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Boughner, Young Sharks Make Their Case to Come Back Next Year



Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The San Jose Sharks have been trotting out inexperienced line-ups all season.

It’s not any different to close the year: In Thursday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers, the Sharks dressed eight skaters with under 100 NHL games experience. In contrast, the playoff-bound Oilers dressed just two such skaters.

In Friday’s season-ending 3-0 loss to the Seattle Kraken, the Sharks once again dressed eight skaters with under 100 NHL games under their belts. In contrast, the expansion Kraken – let me stress that again, the expansion Kraken – dressed only three such skaters.

This San Jose Eight, by the way, doesn’t include the relatively-inexperienced Noah Gregor (121 games) and Rudolfs Balcers (153).

On the bright side, the lottery-bound Sharks are also getting a chance to figure out which of these inexperienced skaters might be relied upon next year.

Head coach Bob Boughner spoke to that last weekend, when asked which of these mostly younger Sharks were really establishing themselves as bona fide NHL’ers in his eyes. Just as important as who Boughner mentions might be who he doesn’t mention.

“You could still put Noah Gregor in that group,” he offered first. “He’s starting to realize the way he needs to play to stick around. He’s starting to understand to slow the speed down a little bit in the defensive zone. When to explode. Judge the timing of things.”

Gregor’s Development a Study in Patience

Boughner mentioned Gregor’s current linemate Rudolfs Balcers next.

“Rudy is starting to come,” he said. “I put [Gregor and Balcers] in top-six roles for the first part of the season, trying to make it work. They’re really solid where they are right now.”

Preview/Lines #81: Where Can Balcers Get Better?

That’s on the third line, where they’ve been for the two weeks with star prospect Thomas Bordeleau.

“That’s where I see those guys,” the bench boss noted. “That’s where they excel more.”

Boughner talked more extensively about Balcers recently at San Jose Hockey Now.

As for Bordeleau, he had only three NHL games under his belt at the time of this media availability, so I don’t think Boughner was excluding him on purpose.

There were a couple other perhaps surprising names on Boughner’s list, which includes Alexander Barabanov and possibly Sasha Chmelevski.

What Will Barabanov’s Next Contract Look Like?

“[Nicolas] Meloche and [Jaycob] Megna can be in that situation [too],” he offered. “I know Megs isn’t a young guy anymore, but for all intents and purposes, he’s a first-year guy. Those guys have found their game and have learned how to contribute every night.”

Boughner made his feelings clear about 29-year-old pending UFA Megna recently, saying he “absolutely, 1,000%, needs to be back here.”

Of course, between Boughner’s overall record as San Jose Sharks head coach and a new GM incoming, it’s fair to wonder how much Boughner’s assessment of his more inexperienced players will matter, if at all. Who knows if he’ll be back? On the other hand, Boughner is an expert hockey mind – there’s a good chance what he’s seeing isn’t that far from what the next head coach might see.

So was this Boughner’s last game as head coach of the San Jose Sharks? If so, it was a disappointing end, after a legitimately surprising start to the season.

On Jan. 26, after the Sharks upset the Capitals in Washington, San Jose was 22-19-2, on an 88-point pace for the year. That’s not quite playoff-worthy, but a huge improvement over 2019-20’s 74-point full-season pace and 2020-21’s 72-point pace.

However – blame it on injuries to Erik Karlsson and Mario Ferraro, or whatever you want – the Sharks would go on seven and 10-game losing streaks after their triumphant visit to DC. They won just 10 of their last 39 games to finish with 77 points.

And that’s three straight years out of the playoffs for the Sharks, an ignominious franchise first helmed mostly by Boughner.

For what it’s worth, industry consensus is, even as the San Jose Sharks have been losing, that they’ve been playing hard with young, depleted line-ups. Multiple scouts from different NHL organizations have been impressed by San Jose’s compete all year.

That’s a big part of Boughner’s case to stay.

“I feel good about the job we’ve done,” he said before the Seattle game. “The young guys have got great experience. They’ll be better for it.

“We like our core. I think the players play hard for us. We definitely would like to stay on the path.

“There is some light at the end of the tunnel here.”

But will it be Boughner who basks in the light, whenever the San Jose Sharks get back in it?

It’s a fair and open question for someone else – likely the new GM, San Jose Hockey Now has heard – to answer.

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