Redwood Times (http://www.redwoodtimes.com)

Three things to know: Sharks' Ryan likely headed to minor leagues in near future


By Paul Gackle, Bay Area News Group

Thursday, December 7, 2017

SAN JOSE — Joakim Ryan knows how to count. Simple math suggests that he will be the odd man out on the left side of the Sharks blue line after Brenden Dillon serves his one-game suspension Thursday.
As Paul Martin rejoins the Sharks lineup for their game against the Carolina Hurricanes at SAP Center Thursday, Ryan will get another chance to prove that he’s an NHL-caliber defenseman.
After that, Martin, Dillon and Marc-Edouard Vlasic will fill out the left side of the Sharks blue line, relegating Ryan to the seventh defenseman position until Tim Heed (upper body) returns from a day-to-day injury.
“I can’t really do anything about it,” Ryan said. “There’s no way to approach it other than when I’m in the lineup, keep playing well and worry about myself. I think for the most part, I’ve been pretty consistent.”
Ryan’s performance over his 23 NHL games this fall has allowed the Sharks defense to absorb Martin’s loss without skipping a beat. The Sharks rank second in goals-against average (2.30) and third in shots against (29.65) even though the veteran blue liner hasn’t suited up for a game since Oct. 7.
The rookie defenseman has produced two assists, an even plus-minus rating and a 56.18 possession rating, which ranks third among Sharks defenseman.
Nevertheless, Ryan will likely be reassigned to the AHL Barracuda, where he can play top minutes on a nightly basis, after Dillon and Heed rejoin the lineup. Ryan could also serve as trade bait if the Sharks try to swing a deal for more scoring at forward.
“The reality is, there’s a lot of guys here, so there’s going to be some tough decisions if we get healthy. We’re not there yet,” head coach Pete DeBoer said, adding: “That’s the NHL.”
Although Ryan wants to stay in the NHL, the 24-year-old defenseman said he could stomach a return to the Barracuda knowing that he left his best game on the table with the Sharks.
“If that happens, it is what it is, you have to go down and play,” Ryan said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of guys here. I think all of us belong in the NHL. You never know what’s going to happen, but this is where I think I belong.”
2. Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen will be competing for roster spots Thursday.
The way DeBoer sees it, he won’t be making a decision about who sticks around on his forward roster once Joonas Donskoi or Mikkel Boedker returns to health.
The choice will be made for him based on who capitalizes on their opportunity in the interim.
On Thursday, Labanc and Sorensen will get a chance to prove that they belong in the NHL, suiting up for the Hurricanes game. Danny O’Regan will serve as a healthy scratch, waiting for another opportunity to show what he can bring to the team.
“I know anybody who dresses for us on a given night is going to get 10 minutes of ice time minimum and they’re going to get a chance to play. They have to make the most of that,” DeBoer said.
“It’s almost out of our hands. Here’s the opportunity: take it or don’t take it. The guys who end up having careers are the guys that jump on those opportunities.”
With Martin returning to the lineup, the Sharks placed Boedker on the injured reserve Thursday retroactive to Dec. 1, which means they didn’t need to send a forward to the AHL to create roster space for the veteran defenseman.
But when Boedker or Donskoi returns, the Sharks will need to send Labanc, Sorensen or O’Regan to the Barracuda, making Thursday’s game a big opportunity for the two players in the lineup.
“I have to take it,” Sorensen said, referring to the opportunity in front of him. “I have to play good. I have to bring my best game every night, every practice. It’s huge.”
Sorensen made his 2017-18 debut with the Sharks Monday after collecting 14 points in 17 games with the Barracuda. The 25-year-old Swede is looking to make up for an inconsistent training camp, which forced him to open the season with the Barracuda after he suited up for all six of the Sharks Stanley Cup playoff games last spring.
Labanc, meanwhile, will be looking to hang onto his roster spot by breaking out of his scoring funk. The 21-year-old forward is riding a 17-game goalless drought and he’s recorded just one point in eight games since he was recalled from the Barracuda on Nov. 12.
“It’s going to be on the back of your mind, but you can’t kill yourself thinking about it,” Labanc said, reflecting on what’s at stake for him Thursday night “You’ve got to stay composed and work hard. Every game, NHL or AHL, you’ve got to play hard and you’ve got to work.
3. ‘Big test’
The Hurricanes (11-10-5) are hovering around .500, they’re six points out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot and they’ve lost three of their last four games.
Regardless, DeBoer considers Thursday’s game to be a “big test” for the Sharks (14-10-2). Is this just coach’s speak or is DeBoer seeing legitimate red flags in Thursday’s matchup?
Here’s a few numbers that should make the Sharks coach somewhat nervous. The Hurricanes rank first in shots per game (35.76), first in faceoff percentage (52.95 percent), first in team possession rating (55.15 percent), second in shots against (29.46) and third in takeaways (280).
In addition, the Sharks are just 3-3 against the Hurricanes over the last three years, in part, because their speed creates matchup problems for DeBoer’s veteran squad.
“Carolina’s a much better team than their record,” the Sharks coach said. “They put a lot pressure on the other team. They control the play for most of the games that they play.
“They’ve always given us a tough time, so this is a big test for us.”