Kukla's Korner Hockey
by petshark on 08/07/11 at 11:30 AM ET
And then there were three. Saturday evening, the Sharks acquired a third player from the Minnesota Wild, James Sheppard, in exchange for a 2013 third round pick. That’s a lot of threes. He was the 9th pick, in the ‘06 draft, age 23… Still more threes.
Let’s start with some headlines that have nothing to do with three:
From David Pollak: “Summer rerun: Sharks
another deal with Wild, acquire F James Sheppard for 2013 third-round pick.”
From Fear the Fin: “Sharks deal with Wild again,
James Sheppard to the Sharks”
There appears to be a lack of consensus here. Okay, not really. All of the above articles mention that Mr. Sheppard has given everyone reason to have doubts about his value to an NHL team. Although it doesn’t come up in the stats or discussion of Sheppard’s skill, the incident with the ATV gives me pause, not only because it wrecked his knee. At the time, his agent said the accident occurred during an otherwise harmless tour that just happened to involve the use of ATVs. The Wild investigated and decided to treat it as a suspension-worthy breach of his contract, the part that says he’ll try not to hurt himself except playing hockey.
Water under the bridge? While 22 is technically beyond the age of majority in the US, that doesn’t say anything about maturity. Can a 22 year old understand a contract? Probably. Does he have the sense to abide by the finer print? Is it possible for a man to resist the allure of an ATV? A friend of mine rolled one over on himself and he was 60.. yes… years old. Whatever, it was an accident but I can understand why the Wild management was miffed.
What about before that accident? Surely he was well-regarded before that, being drafted 9th overall. On his performance in the 2009-10 season, ThePuckStopsHere had something to say, while discussing the goals versus threshold system: “The worst position player in the system last year is James Sheppard of the Minnesota Wild…”
To be fair, that article goes on to explain problems with the goals versus threshold system, and mentions that “James Sheppard ranks as a slightly better defensive player than average.” That makes it sound a little less terrible, but it is still a bad thing to be at the top of any “worst of” list. He didn’t shoot as much as he ought to, and he didn’t end the year with many points. Aside from that reference to his defensive game, which is hardly glowing, I couldn’t find much good said of his time with the Wild.
I looked, I really did, but in article after article, James Sheppard the NHLer gets no love. Wild fans felt strongly about fact that the Wild made him an offer last summer, before the accident. Some headlines from then:
From The Sin Bin: “Minnesota Wild Waste a Jersey on James Sheppard”
From Joe Yerdon: “Wild re-sign James Sheppard, Wild fans lose their minds over it”
It doesn’t sound like that went over well. During the course of his career with the Wild, he was given the opportunity to step into second-line duties and increased minutes. It would appear he disappointed.
After such a poor showing in his first NHL years, why did Sheppard get a qualifying offer from the Wild in 2010? And again in 2011? In the summer of 2010, Michael Russo wrote:
Basically, the Wild wants internal competition in camp. Cody Almond had an injury-plagued year, and who knows if Casey Wellman will be ready? So for a team short on centers, Fletcher didn’t think it would be wise to throw away a 22-year-old first-round pick. Also, what if Sheppard is an asset that can be moved for something or thrown into a deal that could sway it over the top? To have just thrown him out didn’t seem to make sense to Fletcher. -Russo’s Rants
Add to that Saturday’s tweet from the same author: “...Believe this trade was on hold bc Shep recently had more work done onknee #mnwild.” So could this have been related to one of the first two SJ-Minny deals? Perhaps.
Wild fans were not happy with someone on their team, now he’s a Shark. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this movie before, I just haven’t ever watched it to the end. (Not Mr. B Goes West, but To Have Our Havlat I believe it’s called.)
What about those failures to meet expectations from before, should Shark fans be worried about that? I don’t think so. For one thing, the Sharks aren’t in such dire need of a back-up second-liner. It would be nice to have one, but the team has several players ahead of Sheppard on the list. Likewise for any spot on any line: he doesn’t pose a grave threat to the team.
Secondly, there is reason to suppose that Sheppard was rushed into the NHL and merely suffers from developmental disorderliness. Instead of blaming him for failing to meet expectations, I have to think there was some basis for those high hopes. The fact that the Wild even asked him to perform at the level he failed at suggests someone saw something there even after he was drafted. Can he be brought back, catch up on those steps he missed jumping from the QMJHL to the NHL? That’s the question. He is still young, he may yet be sorted.
The numbers are against him, and that’s why the ATV incident is a red flag for me. For him to defy the odds and show us a lot more than he has so far, he needs to have his wits about him. Anything that raises doubts about his judgment raises doubts about his chance of success. He was and is young. It was one accident. I hope he took something away from it, and the year of unpaid leave.
So what is he or could he be? Is he a promising reclamation project? Is he Worcester-bound, never to be seen again in San Jose? Would Worcester thank San Jose? Is he fodder for another trade package? Sheppard isn’t the 3rd liner we’re watching the horizon for, but he may be more than has met the eye.
I don’t think Doug Wilson is relying on the power of threes or fact that Sheppard is a Taurus born in the Year of the Dragon. Whatever plan the Sharks have for him, he doesn’t seem like an expensive gamble to take, for a third-round pick. He might need some extra attention, but I think Burnzie just volunteered to lend a hand:
Brent Burns: “Awesome news about my bud sheppy!! Been through a lot and handled it all! He is going to have a big year and love it out here! #lovingsj”
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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