Roster Almost Set For Opening Night
When the Sharks reassigned Miroslav Zalesak to Cleveland on Friday afternoon, they basically set their roster with regards to the forwards and blueliners. The Sharks currently have 25 players in camp and are expected to carry 14 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders.
If Brad Stuart is forced to start the 2003-04 campaign on the injured reserve with his shoulder injury, San Jose will be down to 24 players. While Nabokov is a lock as the number one netminder, the Sharks could have a difficult final roster move to make since both Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala would have to clear waivers if they were assigned to Cleveland.
Should San Jose carry three netminders, they could carry just one extra forward until they figure out the logjam.
Three players who appear to have skated well enough to earn roster spots are 2003 first rounder Milan Michalek, Christian Ehrhoff, a fourth round pick out of Germany in 2001 and Tom Preissing, a free agent Tom Preissing who has signed as a free agent out of Colorado College. While there were expectations for the three entering camp, no one was guaranteeing a spot to any of them.
They appear to have taken care of that themselves. These two are not the run of the mill rookies trying to make the NHL. They have both played in their top men's league in their respective countries and they have the skills necessary for the top league in the world.
Michalek a healthy six-foot-two, 220-pounder out of Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech who many proclaimed the most NHL ready of the 2003 first round picks this summer. Over the course of training camp, he has done nothing to dispel that theory. Recently Michalek has found himself on a line with Mike Ricci, who also happened to break into the NHL as a teenager.
Michalek's skill level was on full display Thursday night against Vancouver when he dragged the puck between his legs with Ed Jovanovski draped all over him and still maintained control to drive a shot on net.
"He can stickhandle in a phone booth," said Ricci. "You'll see him dangle a few times this year. I'd love to be playing with him. He is a smart player and unlike the young guys back when I came in, he is physically mature. I battled just to get to 175 pounds. He has it."
Michalek has been compared to Marco Sturm during his first season in the NHL. Both were physically mature an extremely aware of their defensive position.
"He pays attention to what he is doing without the puck," said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. "That is a big hurdle for any young player."
The player who Michalek is compared to from the mental standpoint is not surprised at Michalek's position.
"He's pretty young, but he doesn't seem 18-years-old," said Sturm. "He is going to be a heck of a hockey player."
On the comparisons between himself and Michalek…
"He has more skill," said Sturm.
As for Ehrhoff, his offense ability was never really in question has he as a laser shot and skates like the wind. Where he has impressed is where defensemen earn a living.
"He skates and shoots so well," said Wilson. "That he has played well in his own end defensively has great."
His compatriot Sturm has known of Ehrhoff's ability for quite some time now.
"I'm not really surprised with the way things have gone for him the last couple of years," said Sturm. "He played in the Olympics and was one of the top defensemen in Germany. He won the championship last year and in the German league they hit some, so you get used to it."
When it comes to language in North American, Ehrhoff's English, while not fluent, is about as good as it could be without ever living in an English speaking country. And if it was every an issue, he would have Sturm close by. Michalek has a solid understanding of the language, but will have a little more work to do. Plus with Zalesak now in Cleveland, he will be force fed English, as there is no one to speak Czech with. Michalek understands better than you would expect, but will have some work to do when speaking the language.
Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov says his English skills were comparable to Michalek's and he now has no problem with his secondary language.
"I was the same way," said Nabokov. "I think he'll hang out with the guys and get it quickly. You just have to work through it. It will take some time, but by the end of the year, he will have it down."
Preissing might be the most surprising roster member of the group. Some might consider it a fluke that he is a member of the top seven defensemen due to Stuart's injury, but Wilson has indicated that Preissing has played strong throughout camp.
"Preissing has played really well to this point," said Wilson. "If we started tomorrow, he would be in the lineup. But things can change in the next few days."
PLAYING TO THEIR LEVEL
Scott Parker is known for his fists, but he can play a little hockey too. He was not a first round pick for nothing. Now he finds himself playing alongside Wayne Primeau and Nils Ekman who rank one and two on the Sharks in preseason scoring.
"Wayne and I are the bookends and Ek is zooming around out there," said Parker. "When they are flying in to the zone, they back up the defense and that creates so much room."
Parker loves what he sees in his big centerman.
When Primeau gets going, he is so strong driving to the net," said Parker. "That is what I want to do."