Five Big Sharks Questions in Expectation-filled 2018-19 NHL Season

The addition of Erik Karlsson in San Jose was an instant boost to excitement and expectations for the team. And while the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman is a deserving focal point, there are some other important aspects to consider about the Sharks headed into this season.

Here are five questions that coach Peter DeBoer's Sharks face as they enter the 2018-19 NHL season.

1. Can the Sharks score more consistently?
San Jose's power play never really hit a sustained stride last season, and the situation was further complicated when Joe Thornton's season ended with a knee injury in late January. Add in the first-half hand injury that Joe Pavelski played through, and scoring was a challenge for the majority of the campaign -- at least until Evander Kane arrived before the trade deadline.

Having Kane for a full schedule, as well as adding Karlsson's offensive production on the back end, should help the defensive-based Sharks with "run support."

2. Joe Thornton: What, when and how much?
The probable Hall of Fame center is returning from his second knee surgery and subsequent rehabilitation in two years. He says he's much better positioned to start this season than he was last, where it took a few months for him to find his legs again. He also says the first recovery gave him a clear road map of what to accomplish the second time.

Despite his age (39), Thornton still can move the puck with the best of them, and passing always has sped up the game more than skating ever could.

3. Another next step for the young core?
The big story entering last season was Patrick Marleau's absence and how the Sharks would replace his production. It turned out that a young core of players stepped up by committee on the stat sheet. Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi all improved their game to the eye, and with the numbers.

But a big question remains: Can they collectively take another step that would lengthen the Sharks' lineup up front?

4. What (how many) rookies will make their mark?
We know that, in the course of this season, the Sharks at times will need to rely on their most inexperienced players to contribute, whether it's Rourke Chartier and Antti Suomela, or Dylan Gambrell and Lukas Radil if they get called up. These youngsters will have their opportunities at some point, and it will be interesting to see who emerges first, and over time.

Opportunities might be limited, but we know they will happen, or else the Sharks will need to search the market for third- and fourth-line centers.

5. Is Vegas the other divisional threat?
Not only did they take the division and represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final, but the Golden Knights added Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny this summer, and locked up goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for the long term. Several other Pacific Division teams are legitimate contenders, including Los Angeles, Anaheim, and potentially Calgary and Edmonton.

Any one of those teams is positioned to be a surprise story, but the attention and the expectations in this division lie primarily in two teams: San Jose and Vegas.

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