- Editor's note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California's Sharks coverage for the 2021-22 season. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.
Roy Sommer has never seen anything like San Jose Barracuda's 2021-22 season.
This is Roy Sommer, with 24 years of experience as the Sharks’ AHL head coach, Wayne Gretzky’s teammate in the early days of the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty, with almost 50 years at the highest levels of hockey.
“I've never been on anything like this before in my career,” Sommer said of the 15-game losing streak that ended this Barracuda season. “It was hard to go through. It wasn't fun. That's all I gotta say about it.”
Sommer not having a lot to say is also significant for the normally affable, win or lose, bench boss.
Luckily for us, Sommer had a lot more to say about the Sharks prospects under his watchful eye.
Why didn’t leading scorer Joachim Blichfeld get more of a look with the Sharks? What’s Sasha Chmelevski’s next step? How are Artemi Kniazev and Santeri Hatakka progressing?
Sommer gives us his insights about Blichfeld, Jayden Halbgewachs, Chmelevski, John Leonard, Kniazev, Nick Cicek, Jasper Weatherby, Adam Raska, Hatakka, Brinson Pasichnuk, Jake McGrew, Zach Gallant, Dillon Hamaliuk, and Timur Ibragimov’s seasons in an exclusive interview with San Jose Hockey Now.
Sheng Peng: Why didn’t Joachim Blichfeld get more of a look in the NHL?
Roy Sommer: Probably because he's kind of one-dimensional.
He didn't play like a plus-player. I think he was like minus-40 something.
He's a shooter, there's no doubt about that. He can score goals. He led our team in goals. But there were other parts of his game that didn't improve.
SP: Same question about Jayden Halbgewachs?
RS: He got his [NHL] opportunity. And apparently, he didn't make the best of it.
I think with him, it's just guys like Reedy and [Chmelevski] and Gregor, those guys played better than he did.
SP: Speaking of Sasha Chmelevski, even at the NHL level, his game really seems to have found another level compared to last year. My question though is where he’s gotta go to find that next level beyond even this year’s leap?
RS: He really deserved the call-up that he got. He was our best player at the time.
He basically drove our team, we were actually playing pretty good. He was down in Tucson with us, took five out of six points. I thought we were really starting to come together as a team. But the Trade Deadline came, they took him up.
That's what it's all about. Sometimes, you gotta sacrifice down here to appease those guys up top. He deserved the look he got.
I don't know if it's strength [he needs to improve]. I don't think that's the case.
One or two games [in the NHL], he's getting a Grade-A opportunity. You just got to finish those, and I think you'll be fine.
SP: Another guy who really turned it on for you guys was John Leonard. One of the small shames of this Sharks’ season was that Leonard got hurt just as he was picking up his game at the NHL level. What do you think we would’ve saw from John had he stayed healthy?
RS: Another guy that deserved the call when he got it.
He was putting the puck in the net. He was playing with a lot of confidence in his game and seeing the ice pretty good. He had some physicality to his game.
It's hard to say where he [would've been]. That's hard to predict, but I think he was trending in the right direction.
SP: Another guy with a minus-47 was Artemi Kniazev. Was that more his ice time, his responsibility, or what can he do better so that doesn't happen again?
RS: A lot of it was we were losing a lot of close games. A lot of those are games where it was a one goal and we pulled the goalie and I think he must have been on for at least nine or 10 6-on-5 goals against.
He really improved over the year, his skating got better, his vision.
I also thought his power play, his puck movement was good.
I think he's got to kill more plays. He had some turnovers when he tried to put pucks through sticks. That cost him.
But I think next year, you're gonna see a better player, more defensive-oriented guy.
He's got to worry about his own end. He's got offense to his game. That's not the concern. It's reading the rush, letting plays stay alive, that kind of thing.
He started the year, and he was like eight to 10 minutes a game.
And at the end of the year, he was playing 25 minutes.
He's still got a ways to go. But he's a lot closer than he was start of year.
SP: Another defenseman that’s come along this year is Nick Cicek, but maybe he’s a little more offensively-oriented too. How's his defensive game coming along?
RS: His reads were better. He's got kind of everything. He's a pretty good skater. Sees the ice well.
When he got hurt, we really missed him in our line-up.
Good guy, good locker room guy. Good all-around team guy. Again, defensively, reading the rush [has to get better] ... I thought his stick got better. He could be physical when he needed to be.
I think he's got a big upside to his game.
SP: Where did you see Jasper Weatherby’s game grow in the AHL?
RS: The biggest thing was play in all situations, power play, we started having him kill penalties.
He's still got some learning to do as far as being consistent with his physical play, strong on the dots, at faceoffs. That's going to be a key thing.
He's probably going to end up like a third, fourth-line guy, which means more of a checking role, getting above pucks, defending, not getting caught on the wall. There's still some improvement [needed] there.
He's also got to keep working on his motor.
SP: One guy, no question about his motor, is Adam Raska. But what’s got to improve about his game?
RS: He's gotta play within the [structure]. He got caught chasing pucks, [making] turnovers, his game was erratic at times.
But the one plus he has, he plays hard, finishes his hits.
He's got to make more plays, be around the net more. Not get too caught up in the physicality in front. He's gotta get loose, find good ice to get more scoring opportunities. Have more patience in the slot area.
SP: Santeri Hatakka has received his share of looks in the NHL this year. What’s he done to earn that over maybe some of the other defensemen? How close is he to regular NHL duty?
RS: He's got a great motor, he's got really good feet.
He does kind of get tangled up a little bit with the physicality, he gets stuck on people.
I think it was good for him, he got a lot of ice time down here, saw a lot of different situations. Got used to the North American game.
Sometimes it takes a year or two for those guys to figure it out. He's got a lot of [Justin Braun] tendencies in him. The way he can skate and move, not a lot of players are gifted with that.
Defensively, pretty good stick. He's got to continue to make the simple play. Not go through people [with the puck], hit more singles. That would be a good thing to look at with him.
He can’t take big hits like he’s been either, he’s got to learn to slip hits, be more deceptive when he’s going back for pucks.
SP: Brinson Pasichnuk, where’s he at? How big of a stepback was this year because of his Celiac disease issue?
RS: It's kind of hard to say. He was coming along there, got healthy, and then he got hurt again. Had a bad groin injury [after he got back] and couldn't play him again. So it's kind of up in the air where that one's at.
Yeah, I would think [he’d be ready for development camp]. At the exit meeting, he looked pretty good. So looked like he's ready to go.
SP: Jake McGrew and Zach Gallant are forwards in the same boat in terms of their contracts being up?
RS: McGrew made big strides this year. He started out in the [ECHL] and came back. He played pretty solid for us.
Went to the net. He's pretty fearless. I think he's got to expand his vision a little more, be more of a playmaker. He's got some upside to his game.
Gallant, just kind of had a rough year, never really got it going scoring wise.
Another guy, plays hard, got a big body. More of a shutdown guy. We'll see where it goes.
RELATED: San Jose to host 2024 AHL All-Star Game in new arena
SP: Dillon Hamaliuk and Timur Ibragimov, on the other hand, have more term in their ELCs. Where do you see them?
RS: With Hamaliuk, he has to find more of his game. Recover more pucks on the forecheck, get to the net a little bit more.
He's a bigger guy that brings physicality. But got to do a better job of protecting pucks and make more plays.
The biggest thing with [Ibragimov] is just, I thought the North American game, he struggled with his positioning.
A guy that's gotta be able to, when he gets the puck, to make more plays with it. His wall play was kind of inconsistent at times, his turnover ratio. Again, pretty big guy that will play more of a physical role. If he makes it, it's going to be more of a third, fourth-line type guy.