San Jose Sharks midseason grades: Forwards scoring more but mistakes have been costly

the Sharks have nine forwards who are on pace to either tie or surpass a career-best total in goals or points at the halfway point of their 2022-23 season.

A 10th forward is on pace to produce more goals than he has in five years. San Jose has improved its ability to score goals in David Quinn’s first year as head coach, both at five-on-five and on the power play.

That has not translated to more wins. It’s the number one theme of the club’s first 41 games — some things have improved after three years of non-playoff hockey, both at the individual and team levels, but one area that is not better is the Sharks’ place in the NHL standings.

We’re going to look at the Sharks at the midpoint of this season over the next few days, starting with a breakdown of the forward corps. There have been individual positives, and a couple of intriguing line combinations to build around. But ultimately, this group has also struggled at times without the puck in front of a defense corps and goaltending duo that has needed more support than they have offered.

“I think one of the reasons our guys are frustrated is because they think they’ve put in an effort that has allowed them to deserve to win many nights where we don’t,” Quinn said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re where we need to be. We’ve talked about the magnitude of our mistakes. Thats really one of our bigger problems. Our mistakes are just too big to overcome. We may make the same amount or maybe sometimes a little less than our opponent, but our mistakes are too big. And that’s the next step for us to turn this situation … around where we win more than we do, or more than we have.”

After using one of Quinn’s favored sayings — “5 to 10 percent better” — to judge players one-quarter of the way through the season, we’re going to use the European football-style ratings system at the halfway mark. It’s 1-10, with 10 being the best. Player ratings are also a bit tougher in Europe than the AF grading system more often favored on this side of the pond.

Stats are compiled from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving hockeythe NHL and The Athletic.

SOG – shots on goal; TOI/G – time on ice per game; CF% – Courses for percentage; xGF% – expected goals for percentage; GF% – goals for percentage; GAR – goals above replacement; GSVA – game score value added

Player

GP extension

Goals

Points

SOG

TOI/G

41

23

40

191

8:12pm

39

13

37

97

7:31pm

41

15

33

94

18:54

36

6

25

71

18:05

40

9

23

73

3:33 pm

37

7

14

59

3:39pm

31

5

13

58

3:26 pm

33

9

12

57

2.50pm

38

4

10

49

3:56pm

39

3

9

34

10:03

33

4

8

37

10:57am

39

4

7

51

11:09

24

2

4

29

8:58

19

2

2

36

11:58

Player

CF%

xGF%

GF%

GAR

GSVA

55.39

58.05

51.52

7.2

1.9

54.71

56.65

53.97

6.7

1.5

45.88

53.87

44.64

4.2

1

48.17

53.62

44.23

2.2

0.6

57.23

59.55

55.93

5.3

1

48.46

49.78

43.4

3

0

41.56

46.55

38.71

-0.6

0

45.15

47.95

44.12

0.3

0

43.28

49.46

40

1

-0.1

47.54

46.76

41.67

1.3

-0.3

48.19

50.11

48.39

1.7

-0.1

49.36

52.34

36.67

-1.2

-0.2

50.83

54.22

40.91

0.4

-0.2

39.78

47.1

33.33

-2.8

N/A

Timo Meier – 8

The Sharks have improved on the power play from an efficiency standpoint, but don’t draw enough penalties to make it a more valuable asset. One guy who does is Meier. He’s drawn 19 penalties this season and taken seven, a plus-12 differential that is among the best in the league.

Having a player with Meier’s size and scoring ability is plenty valuable, but a power forward with that type of penalty differential is quite rare. And it could be something that might convince another team he really is worth trading for and/or signing to a long, expensive contract if the Sharks make him available in the next two months.

Logan Couture – 7

The Sharks have the second-best penalty kill in the league, and Couture leads the forwards in short-handed ice time (90:24). Evolving Hockey’s GAR metric does n’t love his work on the PK (-0.1, despite 11 other guys on the team being in the black), but he’s taken more short-handed faceoffs (114) than the rest of the club combined.

That means a whole lot of PK shifts against other team’s PP1s, not starting shifts on the fly when the puck isn’t in the defensive zone or when PP2 is coming onto the ice. Couture has the team’s lone short-handed goal, and his goals against/60 on the PK is second among the five forwards with 50 minutes played.

One of his teammates also called him the best penalty-killing forward he’s ever played with, which will come up again in a different story next week.

Thomas Hertl – 7

Hertl is on pace to match his career high of 74 points, though there have been times (particularly early on) where it didn’t feel like he was having the impact he should. Quinn did mention recently that he still thinks there’s another level for Hertl to get to.

This is a good spot to mention that while the Sharks have a lot of guys producing at career-best rates, scoring on a whole around the league is way up. Hertl has 37 points, but there were 55 forwards who had 37 or more going into the games Monday night.

Some guys are listed at center and don’t play there very often or move back and forth based on the lineup, but Hertl is 19th or 20th among the guys who are full-time centers.

Kevin Labanc – 7

Labanc was a fancy stats darling at times before his 2021-22 was a lost season, and that’s back in full force. He leads the Sharks in Corsi for percentage (shot attempts) and expected goals for percentage. San Jose records more shots on goal per 60 minutes with Labanc on the ice than any other player and yields the fewest for 60.

It’s not just the advanced stats, either. The Sharks have scored 33 goals at five-on-five with Labanc on the ice. They have 34 with Meier out there … in 107 more minutes. Labanc is also halfway to a career high in goals and his second-best point total.

His market value is out-pacing his contract at the halfway point.

Nico Sturm – 6

If Sturm is actually going to be the Sharks’ No. 3 center in future seasons (or one for a contender at some point), he’s going to need to do a little more playmaking. But that’s nitpicking after his first half of this season.

The Sharks added a few guys this offseason that new general manager Mike Grier and his staff felt would be culture-setting players. Sturm has been exactly what they wanted and is on a reasonable salary.

Alexei Barabanov – 6

Barabanov’s breakout last year came with a slight caveat — solid underlying numbers next to Meier and Hertl, not so much playing anywhere else. Like, well below replacement level anywhere else.

He could easily outpace the production from last year, in part because he’s settled in as the right fifth guy on PP1. And he’s got three times as many five-on-five minutes next to Couture as he does with Hertl, with decent enough underlying numbers.

Matt Nieto – 5

Nieto has been a stalwart on the PK and could score 15 goals. He’s already got more goals in the first half than he had in 70 games a year ago. He could be a “does all the right things” role player for a better team at some point in the near future.

Nick Bonino – 5

It says something about his defense, both at even strength and on the PK, that Evolving Hockey’s GAR still sees him as a net positive despite the long scoring drought to start the season. He’s played some next to Couture, though not as much as Nieto. The underlying numbers are relatively similar, though Bonino has a big advantage in xGF%. He and Nieto could both be playing for a contender two months from now.

Jonah Gadjovich – 5

Who is the most improved player on the Sharks roster from last season? OK, it’s probably Erik Karlssonobviously. And Labanc has a case. But so too does Gadjovich.

He punched some faces last year, but his on-ice numbers were pretty bad, even for a bad team. This year? He’s got the best xGF% of anyone who isn’t making $8 million-plus or spent a bunch of games playing next to those guys. He’s on pace to blow by all of his individual shot attempts, scoring chances and expected goals contributions. He’s plus-four in penalty differential if you take out the fights.

In short, he looks a lot more like a guy who can play on a fourth line for a while in this league.

Steven Lorentz – 5

A slightly less-productive version of Sturm, which makes him either a solid player on the fourth line for this club for at least this season and next, or a nice addition for a contender looking for depth in the fourth-line/penalty-killing /chemistry-building departments.

Yevgeny Svechnikov – 5

Signed a few days before training camp started, and played his way onto the roster. He had a bit of a dip after a strong start, but has played well of late. The Sharks have had 66 percent of the expected goals and a 27-14 advantage in scoring chances with him on the ice in the past five games. And, true to form for this team this season … they’ve been outscored 2-1.

Luke Kunin – 4

He had below-average underlying numbers and too many penalties taken last year in Nashville. This year was pretty similar, but with less production, before a season-ending knee injury.

Oskar Lindblom – 3

He had three points in six games to start the season, and he’s got five in the past 13. It’s the one point in 20 contests in the middle that sticks out. Lindblom has had some better games during the most recent stretch, and that version of him could still help this team as a role player next season. He’s going to need to show more of that version in the second half, too.

Noah Gregor – 2

Kunin, Lindblom and Gregor have combined for 10 goals. Any one of them could have been projected to get 10 in half a season on his own, given where people expected them to play in the lineup this season.

Gregor hasn’t found any solid footing with the new coaching staff, and recent waiver pickup Michael Eyssimont getting a look isn’t going to help him, either. His best bet might be a strong finish to the season once some lineup spots open up around the trade deadline.

(Photo of Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Logan Couture: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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