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Sharks tearing up NHL with usual suspects and emerging Setoguchi

The San Jose Sharks have been tearing their way through the NHL so far this season.

And while the success has been partly due to strong performances from usual suspects like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov, it's hard to ignore the contributions of Devin Setoguchi.

He bounced between San Jose and the team's AHL affiliate in Worcester last season, but has found some serious stability early in his second year as a pro. Setoguchi is currently playing on the Sharks top line with Thornton and Marleau.

"I got a chance of a lifetime to play with two of the best players in the NHL," he said Wednesday. "I'm just trying to make the best of it right now."

So far, so good.

Setoguchi finds himself on the first page of the NHL's scoring list with nine goals and 17 points. Even more importantly, he's starting to carve out a niche on the league's best team.

The Sharks are an amazing 9-0-1 at HP Pavilion this season and welcome the Calgary Flames to town on Thursday night. Setoguchi grew up in the Southern Alberta town of Taber but never rooted for the Flames as a kid - instead, he shared his father Dale's love of the Philadelphia Flyers.

He expects a few people back home to tune in on Thursday.

"I have tons of family and friends there and the whole town kind of supports me," said Setoguchi. "When I come back in the summer, they're always there and they're always asking questions. It's great support.

"Pretty much every game you can find at either of the local bars every night we're playing. I know there's a couple Flames fans out towards Taber that might be cheering for us."

There has been plenty for fans of the Sharks to get excited about this season. The team has been among the best in the NHL for a couple years now, but received an off-season shakeup when Todd McLellan was hired to replace Ron Wilson as coach.

The former Red Wings assistant brought some elements of that team's puck-possession style with him to California and Setoguchi believes it's helped. The numbers certainly support that idea - heading into play on Wednesday, no team had scored more than San Jose's 57 goals.

"From the first day of training camp, Todd was strictly business," said Setoguchi. "Everyone's bought into his system and bought into the way that we need to play. It's going great for us. ...

"We've got a whole bunch of guys who are scoring goals. Pretty much every line out there is a threat."

It speaks to the overall level of success the Sharks have been able to achieve. The team's opening day roster featured 14 players that had been drafted by the organization, which is just one less than the NHL's best in Buffalo.

General manager Doug Wilson traded up to select Setoguchi eighth overall in 2005. Last year, the rookie winger went through the kind of struggles that are typical of young players trying to adapt to the NHL game - enjoying highs like scoring twice in his NHL debut and weathering lows like being sent to the AHL a couple different times.

"My play kind of fluxuated and that's why I found myself up and down," said Setoguchi. "I think the biggest key is consistency and bringing that same effort every night if you want to play full-time in the NHL."

McLellan told reporters last week that Setoguchi has exceeded his expectations.

However, the 21-year-old says he hasn't surprised himself. He scored 36 goals in consecutive WHL seasons with Saskatoon and Prince George, and expected to take the next step to the NHL.

"I always set my goals high and try to accomplish as much as I can," said Setoguchi. "Like I said, I've been given the opportunity to play with two of the best players in the National Hockey League, so obviously expectations are going to be high.

"When I'm playing on the top line, the coaches are going to expect me to put up points for my team and help us out."

Setoguchi senses a great vibe around the Sharks these days and that probably shouldn't come as much surprise. The team is 13-3-1 overall and has demonstrated why many believe it can challenge for the Stanley Cup.

The young forward and his teammates welcome those kind of predictions.

"We're expected to win," said Setoguchi. "We've got a great coach and great players on our team. I know from our GM right down to everyone in our system, they all want to win hockey games. We expect to win.

"It's a little bit of pressure but we try and strive for excellence."

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