Antti Suomela

How these Sharks prospects can help fill goal-scoring void this season

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USATSI

How these Sharks prospects can help fill goal-scoring void this season

Editor's note: The Sharks open training camp later this week, looking to replace nearly 60 regular-season goals from departed forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Before camp officially begins, NBC Sports California is examining the players who will help San Jose fill that goal-scoring void. We continue with a group of forwards who can crack the roster. 

The Sharks' brass made it clear this offseason that there will be roster spots up for grabs when training camp begins Friday. 

San Jose, after all, lost three wingers who played in top-nine roles during the club's run to the Western Conference final. Experienced young players like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will be asked to play bigger roles, but another wave of forwards behind them will have to make the jump from the minors -- and, in some cases, juniors -- to full-time NHL roles.

Here are five Sharks prospects who, if they make the team, could go a long way towards offsetting the offensive production San Jose lost this summer. 

Joachim Blichfeld 

As an overage player in the WHL last season, Blichfeld tore it up with the Portland Winterhawks. He scored more goals (53), one fewer assist (61) and as many points (114) as he had in his first two seasons in Portland ... combined. 

Blichfeld, in all likelihood, will need some seasoning before he gets a crack at the NHL. The 6-foot-2 Danish winger only played in two playoff games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda two seasons ago, and the jump from major junior star to AHL regular is big enough on its own. Still, the 21-year-old's shot should translate to the pros, and Blichfeld's combination of size and skill bodes well for his development down the line. If he quickly acclimates, it might be enough to earn an NHL role. 

Ivan Chekhovich

Chekhovich looks like a hockey player after taking a puck to the face in a rookie tournament game over the weekend, and he has the skill set to hang around. 

The 21-year-old impressed in back-to-back end-of-season stints with the Barracuda over the last two seasons, and Chekhovich appears ready for the jump to the professional ranks after scoring 105 points (43 goals, 62 assists) with the QMJHL's Baie-Comeau Drakkar last year. His size -- the Sharks listed Chekhovich as 5-foot-10, 180 lbs. in their May prospect report -- could cause some growing pains in adjusting from junior, but Chekhovich has dynamic offensive potential. 

Sasha Chmelevski

Could a roster spot vacated by a right-shooting American center who converted to a winger be filled by another one? That's not to say 20-year-old Sasha Chmelevski is the next Pavelski, but the Huntington Beach native is known for his hockey IQ and competitiveness. 

Chmelevski lined up on the wing in a recent Anaheim Ducks-hosted rookie tournament in Irvine, and positional versatility always helps when one tries to earn a spot in coach Peter DeBoer's lineup. So, too, will Chmelevski's ability to fire pucks on net -- he had just four games in the last two seasons without a shot on goal -- as well as the aforementioned intangibles. If that combination means he's NHL-ready, Chmelevski can help the Sharks bridge their goal-scoring gap from last year. 

Dylan Gambrell

Gambrell, much like Chmelevski, is intriguing because of his versatility. He has played on the wing and centered his own line in his brief NHL career, and the 23-year-old arguably was the Sharks' best player in an injury-necessitated appearance in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

Now entering his third year as a professional, the Sharks need Gambrell to establish himself as an NHL regular this season. Whether that's as a center or winger, Gambrell's collegiate and minor league production are encouraging for his chances. Regularly using the strong shot he displayed on his Game 6 goal will help him stick around at either position. 

[RELATED: Sharks goalie Jones unveils cyborg-inspired mask for next season]

Antti Suomela

Suomela is something of a wild card. The center made the Sharks out of training camp last year, scoring eight points (three goals, five assists) in 27 NHL games. But the Finnish forward was sent down in December, and scored just 20 points in 47 AHL games.

With a full season on North American rinks under his belt, can Suomela's offensive game fully translate? He led Finland's top league in scoring two seasons ago, and flashed solid offensive instincts playing with Donskoi and Evander Kane early last season. It will be interesting to see if Suomela gets a look on the wing in training camp, but him winning the fourth-line center spot would give the Sharks another skilled pivot behind Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton.

Players who will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void in 2019-20

Timo Meier
Kevin Labanc

Sharks re-sign young centers Dylan Gambrell, Antti Suomela to contracts

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Sharks re-sign young centers Dylan Gambrell, Antti Suomela to contracts

The Sharks continued to fill out their roster for next season Thursday, re-signing a pair of restricted free-agent forwards who could be in the mix for more playing time next season and reportedly locking up their remainder of their restricted free agents as well.

San Jose re-signed forwards Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela to two- and one-year contracts, respectively, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson announced Thursday. They reportedly also signed blue liners Nick DeSimone and Kyle Wood, as well as forward Maxim Letunov, according to Cap Friendly.

The Sharks did not disclose contract terms for Gambrell and Suomela, per club policy, but each deal reportedly is worth $700,000 annually, Bay Area News Group's Curtis Pashelka reported. 

Gambrell's contract reportedly is a two-way deal -- meaning he will be played less if sent down to the minors -- in the first year and a one-way in the second, according to Fear the Fin's Sheng Peng. 

Gambrell, 22, played eight regular-season games with the Sharks in 2018-19 and two more in the playoffs. He scored his first NHL goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference final against the St. Louis Blues, and should be in the mix for a regular role on the fourth line following San Jose's offseason departures up front. A second-round pick in 2016, Gambrell also scored 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 40 games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda. 

"Dylan had success at the AHL level with the Barracuda this past season, helping to lead the league's youngest team to another Calder Cup playoff berth," Wilson said in a statement. "He has continued to show us growth in all areas of his game, and, with his goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference final, has proven he can handle the pressure of the NHL. We look forward to his continued development, and the impact he will have on the Sharks."

Suomela, 25, ended training camp last season as the Sharks' presumptive third-line center, flanked by Joonas Donskoi and Evander Kane. The Finnish forward played in 27 of the Sharks' first 30 games and scored eight points (three goals, five assists), but was sent down to the Barracuda on Dec. 11 and did not return to the NHL. He scored 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 34 AHL games. 

"Antti will be looking to build off of his first year in North America and we are excited to see where he takes his game this coming season," Wilson said in a statement. "He has shown that he can adjust his game to the smaller rink and we are looking forward to him competing for a spot on our NHL roster this season."

DeSimone, 24, is yet to make his NHL debut but scored 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists) in 65 AHL games last season. The right-shooting defenseman, whom the Sharks signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, tied for sixth among AHL blue liners in points and seventh in goals, and was recalled in a couple of instances when the Sharks needed an extra defenseman due to injuries. The Sharks re-signed Tim Heed and signed Dalton Prout to one-year deals, so the right side of defense appears set behind Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. But, DeSimone could be in the mix for an in-season call-up.

Wood and Letunov, 23, both are coming off of their first seasons with the Barracuda. Both players were acquired in separate trades with the Arizona Coyotes, and Wood scored 35 points (six goals, 29 assists) from the Barracuda's blue line last season. Letunov, who played three seasons at the University of Connecticut, scored 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in his first pro season last year. 

[RELATED: Are rival Kings any better after free agency?]

With all players reportedly locked in for the league-minimum salary, the Sharks maintain salary-cap flexibility no matter how their training-camp competitions shake out. With each of his restricted free agents now under contract, Wilson can shift his attention to re-signing Joe Thornton. 

San Jose currently has just under $4.7 million remaining in cap space, according to Cap Friendly. Thornton's contract was worth $5 million last season, but Wilson said the 39-year-old was willing to take less than he ultimately signed for in each of the last two years if it meant the Sharks retained Patrick Marleau in 2017 and signed John Tavares in 2018. Marleau is now a free agent after the Carolina Hurricanes bought out the final year of his contract following a trade from the cap-crunched Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Sharks would appear to have enough room to reunite Marleau and Thornton. 

Sharks issue qualifying offers to Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and five others

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USATSI

Sharks issue qualifying offers to Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and five others

The Sharks took their first step towards re-signing restricted free agents Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc.

San Jose issued qualifying offers to Meier, Labanc, Dylan Gambrell, Antti Suomela and three others on Tuesday. That means the Sharks retain their rights as restricted free agents, and would be entitled to compensation if any of the seven players signed an offer sheet with another team. 

Now comes the hard part. The Sharks, who have just over $14.8 million in salary-cap space according to Cap Friendly, risk losing forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist as unrestricted free agents. Retaining all three and re-signing Meier, Labanc and Gambrell will be difficult if not impossible, even if the restricted trio sign bridge contracts. 

Meanwhile, the Sharks didn't issue qualifying offers to seven other restricted free agents. Defenseman Joakim Ryan and forward Rourke Chartier headline the group, all of whom can become unrestricted free agents. Tuesday marked the deadline for teams to issue qualifying offers to RFAs, which would ensure they would receive compensation in the unlikely event of an offer sheet. Now, the Sharks won't receive any compensation should Chartier or Ryan sign elsewhere. 

Ryan, 26, played in 44 regular-season games last year as rookie blueliner Radim Simek seized a spot among the Sharks' top six defensemen. While Ryan didn't play between Jan. 23 and March 13, Simek's season-ending knee injury allowed Ryan to draw back into the lineup from mid-March onward. He suited up for every Stanley Cup playoff game, but played the fewest minutes per game of any of the team's defensemen (8:41) during the postseason. 

With fellow left-handed defensemen Mario Ferraro (2017 second-round pick), Jacob Middleton (made his NHL debut last year) and Tony Sund (35 points in 60 games in Finland last year) still on their entry-level contracts for next season, it's conceivable Ryan has played his last game in teal.

[RELATED: Can cap-strapped Sharks afford to keep Donskoi?]

Chartier, 23, made the team out of training camp and scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 28. He returned to the AHL's San Jose Barracuda for good on Jan. 13, but did not suit up after Feb. 22. Sommer told reporters shortly after that Chartier had "upper-body issues," and the forward was concussed twice in the previous season. 

It's possible that Ryan and/or Chartier re-signs. A year ago Tuesday, the Sharks did not issue a qualifying offer to defenseman Dylan DeMelo. San Jose re-signed DeMelo on July 7, before including him in the package to acquire defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators.