SAN JOSE - The Sharks' blue line is something of a magnet for attention. Everything from Erik Karlsson joining the team to the state of Brent Burns' beard seems to be worthy of its own storyline.
With training camp for the 2019-20 season officially getting underway on Friday, the big talk is how healthy San Jose's defense will be by opening night -- mainly when it comes to Karlsson and Radim Simek, both of whom sustained major injuries last season that took them out of the Sharks' lineup.
While camp is only a day old, things are looking good for Team Teal's d-corps
Karlsson appeared to be moving well in the first day of camp as he was paired back up with last-season d-partner Brenden Dillon. It was surely a happy sight for the Sharks after Karlsson missed significant playtime last season, being sidelined with a groin injury and then having surgery early in the offseason.
Sharks' bench boss Peter DeBoer went so far as to say Karlsson is in better shape at the start of camp than he'd anticipated.
"He looks way ahead of where I expected him to be," DeBoer admitted after the first day of camp concluded. "I wasn't sure what to expect. But he looks great and feels great, so that's a real positive sign. I think if you'd asked me a month ago if he'd look like he did right now and he was participating full-out, I'd probably be a little reluctant to say yes. But that wasn't even a question. I thought he looked great out there."
Karlsson said he isn't sure yet how many preseason games he'll appear in, admitting he's played a different number of tune-up contests in just about every camp he has participated in.
"We'll see how it feels," Karlsson said. "For me, it's about getting my own personal game ready and I think I'll be able to accomplish that whether I play five games or if I play one."
As for Simek, he missed even more time last season than Karlsson did, having his impressive rookie campaign cut short when he sustained a knee injury on March 12 against the Winnipeg Jets, and had subsequent surgery to repair his right ACL and MCL.
Simek didn't skate with the rest of the team on Friday as he continues to rehab and build up strength in his knee. However, fellow countryman Tomas Hertl told the media he spoke with Simek a bit over the summer and that he's working hard to get back to playtime.
"He's working his ass off," Hertl said. "He's working on it and hopefully he can come back skating with the guys. But you can't rush this. You have to make sure everything gets strong, because if you come (back) early you can get hurt again."
Simek made a fast impression last season when he successfully paired with Burns and visibly beefed up San Jose's defensive effort. Hertl admitted SImek's play was missed by the team down the stretch.
"We for sure missed him last year, I think, in the playoffs," Hertl said. "It will be nice getting him back for the season."
Having their blue line at full strength will be huge for Team Teal heading into the new season. While the team ranked second in the league in goals scored last season, they also had stretches when they struggled with defensive breakdowns and other mishaps in their own zone.
Fine-tuning their defensive side of the game is one area the Sharks are looking to clean up, DeBoer discussed.
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"The foundation of our game since I got here has always been about defending well," the coach said. "We did score last year, we did give up too much in that area. And I thought we started to find a little bit of a happy medium down the stretch and through the playoffs. But, you know, for us to always starts with defending hard and getting the puck back so that we can create on offense."
Having a healthy blue line can certainly help that effort.