Tennyson Gets A Look After Tightening Up Defensive Play
SAN JOSE — Matt Tennyson heard the message loud and clear.
After Tennyson was cut early in training camp this year, the San Jose Sharks told the puck-moving defenseman that he needed to improve his defensive play to get another shot in the NHL. As a result, the 24-year-old focused on his defense after being sent down to AHL Worcester and the work paid off with a call up to the big club after Adam Burish was demoted on Sunday.
“When I got sent down, that was kind of the message from the coaching staff and the management,” Tennyson said. “Everything else is there and that’s the part of the game they wanted me to work on.”
Tennyson entered camp with four games of NHL experience and appeared to be a strong candidate to make the club, earning special teams minutes during intra-squad scrimmages on Sept. 20 and Sept. 21.
But Taylor Fedun outlasted him in camp and 19-year-old Mirco Mueller wound up landing a spot on the team, putting his future in question.
“It happened quickly at training camp for a number of players and they got to decide how they were going to carry themselves after the news,” head coach Todd McLellan said. “Obviously, with Matt’s return here now, he carried himself very well.”
After his reassignment, Tennyson went to work with the coaching staff in Worcester to tighten the screws on his defense. Consequently, head coach Roy Sommer told McLellan that Tennyson is playing better than he’s seen him play during his two-plus seasons with the AHL team.
And Tennyson continues to produce offensively, recording six points (three goals, three assists) in 17 games with Worcester.
“We think that he skates well and shoots the puck very well — the offensive instincts are there,” McLellan said. “He’s worked really hard on the defensive part, so he gets the call up.”
The 24-year-old hasn’t laced up his skates in an NHL regular season game since Apr. 24, 2013, but he said he’s more comfortable this time around because of his past experience.
“Just being around the guys, I’m definitely comfortable here,” Tennyson said. “In my first games, [that] was kind of the hardest part because I didn’t really know anyone…but now that I know all the guys and there’s a lot of young guys that I’ve played with now, so I think the comfort level’s there.”
Tennyson paired up with newly-acquired Brenden Dillon in practice on Monday while Brent Burns skated with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun with Mirco Mueller and Scott Hannan with Matt Irwin.
So far, Vlasic and Braun are a combined plus-18 this season and no other Sharks defenseman is currently posting a plus rating. But with Tennyson and Dillon on board, the Sharks may tinker with their pairings until they find a formula that works.
“We’d like to keep one pair where they’re at, we’d like to revive another pair or two and move it around,” McLellan said. “It’ll be fluid over the next little bit.”
Despite his inability to participate in the morning skate on Saturday, Dillon provided what the coaching staff expected to see in his debut with the club against the Coyotes.
He used his size, his big shot, he jumped up into plays and he used his skating ability to get back.
“I would have to think that it was somewhat overwhelming for him not even being in the morning skate,” McLellan said. “New teammates, new partner, new environment, but yet I thought he handed it very well. ”
Dillon will need time to adjust to the Sharks terminology and the team’s system. But McLellan said it’s easier to pick up the nuances on the fly, during the season, rather than in training camp with a larger group.
“When you come to training camp in that situation, you have 40 to 45 players that are all trying to learn the language,” McLellan said, adding: “When you only have one or two, they can pick it up quick because everybody is talking that language around them.”