Kaapo Kahkonen

Five Sharks training camp storylines to watch heading into season

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Sharks' 2023 training camp has opened in San Jose, and as with all teams, that brings more questions than answers.

Here are the five Sharks training camp battles that San Jose Hockey Now is watching closely.

Who’s No. 1?

Both goaltenders Mackenzie Blackwood and Kaapo Kahkonen are on the comeback trail.

Just a couple years ago, Blackwood and Kahkonen were seen as future starters for their respective teams, the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild.

But like Blackwood, Kahkonen struggled last year, posting a .883 Save Percentage, fourth-worst in the NHL.

The Sharks asked Kahkonen to tweak some things in-season last year, and now they are hoping those changes have taken hold.

“I feel pretty good, actually,” Kahkonen said. “I continued where I got last year this summer and kept working on those same things.”

Meanwhile, Blackwood made changes too, adding yoga and Pilates to his workout regimen. The 6-foot-4 goaltender not only is tall but built like a defenseman at 225 pounds.

“It helps me feel better, day in and day out," said Blackwood, who has been plagued by a variety of injuries, including a groin problem, over the last two years. "Like I don't feel tight and stiff and stuff like that. I feel like my recovery is better."

Kahkonen, 27, and Blackwood, 26, should both be entering the primes of their careers.

The Sharks are hoping that it’ll be in San Jose, and that at least one of them, if not both, live up to their potential this season.

Blueline Offense?

There’s a 101-point hole on the Sharks' blueline.

“I know you guys like talking about him, but I think we can turn that page,” Matt Benning said about recently traded Erik Karlsson.

It’s hard to though, since the Sharks don’t appear to have a blueliner who can even halfway fill that void.

After Karlsson, Benning had the most points among Sharks rearguards last year with 24. That was a career-high.

So who will quarterback the top power play unit? Who do the Sharks put out when they’re down a goal late in the game? Who can Sharks fans blame for empty goals against this season?

“We’ll see,” Grier acknowledged, when asked if the Sharks have enough puck-mover on the blueline. “Now there’s some responsibility on the other D, and the D as a whole, to make some plays and try and up their game. But we’ll see.”

Benning, Mario Ferraro, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jan Rutta and Kyle Burroughs likely are to be on the Sharks’ opening night defense, but they’re all defensively oriented.

The same could be said about on-the-bubble blueliners Radim Simek, Nikolai Knyzhov, Nikita Okhotiuk, and Henry Thrun.

Leon Gawanke and Jacob MacDonald both have each scored 20 goals in a season in the AHL, but that’s the AHL. Neither has any offensive NHL track record.

No one is expecting anybody to replace Karlsson, but can this group muster up enough offense by committee?

Time Is Undefeated

For a rebuilding team, the Sharks sure have a lot of 30-somethings.

Vlasic is 36, Logan Couture is 34, Rutta and Mike Hoffman are 33, and Mikael Granlund is 31.

“If you look at our roster, there's a lot of individuals who are motivated, with a lot to prove,” Couture said.

That can certainly be a good thing.

Vlasic, Hoffman and Granlund have shown signs of decline in recent years. Can they stave off the inevitable and continue to be key contributors?

As for Couture and Rutta, can they keep up their consistent excellence?

Time Is Undefeated, Part 2

On the flip side, the Sharks do have some intriguing prospects who might be close to full-time NHL duty.

Will the young really begin to overtake the old in San Jose? That really hasn’t happened yet since the Sharks’ last playoff appearance in 2019, but it’s about time.

Up front, 24-year-olds Jacob Peterson and Fabian Zetterlund, 23-year-old Filip Zadina, 21-year-olds Thomas Bordeleau and Danil Gushchin, and 20-year-old William Eklund are trying to break into the lineup.

On defense, 24-year-old Gawanke, and 22-year-olds Thrun and Okhotiuk are trying to establish themselves as regulars.

“That’s what I wanted from Day 1 — to have competition in here, internal competition where guys are pushing themselves, and the guys from underneath are pushing up to grab a spot,” Grier said. “You’ve got to play well — it’s the best league in the world for a reason, and no one should have a spot in the league or in the line-up given to them.”

Who Will Lead?

With the departures of Karlsson and Nick Bonino, the Sharks lost two alternate captains.

How will they replace them in a group that includes captain Couture, and alternates Hertl and Ferraro?

Nico Sturm, Luke Kunin, and Benning seem like solid candidates, as does Sharks lifer Vlasic. Head coach David Quinn says he hasn’t decided on his new alternate captains yet.

“That will play itself out through training camp," Quinn said. "We certainly have, obviously, with Cooch and Hertl and Mario, feel very confident [with] those three guys from a leadership standpoint. But we have other guys [who] could be guys that would be assistant captains. That's something that we'll talk more about as camp moves forward.”

Contact Us