VANCOUVER — It hasn’t been an ideal season for Nick Bonino.
The 33-year-old was the San Jose Sharks’ biggest free agent signing this past summer, expected to center the third line for a playoff hopeful.
Bonino went pointless in his first 18 games and the Sharks are now 17 points out of the playoffs after a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.
“It’s been a frustrating year,” Logan Couture noted. “He wanted to contribute his first 15-20 games here offensively, and for some reason, the puck wasn’t going in for him.”
But the two-time Stanley Cup champion has been showing that he can still help San Jose back to the promised last next year. Bonino is signed for another year at $2.05 million dollars.
This was Bonino’s third goal in his last four games.
In his last 51 games, Bonino has 11 goals and nine assists. Over an 82-game season, that’s 18 goals and 14 assists, which is about what the Sharks hoped for from Bonino during the off-season.
Of course, you can’t wish away Bonino’s slump. At the moment, he’s averaging a career-low 0.98 Points Per 60 at 5-on-5. That’s far from previous career-low 1.42
Regardless, it’s good to see Bonino back to adding some secondary scoring. And of course, his game is so much more.
Notice on his goal, for example, how he dislodges the puck from Conor Garland (8) in the neutral zone. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) and Matt Nieto (83) serve it on a platter for the explosive Noah Gregor (73).
“That’s one thing that I’ve noticed he’s really good at,” Gregor said. “How strong on the stick he is. He’s so good at stealing parks, getting underneath guys, and stripping players.
“He’s strips pucks all over the ice and creates foot races or battles for his linemates.”
A Stick Check is, per SPORTLOGiQ, “separating opponent from the puck with your stick causing a loss of possession.”
At the All-Star break, Bonino led all San Jose forwards with 4.69 Stick Checks Per 60 at 5v5.
Here’s a defensive category where Bonino is leading not just the San Jose Sharks, but the entire National Hockey League.
With 91 blocks, he’s 24 ahead of current runner-up Anze Kopitar for most shot blocks by a forward.
He’s the fourth most-used penalty killer, behind Andrew Cogliano, Logan Couture, and Nieto, on the league’s third-best penalty kill.
He’s still a force at the faceoff circle, winning 51.4 percent of his draws.
Off the ice, Bonino’s voice still has weight.
“He plays the right way every game. He’s so consistent. He’s so good for us with faceoffs and on the penalty kill,” 23-year-old Gregor offered. “He’s very vocal in the room and talks to the younger guys and helps them navigate through the league.”
Captain Couture added, “He’s a great pro. There’s reasons why guys play in this league for 13-14 years, especially guys that aren’t the top-end talent — not to take anything away from Bones — he’s a third-line center. Those guys do the things the right way, they do the little things, win faceoffs, they check hard, they penalty kill.”
Bonino sounds like the perfect vet to guide the young San Jose Sharks back to the playoffs.
“He’s been a steady guy. A leader for us, I know young guys look up to. He’s one of the guys that we lean on to set the standard. That’s why they brought him in here,” head coach Bob Boughner shared. “I thought he’s done a great job of that.”
All that said, we have to face reality. Bonino’s skating is slowing down. Scouts have been telling me that since last off-season.
He’s not one of the league’s best third-line centers anymore – he either needs some dynamic wingers around him, or ideally, he should slide down to a fourth line.
But point is: Bonino can still play, and he can still help the Sharks.
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