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Sharks Locker Room: What’s the Organization’s Plan Besides Hoping To Draft Celebrini?

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Credit: Dean Tait/Hockey Shots

Mission accomplished?

On Fan Appreciation Night, the San Jose Sharks clinched the best 2024 Draft lottery odds with a 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. They will have a 25.5 percent chance to select almost-certain first-overall pick Macklin Celebrini.

Head coach David Quinn couldn’t hide his excitement about the prospect of adding his fellow Boston University alum before the game: “[He’s] what we want to be as an organization, what the sport demands, he’s got high, high skill, but he’s got a hardness to him that allows him to be a different type of player. When I watch him, I think Jonathan Toews a lot. Maybe a little bit more skill.”

Now that’s an endorsement!

With or without Celebrini though, Quinn was also making clear what he wants from the Sharks moving forward.

Part of that, they can’t be this bad again.

For sure, the Sharks wanted a good chance to select Celebrini, that’s what a rebuild is about, getting high picks. They were prepared to miss the playoffs.

But they’ve lost too many games like they did tonight this year.

Josh Dubow of AP noted that the San Jose Sharks’ -135 Goal Differential this season, not counting shootout goals, is the worst for a non-expansion or second-year squad since the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques’ -167.

By the skin of their teeth, San Jose will also avoid being the worst team of the cap era. If they lose their last two contests this season in regulation, they’ll finish with a .287 Points %, the second-worst since 2005-06, just ahead of the 2019-20 Red Wings’ .275.

Even if it’s simply about turning these 6-2 routs into 4-2 losses, the Sharks need to ice a better product, be it for the fans or the younger players that they’re trying to develop.

Quinn said building a harder to play against team should be within the Sharks’ immediate grasp next year.

“I think what can get lost in all of hockey, because it’s become such a skill game, is the hardness and the grit to what this game demands. That will never change. I don’t care how many guys can stickhandle through their legs and throw a puck over their shoulder into the net,” he said this morning. “This is about mano-a-mano, and what can you do when someone’s trying to stop you from doing it? That never, ever, ever changes. Will never change. Until they make the rinks double the size and make the nets bigger.”

It’s not that Quinn doesn’t appreciate skill. See what he said about Celebrini. Of course he’d love to add Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Cale Makar too over the summer, but that’s not happening.

But it’s realistic for San Jose to be more competitive, which will also pave a runway for a William Eklund, a Will Smith, and hopefully a Celebrini to take off.

“That’s what we need to establish first and foremost, and then, the talent end of it can be impactful,” he said.

Of course, the Sharks failed at becoming harder to play against last off-season. That’s on, in part, GM Mike Grier. Injuries to standard-bearing players like Logan Couture and Matt Benning and trading Tomas Hertl certainly didn’t help either.

But San Jose can’t simply count on Celebrini to save the day: Since 2016, the worst team in the NHL has retained the first-overall pick in the Draft just four of eight times.

That’s 2016 (Toronto Maple Leafs picked Auston Matthews), 2018 (Buffalo Sabres picked Rasmus Dahlin), 2021 (Buffalo Sabres picked Owen Power), and 2022 (Montreal Canadiens picked Juraj Slafkovsky).

Celebrini or not, the Sharks need to have a plan not just three years from now, but next season.

Keep in mind how these recent worst teams in the NHL adapted to not getting the first-overall selection: The 2017 Colorado Avalanche picked No. 4 Cale Makar, the 2019 Avs (via the Ottawa Senators) picked No. 4 Bowen Byram, the 2020 Wings picked No. 4 Lucas Raymond, and the 2023 Anaheim Ducks picked No. 2 Leo Carlsson.

With recent Draft lottery rules changes, the Sharks will pick no worse than No. 3 this June in Las Vegas.

But you’re not getting Celebrini there, so you better prepare for that too.

David Quinn

Quinn, on how the San Jose Sharks defense can be harder to play against next year:

We just got to be way more difficult around the net. We do a lot of puck-watching. Don’t box out soon enough. Just gotta have more aggressiveness. It’s gotta mean more to us, more consistently. We’re not big back there, so that can be problematic, sometimes. But there’s another level for us to get through from a defending standpoint, because at the end of the day, you got to win one-on-one battles. It’s a small area, to get beat one-on-one as often as we do from time to time, it’s very, very difficult.

Quinn, on Will Smith possibly coming out to play for the San Jose Sharks this season:

I haven’t had any conversations regarding Will. Phenomenal year. Incredible talent. Will be here when he sees fit and when our organization sees fit.

Jan Rutta

Rutta, on how the defense can be harder to play against next year:

Probably eat more burgers and be heavier in the corners and in front of the net.

Rutta, on his favorite burger place:

Probably In-N-Out.

Nico Sturm

Sturm, on always trying to take a little more time with the fans:

I try to, on the way out, stop whenever I can. I mean, end of the day, they pay my bills, they buy tickets, they buy merchandise. They love the team, they love us as players. There’s going to be a day where not a soul in the world is going to ask for my autograph anymore. So when I can, I try to take the time and pay them back and put a smile on their face.

Mikael Granlund

(San Jose Hockey now note: I actually missed Granlund’s availability, I got down late because of the jerseys off the back thing)

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