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San Jose Sharks centerman is thriving in bigger role, new environment

By Curtis Pashelka

San Jose Sharks forward Nico Sturm stood in the visitor’s locker room at UBS Center in Elmont, N.Y. nearly a month ago and laid things out in unambiguous terms.

“We don’t have a lot of time. The hole’s getting deeper and deeper,” Sturm said on Oct. 18 after the Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, dropping their record to 0-5-0. “At some point soon, it’s just going to be too late already.”

The Sharks started the long road back to respectability the next day, and although they’ve lost games in a variety of ways over the last four weeks, have still managed to resurrect their season.

Since that loss to the Islanders, the Sharks are 5-4-3 and entered Monday among a group of Western Conference teams just outside of a playoff spot.

Sturm’s been an important part of the turnaround, as his game-tying goal Sunday in what would become a 3-2 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild was his sixth of the season.

But besides an uptick in production and a larger role with the team, Sturm, it seems, has also become a leader of sorts, thanks to the work ethic he demonstrates on a daily basis and the gravitas that comes with winning a Stanley Cup.

“Just a real honest hockey player that plays the game the way it needs to be played,” Sharks coach David Quinn said of Sturm after Sunday’s game. “He’s long, he’s rangy, he’s got a second and third effort in all three zones. He’s coachable, and I’m happy for him that he’s getting rewarded statistically seems for goals.

“Just really happy for him and happy for us that we have him.”

After back-to-back wins over Dallas and Minnesota, two playoff teams from last season, the Sharks have moved to three points back of the Wild for the second and final wild-card spot in the west.

“We’ve lost some games we were leading, and you scratch your head (and ask), how the hell did that happen?,” Quinn said after Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Wild.

“If you haven’t watched us, you look at the record and you think that’s what we are. But after an 0-5 start, we’ve played good hockey. I feel good for our guys and eventually, your record evens out to what you deserve to be, and tonight was a big one for us.”

The Sharks now finish off their four-game road trip Tuesday against the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights, feeling much better about themselves than they did that night on Long Island.

“Now we’ve got to start stringing some wins together if we want to push into that next echelon of teams and push for playoff spots,” Sturm said. “And that’s hard, but I think we showed that when we play as we played in second and third (periods) today, we can play with teams like Minnesota.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 15: San Jose Sharks’ Nico Sturm (7) skates with the puck against Chicago Blackhawks in the first period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

Sturm, 27, was perhaps thought to be more of a fourth-line center when the Sharks signed him to a three-year, $6 million deal as a free agent this summer.

That’s what he was through much of his 111 games with the Wild from 2019 to earlier this year before he was traded to Colorado, and that’s mostly the role he filled with the Avalanche on that team’s route to the Stanley Cup.

Sturm reportedly turned down a contract offer from the Wild to remain in Minnesota, presumably because he wanted to play a bigger role elsewhere.

Still, Sturm said Sunday that Wild general manager Bill Guerin “was one of the first guys that texted me and congratulated me when we won the Cup. So I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to establish myself in the league (with the Wild) and like I said, no hard feelings. I’ve moved on and I’m enjoying where I am right now.”

Sturm said after he joined the Sharks that he believed he was capable of a larger role, and he’s being asked to do more now than in any other NHL season.

Sturm was the Sharks’ fourth-line center to start the season, but his ice time went up late last month after Nick Bonino went out of the lineup with an upper-body injury.

Sturm then became the Sharks’ third-line center and has more or less stayed in that spot for the last three weeks. He is averaging 14:21 of ice time per game, a career-high, and his six goals in 17 games also put him on pace to easily better his previous NHL high of 11 goals in 50 games two years ago.

On his goal Sunday that tied the game 2-2 with 4:11 left in the third period, Sturm took a pass from Erik Karlsson, streaked into the Wild zone, and fired a shot through the legs of defenseman Jon Merrill and underneath Minnesota goalie Filip Gustavsson.

Source: Paradise Post