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James Neal, Matt Niskanen finally in Pittsburgh and ready to play

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Ever since Monday, James Neal and Matt Niskanen must have felt like they were living their own version of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” They were both traded on Monday evening in exchange for ex-Pen blueliner Alex Goligoski. Upon hearing of the trade, the Pens arranged for a flight that night to get the pair of ex-Stars to Pittsburgh as soon as possible. The plan was to have them gear up for a practice on Tuesday to get acclimated to their new teammates and coaching staff before entering the line-up for tonight’s game against the Sharks. Well, like Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men…”

The good news is they finally arrived in Pittsburgh. The bad news? It was a day late. At least Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is keeping a sense of humor about the whole ordeal:

“Head coach Dan Bylsma joked that he hoped they “didn’t think they got traded to the Devils.” Ironically, the Devils were on the road Tuesday night – facing the Dallas Stars.

“We want them here,” Bylsma said on Tuesday. “And they wanted to try and get in a car and get here so they could be here for practice (Tuesday), but it just wasn’t plausible with the weather.”

Neal and Niskanen finally arrived in Pittsburgh late Tuesday afternoon. They went straight to CONSOL Energy Center where they quickly got a physical and had a shortened practice with Bylsma and assistant coach Todd Reirden.”

With all of the injuries the Penguins have had up front to their high-end skill players, James Neal’s arrival couldn’t come soon enough. Evgeni Malkin is out for the year and Sidney Crosby is still recovering from the concussion he received over the first couple of days of 2011. Any time a team loses that kind of firepower, they will welcome any help that is on the way. James Neal and his 21 goals this season are exactly the kind of help the Penguins need right now.

In Neal, the Penguins will get a 23-year-old winger who has already scored 20+ goals three different times in his career. Obviously, the Penguins have to be ecstatic that they were able to finally add a capable scoring winger to go along with their superstar center duo. If the Whitby, ON native produces like he has thus far in his career, the Penguins may have finally found the answer at wing that they’ve been looking to find for years.

It’s no secret that the Pens will be looking to him to add a shot of adrenaline into an offense that has been anemic as of late. The horrible fact for Penguins fans is that their team hasn’t scored more than 3 goals since a 4-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately, that was back on January 18. In the month since then, the Pens are averaging 2.1 goals per game. Obviously, that’s not going to get it done.

Upon his arrival in the Steel City, Neal is saying all of the right things after his initial meeting with the Penguins coaches.

“I want to do the same thing I’ve done throughout my career, and obviously that’s put the puck in the net. There’s no added pressure to do that. Hopefully, I’ll find a way.”

I’m sure Ray Shero hopes he’ll find a way as well.

Under Pressure: Patrick Marleau

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 04:  Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on April 4, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 5-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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This is part of Sharks day at PHT…

Before the 2016 playoffs, there had been a lot of disappointment in San Jose and Patrick Marleau has been there for all of it.

Over the last 18 seasons, Marleau has been the most productive Shark during the regular season. Unfortunately, he’s also one of the players that’s received the most criticism during San Jose’s playoff failures.

Last season, the 36-year-old saw his point total dip for the third straight year. Marleau was still productive (25 goals and 48 points in 82 games), just not as productive as he had been in previous seasons.

It’s no secret that Marleau’s been the talk of trade rumors for years. Even at the beginning of last season, it was reported that he submitted a list of three teams he was willing to be traded to.

“I’ve been here forever and it’s been a great place to play,” Marleau said last November, per CSN Bay Area. “I’m not going to get into specifics or anything like that. There’s always been rumors in my career. I don’t really want to feed into it anymore or comment on it. I don’t want it to become a distraction or anything.”

The Sharks held on to Marleau, and even though the rumors have died down, his days might still be numbered in San Jose (for real this time).

Marleau will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and although he’ll probably make less than his current $6.66 million AAV, it could be the end of the line between these two sides.

The Sharks have younger players like Tomas Hertl, Mikkel Boedker and a number of prospects like Nikolay Goldobin, who will be ready to jump into the lineup soon.

With an aging core, Marleau might be the first veteran San Jose cuts ties with because Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are still performing at a high level.

Also, the fact that Thornton and Brent Burns both need new contracts after next season certainly doesn’t help Marleau’s case. And in two years from now, Tomas Hertl will be looking for a bump in pay as well.

The odds seem to be stacked against Marleau. If he wants to remain a Shark, he’ll have to take a significant pay cut or have a huge bounce back season.

Looking to make the leap: Nikolay Goldobin

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 05:  Nikolay Goldobin #82 of the San Jose Sharks in action against the Florida Panthers at SAP Center on November 5, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This is part of Sharks day at PHT…

Earning a roster spot on a veteran team that just went to the Stanley Cup Final won’t be easy, but Nikolay Goldobin will give it a shot.

The 20-year-old was drafted in the first round, 27th overall, in 2014. He has speed and skill and could be ready to make an impact at the NHL level as soon as this season.

Goldobin got his firs taste of NHL action last season, as he scored a goal and an assist in nine regular season games with the Sharks between Oct. 16 and Nov. 22.

Although his agent Igor Larionov admitted that his client wasn’t ready for the NHL last season, it’s a different story this time around.

Goldobin now has a full year of pro hockey under his belt and he his time in the AHL certainly helped too.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent CSN Bay Area article about Goldobin:

Headed into camp, Goldobin may be penciled in to start the season with the Barracudas, but I would imagine he’ll be given every opportunity to shine in some preseason games. As a skilled winger he’ll need to be on a line with a top center, so perhaps he gets a look with Joe Thornton or Logan Couture. There is always the chance Goldobin could push someone like Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson or Matt Nieto down the lineup, or maybe even a veteran like Patrick Marleau. It may not happen right away, but if Goldobin starts the year in the AHL and is tearing it up, he won’t have to take a cross-country flight on a recall. That should make some current Sharks a bit nervous.

In his young career, Goldobin has already a little success playing with Thornton:

The Sharks currently have 13 forwards on the roster, but that includes the two-way contracts of Joonas Donskoi, Chris Tierney and Micheal Haley.

Although Donskoi’s job appears to be safe, the other two players could become victims of Golbodin’s training camp success.

With everyone healthy, the Sharks likely won’t have a top-six roster spot Goldobin, but potential injuries could fix that problem too.

It’s San Jose Sharks day at PHT

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  The San Jose Sharks shake hands with the Pittsburgh Penguins after losing Game Six 3-1 and the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After years of falling short despite often ranking among the NHL’s pre-season favorites, the San Jose Sharks made their deepest run one year after not even making the playoffs at all.

That thought probably explains why, for many, the pain of falling two wins short of a first-ever Stanley Cup victory is dulled by the Sharks being (gasp) overachievers.

You could call the Sharks a lot of things since Joe Thornton was traded over to sunnier climates from Boston, but rarely were expectations low enough for them to over-achieve.

They did just that in their first season under head coach Peter DeBoer, however.

While their turnaround made less noise than the team that beat them in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks echoed the Penguins in finishing the 2015-16 season on a roll. They didn’t let a troubling 18-18-2 mark (as of Jan. 7) derail their season, managing to grab the third spot in the Pacific, exorcising some Los Angeles Kings demons and going on a memorable run.

Off-season

Here’s another Penguins parallel: the Sharks didn’t really lose anyone of note this summer.

When you get that close to winning it all, standing pat isn’t so bad, although GM Doug Wilson didn’t totally snooze on the job. He added a burst of speed with winger Mikkel Boedker, whose flaws are easier to ignore considering the team’s need for speed and a reasonable $4 million cap hit.

The Sharks also added respected defensive depth in David Schlemko, giving the team an enviable D corps.

Still, there are some lingering questions.

Can Martin Jones back up a strong first season as a No. 1 goalie? Will anything come from yet another round of Patrick Marleau trade rumors? Will a fairly old core of Joe Thornton, Marleau, Joe Pavelski (already 32) and others get creaky after that playoff push?

The Sharks are an interesting case because they boast so much talent in those veterans plus Logan Couture and Brent Burns, yet age and a tough West inspire plenty of questions.

PHT will address quite a few of those queries on a Sharks Sunday.

Who might be the next Artemi Panarin?

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks poses after winning the Calder Trophy named for the top rookie at the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Even in an information age where boundless information lies a few clicks away, talented players slip through the cracks.

Jamie Benn won the Art Ross in 2014-15 and came in second place last season, yet 128 players were selected before him in 2007. No-brainer Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby was selected in the fourth round.

We haven’t even covered quality players who weren’t even drafted.

Artemi Panarin stands as an especially mind-blowing example. He went from undrafted free agent to the 2016 Calder Trophy winner after developing – and eventually breaking through – overseas.

As we learned from Vladimir Tarasenko‘s recommendations to the Blues, Panarin was readily available in the summer of 2015, making his 30-goal, 77-point season burn plenty of executives and scouts.

While there are examples of players who fall through the cracks, Panarin feels pretty unusual. Still, NHL Tonight sets out to name a few international players who could make a Panarin-type impact … and, of course, one of those players could suit up for the Chicago Blackhawks:

Interesting stuff.

If you choose not to watch the video, two of the names highlighted were Michal Kempny of the Blackhawks and Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As defensemen, both overseas signings aren’t likely to make a Panarin-type splash on the scoreboard, but they remain interesting names to watch.

Not quite a Panarin parallel, but …

Allow for a comparison that breaks the rules quite a bit: Alex Radulov stands as likely the biggest impact import of all.

As the 15th pick of the 2004 NHL Draft and with a very high profile, he won’t slip in under the radar like Panarin did last summer.

Still, this is a player who already has 102 points to his name at the NHL level (in 154 regular season games), and despite the playoff drama with Nashville, he also has 14 career playoff points in 18 NHL postseason games.

Honestly, the Radulov signing might be the best move Montreal made during a turbulent off-season.

If any other import can compare to Radulov or Panarin, that team should be very, very happy.

Chances are, we won’t know who to expect, but feel free to name your own choices.