. The hope is Couture, a six-time 25-goal scorer, and Hertl, who scored an NHL career-high 35 goals in 2018-19, will be able to bounce back this season. Forwards Kevin Labanc (14 goals last season) and Ryan Donato (14 goals with the Wild last season) each could add to the offensive depth.
3. Moving on from Thornton
Center Joe Thornton, who played the past 15 seasons for the Sharks, signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 16. He ranks first in Sharks history in assists (804), second in games (1,104) and points (1,055), and fourth in goals (251). His loss on and off the ice will be difficult, though the return of Patrick Marleau should help; the 41-year-old forward signed a one-year contract Oct. 13 to return to San Jose, which traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 24, and has the most points (1,102), goals (518), power-play goals (161), game-winning goals (101) and games (1,551) in Sharks history.
Making the cut
The Sharks likely have one or two forward spots available entering training camp. Noah Gregor, who split time with the Sharks and San Jose, their American Hockey League affiliate, last season, should be in the mix, along with prospects Joachim Blichfeld and Alexander Chmelevski.
Among defensemen, there likely will be one spot open. Jacob Middleton had two assists in 10 games with the Sharks last season and has played in 13 NHL games. The 25-year-old likely could earn that spot to start the season. Nikolai Knyzhov played three games with the Sharks last season and the 22-year-old could be an option. Prospect Ryan Merkley is likely a season away from the NHL but the 20-year-old could earn a call-up this season.
Most intriguing addition
Dubnyk is out to improve his numbers after having the worst save percentage since his rookie season (.889 in 2009-10) and the third-worst GAA of his 11-season NHL career. He has proven capable of being a No. 1 goalie in the past.
Biggest potential surprise
Donato, who was acquired from the Wild on Oct. 5, will have a chance to make an impact as a top-six forward. The 24-year-old scored 23 points (14 goals, nine assists) last season and is expected to receive more ice time than he did last season (10:38). He also can play all three forward positions and could set a new NHL career high in points (25 in 2018-19).
Ready to break through
Forward Dylan Gambrell could be in for a big season. The 24-year-old scored 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 50 games as a rookie with the Sharks last season after not scoring in 11 NHL games from 2017-19. Gambrell can play center and wing and could be a top-six forward before too long.
Donato (C/LW; undrafted on average in fantasy) set an NHL career high in goals in 62 games last season in mostly a bottom-six role. Now he has a chance to round out the Sharks’ top-six forward group, either on a line with Hertl, a valuable center, or Couture for one of the potential bounce-back teams of the season. Donato, who will also bring even-strength exposure to high-scoring defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, is a deep fantasy sleeper who could shatter his NHL career highs across the board. — Pete Jensen
Evander Kane — Logan Couture — Kevin Labanc
Ryan Donato — Tomas Hertl — Timo Meier
Patrick Marleau — Noah Gregor — Matt Nieto
Marcus Sorensen — Antti Suomela — Dylan Gambrell
Radim Simek — Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic — Erik Karlsson
Jacob Middleton — Mario Ferraro