San Jose Barracuda

Sharks prospects getting final opportunity to audition for NHL roster

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USATSI

Sharks prospects getting final opportunity to audition for NHL roster

SAN JOSE -- This year's training camp has served as one big audition for several new faces in the Sharks organization. And Tuesday evening signals the final stage of that tryout process.

One day after several players were reassigned to the AHL for the start of Barracuda training camp, San Jose recalled eight players for what will be a prospect-heavy lineup for Tuesday's game against the Ducks down in Anaheim. This game will likely serve as a final opportunity for these players to show if they can handle competing at the NHL level on a nightly basis -- or if they're better off starting the season with the 'Cuda.

"We're getting close, we have to start getting our group together and start to get ready," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told the media over the weekend. "The guys, I think, between the training camp, scrimmages, and the exhibition games, have had more than enough opportunity to show us what they can do -- or can't."

This isn't to say that highly-touted prospects such as Joachim Blichfeld, Alex True and Sasha Chmelevski don't have the chops to eventually crack the Sharks' roster later in the season. But now, after roughly a week and a half of practices and preseason contests, it's more likely the eight players who were recalled for Tuesday's game in Anaheim will still start the season at the AHL level. 

Unless, of course, one of them plays off-the-charts against the Ducks and earns another look in one of the Sharks' final two preseason games. Even so, Tuesday's game shows that the tryout window is closing.

It isn't just the newest faces from this year's camp who have something to prove on Tuesday evening. Two players who need to have good showings were rookies a year ago: Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela. The Sharks signed both centers to deals over the summer -- Gambrell to a two-year contract, Suomela to a one-year deal -- and the expectation was that both would be top candidates to fill in roles for the NHL club this season. Gambrell, in particular, entered the preseason with a strong chance of snagging a roster spot after he split time between the NHL and AHL last season. He was penciled into the lineup for San Jose's final playoff game against the St. Louis Blues, and scored the Sharks' only goal in that game, no less.

With just one goal between them so far this preseason -- which Suomela scored Saturday against the Vegas Golden Knights -- it's crucial they take advantage of their opportunities against Anaheim.

Two players who won't be on the roster for Tuesday's game in Anaheim are forward Lean Bergmann and defenseman Mario Ferraro. Both skaters have had impressive camps and were standouts in last Saturday's preseason game against Vegas. DeBoer is expected to put two NHL-heavy lineups on the ice in the final two preseason games, so it will be interesting to see what opportunities those two players get toward the end of the week.

[RELATED: Why Ferraro's chances of being on Sharks roster are growing]

San Jose's preseason schedule concludes later this week with a Thursday night home game against the Calgary Flames and a Sunday evening tilt in Sin City against the Golden Knights.

Sharks send trio of high-scoring forward prospects to Barracuda camp

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USATSI

Sharks send trio of high-scoring forward prospects to Barracuda camp

Sharks prospects Joachim Blichfeld, Ivan Chekhovich and Sasha Chmelevski will start the season in San Jose. They just won't do it in the NHL. 

The trio of promising forwards were among the 25 players named to the AHL Barracuda's training-camp roster Monday, ahead of all three prospects' first full professional seasons. 

All but four of the Barracuda players were in camp with the Sharks, and the team cut two more players to reduce their training-camp roster to 32. Blichfeld, Chekhovich and Chmelevski were among a group of forwards competing for roster spots following the Sharks' litany of offseason departures, but waivers-exempt forwards with AHL experience Dylan Gambrell, Antti Suomela and Alexander True remained with the Sharks on Monday, as did German rookie Lean Bergmann and former Kings winger Jonny Brodzinski. 

Blichfeld scored scored 114 points with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks last season, while Chmelevski (75 points with the OHL's Ottawa 67s) and Chekhovich (105 points with the QMJHL's Baie-Comeau Drakkar) also enjoyed successful final seasons in Canadian major junior. Chmelevski starred for the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championships, winning a silver medal and tying for second on the team with seven points at the tournament. They each played in one of the Sharks' preseason games, with Blichfeld (goal) and Chekhovich (goal, assist) getting on the score sheet. 

[RELATED: Watch Coyne Schofield steal show against Sharks alumni]

None of Blichfeld, Chekhovich and Chmelevski are older than 21, and each likely will be relied upon to play big roles in the AHL. That doesn't necessarily mean you won't see them make their NHL debuts this season. 

"I think the good thing is that we’ve seen over the years that regardless of where you start, we need bodies, we need depth," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said last week (H/T The Athletic). "Guys are going to get opportunities throughout the season regardless of where they end up starting.”

Joe Thornton's return should benefit Sharks' promising young forwards

Joe Thornton's return should benefit Sharks' promising young forwards

SAN JOSE -- In addition to hitting multiple career milestones last season, Joe Thornton was instrumental in bringing out the best in some of the younger players around him.

With a stacked crop of fresh faces looking to crack the roster this season, Jumbo Joe -- fresh off signing a one-year deal that will keep him in teal -- will likely lead the way yet again in developing some of San Jose's future stars.

"It's a privilege for all of us to be around him because it's contagious," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton on Friday at the team's practice facility. "How he's impacted this franchise on and off the ice, but also his teammates and all the young guys who have the ability to learn and watch (him) and see what it takes to truly be great."

Last season, Thornton found success as San Jose's third-line center with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc on his wings. The 23-year-old Labanc and 27-year-old Sorensen both registered career-highs in points, many of which were scored while playing alongside No. 19. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio combined for 23 goals during the 2018-19 season.

Thornton's ability to get so much out of the youngsters around him is "rare," Wilson said, although part of it can be attributed to how close San Jose's AHL team plays to the big club.
 
"It's funny, there were years (Thornton) would go to Barracuda games and he'd say 'those are my guys,'' Wilson mused.  "It's one of the reasons we love to be so loyal to our own players. The proximity of the Barracuda being here, the rink being right across the street, and the fact that our players and our veterans follow them."

Training camp doesn't get underway until next week, but the Sharks are already excited about the contingent of young players looking to make the big roster this year, mainly forwards such as Ivan Chekhovich, Sasha Chmelevski and Lean Bergmann. San Jose noticeably lost some of its offensive firepower over the offseason with Joe Pavelski among the crop of players who departed in free agency. But Wilson went so far as to say the Sharks are "as excited about this group of forwards coming in as we've ever been" heading into camp.

No doubt, having a veteran like Thornton in the dressing room with such a promising young group coming in gives the team a boost.

"The energy -- it's funny to see all the young kids come in and look over and see Joe Thornton in the gym," Wilson said. "(It) just creates a lot of energy and excitement around this group."

Whether any of the young hopefuls coming into camp play on a line with Thornton still remains to be seen. At the very least, San Jose's incoming class will get a little bit of time during camp to learn from the future Hall of Famer. 

[RELATED: Jumbo fully healthy as he prepares for 15th Sharks season]

"I've never met another player who loves the game like him, loves this team, and makes everyone around him better like that," Wilson complimented.