Sharks

Blues' fourth line has caused Sharks problems during West final

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USATSI

Blues' fourth line has caused Sharks problems during West final

The Sharks and Blues enter Sunday afternoon's critical Game 5 of the Western Conference final all tied at two.

San Jose has held up well against St. Louis' top three lines during the first four games of the series, but it's the Blues' fourth line that has given the Sharks issues.

That's why Blues head coach Craig Berube put Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen on the ice to open Friday night's Game 4 -- a 2-1 Blues win.

It paid off, as the line forced a turnover in the Sharks' zone 35 seconds into the game with an aggressive forecheck. After Brent Burns was crunched behind San Jose's net, the puck found its way to Barbashev. The winger ripped a shot on goal that glanced off Sharks center Gustav Nyquist and found the back of the net to give the Blues an early 1-0 lead. 

In the series, St. Louis' fourth line has scored three goals, been good on the penalty kill and aggressive on the forecheck. In short, they haven't played like a fourth line.

“They have a lot of confidence,” Berube said, via The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Just getting that first shift in like that is big. It gets us to our game right away. They’ve been really good in all facets of the game, not only getting some secondary scoring from ‘em, but just put ‘em against any line out there they do the job. Penalty killing, checking, just all the little things.”

They've created scoring chances on rushes up ice and just been an overall pain in the Sharks' backside.

“I don’t call them our fourth line, but they do so much for us,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said. “They’re PKers, they’re scoring big goals right now. So, if you want, you can label them as that, but we don’t see that in the locker room. We feel like we’re a group of 12 forwards out there and anyone can do the job on any given night. Those guys stepped up as a line tonight and got us going.”

As the two teams get ready for an afternoon puck drop at SAP Center on Sunday, it's important that San Jose finds a way to neutralize the energy the Blues' fourth line brings.

The Sharks haven't lost two straight home games during these Stanley Cup playoffs, and taking out the energetic fourth line will go along ways to securing a Game 5 win and three-games-to-two series lead.

[RELATED: History at Game 5s on Sharks' side vs. Blues]

The Blues will need a burst of energy in order to combat what is sure to be a raucous SAP Center crown Sunday afternoon. That energy has come from the fourth line during this series.

If Barbashev, Steen, and Sundqvist go quiet Sunday, the Sharks have a good chance at inching closer to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Sharks prospects to watch: Ivan Chekhovich has skill to earn NHL spot

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AP

Sharks prospects to watch: Ivan Chekhovich has skill to earn NHL spot

Editor's Note: This week, NBC Sports California will highlight five different Sharks prospects to watch heading into the 2019-20 season. Some have a chance to make the NHL roster as soon as this year, while others face critical years in their development. We conclude with winger Ivan Chekhovich.

For the second straight year, Sharks prospect Ivan Chekhovich earned a look with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda late in the season. 

The 20-year-old left winger tied for second in the notoriously high-scoring QMJHL with 105 points (43 goals, 62 assists), and joined the Barracuda once more for their playoff push. While he wasn't as prolific as his first stint with the Barracuda, he showed he belonged at the professional level and scored seven points (three goals, four assists) in nine regular-season and playoff games. 

Chekhovich missed out on representing Russia at the IIHF World Junior Championship after injuring his back lifting weights but had about as strong of a season as he could have asked for to close out his junior career. He caught the eye of Barracuda coach Roy Sommer at the team's prospect development camp earlier this month and has the skill to push for an NHL roster spot in training camp. Here's what to expect from Chekhovich this season. 

Ivan Chekhovich

Draft year, position: 2017, seventh round (No. 212 overall)
Position: Left wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 180 pounds
2018-19 team: Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)/San Jose Barracuda (AHL)

Skill set

Chekhovich is a strong skater who is very creative on offense. He is a good passer and boasts a strong shot, with the hands to deke and dangle around defenders. That package has added plenty of plays to his highlight reel. 

He is perhaps a tad undersized at 5-foot-10 and could stand to bulk up a bit as he transitions to professional hockey. But, he does a strong stick that he uses to hound opponents on the forecheck. Chekhovich fits the mold of a winger who can succeed in a league increasingly relying upon players with skill and skating ability. 

Training-camp proving ground

Earlier this summer, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson mentioned Chekhovich among a list of candidates who will have a shot to make the team out of training camp. Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist are gone, and San Jose could use some skill among its top nine forwards, and the winger should get a long look.

But he'll face some competition in that regard. Joachim Blichfeld, who was the highest-scoring Sharks prospect with 114 points in the WHL last season, and free-agent signing Jonny Brodzinski likely will be in the mix, and centers Dylan Gambrell and Sasha Chmelevski can play on the wing. Considering how much the Sharks lost up front, though, he wouldn't have to beat out each of them to earn a spot. 

Best-case scenario

As one of the Sharks' final cuts at training camp, Chekhovich immediately emerges as one of the Barracuda's best players. He earns an NHL call-up by the end of October and works his way up DeBoer's lineup.

By the turn of the calendar, Chekhovich grabs a spot on either Logan Couture or Tomas Hertl's wing and stays there for the remainder of the season. Once the playoffs roll around, Chekhovich gives the Sharks much-needed depth and emerges as an x-factor. 

Worst-case scenario

Chekhovich makes the Sharks out of training camp but is sent down to the AHL after playing fewer than 10 games. His confidence takes a hit and his previous AHL scoring record -- he scored on six of his 27 shots (22.2 percent) in 19 AHL games over the last two years -- feels like a distant memory after some ill-timed regression to the mean. 

Although Chekhovich finds his footing by the end of his first full professional season, he doesn't do so quickly enough to get much more of a look from the Sharks throughout the year. He becomes an important player for the Barracuda, but there are questions about his long-term NHL potential.

[RELATED: Can Sharks' Ferraro go straight from college to the NHL?]

Realistic expectations

The Sharks surely will have to experiment throughout the season in order to replace their departing forwards, and Chekhovich should be among the forwards who get a look. He has the ability to hang around and the potential to do more than that if he proves to be a fit alongside Couture, Hertl or even veteran center Joe Thornton on a skilled third line. 

Chekhovich's first professional certainly wouldn't be a disappointment if he ends it in the AHL, but the Sharks will feel much better about their forward depth if he can hang on with the big club.

Sharks prospects to watch: Sasha Chmelevski has NHL breakout potential

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USATSI

Sharks prospects to watch: Sasha Chmelevski has NHL breakout potential

Editor's Note: This week, NBC Sports California will highlight five different Sharks prospects to watch heading into the 2019-20 season. Some have a chance to make the NHL roster as soon as this year, while others face critical years in their development. We continue with forward Sasha Chmelevski.

After getting his first taste of professional hockey to close out the 2017-18 season, Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski saved the best season of his junior career for what might have been his last this past year. 

The 2017 sixth-round pick scored six points in 10 regular-season and playoff games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda in the spring of 2018, and followed that up 75 points (35 goals, 40 assists) with the OHL's Ottawa 67's last season. He impressed for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver, then finished second behind Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki in OHL playoff scoring with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 18 games, as the 67's lost in the OHL's championship series.

Chmelevski, who turned 20 on June 9, technically could return to major junior as an overage player next season. But, he now is eligible to play in the minors as a pro, and could even earn an NHL spot with a strong training camp this fall. Here's what to expect from the talented forward. 

Sasha Chmelevski

Draft year, position: 2017, sixth round (No. 185 overall)
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 190 pounds
2018-19 team: Ottawa 67's (OHL)

Skill set

Chmelevski, who is from Huntington Beach, has a well-rounded offensive game. He has the on-ice vision to set up teammates, and a strong shot that he uses early and often. Over his last two regular seasons and playoff runs, Chmelevski combined for 585 shots on goal in 147 games and has only been held without a shot four times during that span. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson praised Chmelevski's "high-end hockey IQ" when the prospect signed his entry-level contract last summer, and Chmelevski won multiple awards with the 67's for his academic success. He told the Daily Pilot during his draft year that he grew up admiring Pavel Datsyuk's two-way game and Andre Tourigny, Chmelevski's coach with the 67's, said that one element of the center's game stands out above all. 

"His best asset, for me, is his competitiveness," Tourigny told the Ottawa Sun in April. You play ping pong with Sasha, and if he loses, he will want to fight." 

Training-camp proving ground

Chmelevski will have an opportunity to break camp with the Sharks in September. The departures of longtime captain Joe Pavelski and wingers Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist in free agency created openings among San Jose's forwards, and Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. told The Athletic's Kevin Kurz that San Jose coach Peter DeBoer would "like to have two centers on each line [who] can take faceoffs" in addition to mentioning "competition at center."

As Kurz noted, it's possible that Chmelevski will be in the mix for a spot on the wing as well as one down the middle. Chmelevski conceivably could get a look on Joe Thornton's wing on the third line if DeBoer moves Kevin Labanc on to Logan Couture or Tomas Hertl's line, or one centering the fourth line if Barclay Goodrow moves back to the wing. The Sharks have long converted centers to wingers -- with Pavelski arguably the most prominent example -- and Chmelevski's versatility bodes well for his chances down the line.

Best-case scenario

Chmelevski earns a spot out of camp, and never really looks back. DeBoer utilizes the forward in a variety of roles as he tries to settle on the right forward combinations, eventually giving Chmelevski consistent minutes on Thornton's wing. 

Separated by two decades in age, the pair finds strong chemistry and Chmelevski rides it to 15 goals in his rookie season. The void left by Pavelski, Donskoi and Nyquist is not entirely filled by the end of Chmelevski's first campaign, but the 20-year-old nonetheless helps by delivering on his initial promise. 

Worst-case scenario

After making the team out of training camp, Chmelevski's first professional season mirrors that of Finnish forward Antti Suomela. Suomela started fast centering a line with Donskoi and Evander Kane, but was sent down to the AHL on Dec. 11 and did not suit up for the Sharks for the remainder of the season. 

Chmelevski has no problems with the pace of the AHL thanks to his brief Barracuda experience, but still struggles to produce much offense and doesn't return to the NHL as other players pass him on the organizational depth chart. There's still hope for improvement in the second year of his entry-level contract in 2020-21, but he ends 2019-20 on the outside looking in at the Sharks roster. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Merkley needs time to develop, but future is bright]

Realistic expectations

Making the big club out of training camp would be encouraging, but Chmelevski starting the season with the Barracuda would not be considered a setback. That could allow the forward to establish himself at the professional level, and earn a look with the team soon after the regular season begins. 

Chmelevski should, at least, be in the mix for an NHL roster spot throughout the season. He has the potential to hang on to one by the end of it, which would be welcome news for a salary cap-strapped Sharks team in need of cost-controlled talent to surround an expensive core. If he can, San Jose's depth up front would look much stronger moving forward.