Filip Zadina, Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks, San Jose Sharks Season Preview, Season Previews, William Eklund

San Jose Sharks: 2023-24 Opening Night Lineup Prediction

The new-look San Jose Sharks are getting ready for training camp, and preseason is right around the corner. With that, there will be a lot of difficult decisions ahead for both general manager Mike Grier and head coach David Quinn. Without the safety net of a player like Erik Karlsson on the blue line, it’s wide open for defensemen to earn ice time. Meanwhile, there are quite a few young forwards looking to force their way into management’s plans sooner rather than later. While certain players aren’t going to make the jump this season, such as Will Smith who is committed to Boston College of the NCAA, some slightly older prospects like William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau seem ready to make the jump to the NHL. 

William Eklund San Jose Sharks
William Eklund, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


Alexander Barabanov Logan Couture Filip Zadina

Mike Hoffman Tomas Hertl Anthony Duclair

William Eklund Thomas Bordeleau Kevin Labanc

Fabian Zetterlund Nico Sturm Mikael Granlund

It’s going to be a fight for the Sharks’ forward spots. Those who make the roster are going to do so through hard work and determination, as it certainly won’t come easy. Of course, there are the locks who are guaranteed to make the team such as Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl and it’s also safe to assume Alexander Barabanov and new additions Anthony Duclair and Filip Zadina will make the team on the wing. However, down the lineup, there are currently a lot of unknowns. With the departures of Timo Meier, Nick Bonino and Evgeny Svechnikov, many of the most common line combinations won’t be returning, and there are no guarantees of who will play with whom, which makes this season a very fun one to predict the lineup.

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With the way the Sharks are currently set up, there won’t be much distinction between the first and second forward lines. It’ll essentially be whichever line gets hot will be considered the top line, however, that won’t be set in stone. As a result, take the order of these lines with a grain of salt as I believe they’ll perform at essentially the same level and likely get similar ice time. Barabanov and Couture spent quite a bit of time playing together last season, and I don’t think that’s likely to change. On their right wing, Zadina would benefit from playing with players of that caliber. It’s unlikely Grier brought him in to bury him in the bottom six and as a result, he seems like a perfect fit alongside those two. 

Filip Zadina Detroit Red Wings
Filip Zadina, formerly of the Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On the other top-six line it’s two veterans who are looking to bounce back in Mike Hoffman’s case or for Anthony Duclair, looking for a long-term home. There’s no better way to help them achieve those goals than by playing them with Hertl. With the previously mentioned departure of Meier, Hertl’s line is a bit of a toss-up at the moment so it makes sense for two of the newest Sharks to get an opportunity on his wings. 

In the bottom-six, we have some youth starting to appear with Eklund and Bordeleau playing alongside veteran Shark Kevin Labanc. Often some of the most entertaining lines to watch follow the structure of two rookies and a veteran, but the play styles also work well together. If Quinn decided to go this route for the third line, it could be a combination that brings the most out of all three players.

Finally, the fourth line is essentially the best of the rest. Given his cap hit, Mikael Granlund is almost certainly going to be in the lineup to start the season. Fabian Zetterlund has the potential to be a very solid piece for the Sharks and it’s important to make sure he’s getting regular playing time as well. Although I went with Nico Sturm getting the start as the fourth-line center, Luke Kunin likely won’t be sitting for long. He was playing very well before going down with a torn ACL, but based on the way things currently line up he seems like a great 13th forward to start the season. He likely won’t be in that role for very long though. Oskar Lindblom also likely makes the roster, as he’ll be a great depth option, and if he were to be placed on waivers, it’s likely that he’d get claimed. As a result, management will likely opt to keep him rather than risk losing some of their depth.

Defense and Goaltending

Marc-Edouard Vlasic Matt Benning

Mario Ferraro Jan Rutta

Radim Simek Kyle Burroughs

The Sharks defense is a little more clear cut, however, it’s certainly downgraded from last season. Matt Benning and Marc-Edouard Vlasic spent quite a bit of time together last season, and without Karlsson on the roster now, they’ll likely be the ones who are most relied on to bring some offense to the blue line. With that being said, neither is known for their strong offensive capabilities. Behind them, newcomer Jan Rutta and Mario Ferraro should be a steady shutdown defensive pairing. They’ll also likely get a considerable amount of time on the penalty kill as well, but they’d likely line up across from most opposing star players in an attempt to disrupt their offense. 

Matt Benning San Jose Sharks
Matt Benning, San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The bottom pairing will likely have some rotating pieces but for opening night I see it going to Radim Simek and Kyle Burroughs. Both of them are decent depth options at the NHL level but neither will move the needle or be impact players. Later in the season, players like Henry Thrun and Shakir Mukhamadullin will likely slot in at some point but they should start the season in the American Hockey League with the San Jose Barracuda. Nikolai Knyzhov seems like the obvious pick as the seventh defenseman as he’s unlikely to develop much more and as a result there’s not much of a problem having him sit out for the start of the season. 

The goaltenders are essentially set before we even enter training camp, as Mackenzie Blackwood and Kaapo Kahkonen will be the Sharks’ starting goaltender tandem. There’s no set starter or backup but rather they’ll ride the hot hand throughout the season until it becomes clear who is performing at a higher level. 

Related: San Jose Sharks Should Look to Sign Ethan Bear

The Sharks have a lot of new pieces to slot into the lineup and even those that have been around for a while are due to be shuffled around. Quinn will have some difficult choices to make throughout training camp and the preseason. With that being said, the lineup will undoubtedly continue to change for the majority of the season since there’s nothing that deserves to be set in stone.

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