Dylan Gambrell embracing challenge of splitting time between Sharks, Barracuda


Dylan Gambrell embracing challenge of splitting time between Sharks, Barracuda

San Jose Sharks center Dylan Gambrell hasn't played in an NHL game yet this season. But he's certainly getting plenty of work in.

The 22-year-old kicked off his 2018-19 campaign getting on the score sheet for San Jose's minor league affiliate, the Barracuda. But when Sharks' forward Joe Thornton left the Sharks' five-game road trip after one tilt, Gambrell was on a plane to join the big league club on the east coast. In six games so far this season, he has bounced back and forth between the NHL Sharks and their AHL branch three times.

Flip flopping sweaters may seem like a hefty workload. But Gambrell is happily taking on the challenge. And having the opportunity to create chemistry with both dressing rooms has helped make the regular transitions smoother. 

"There's such a great group of guys in both locker-rooms," Gambrell said after a lengthy Wednesday practice as the Sharks gear up to host the Buffalo Sabres. "It makes it so much easier when you come back from a trip, or from the other side of the locker-room."

It also doesn't hurt that the Sharks and their AHL club share a facility, which was not the case just a few seasons ago when players had to fly from Worcester, Massachusetts when they were recalled to the big club.

"It nice that both teams are in the same facility," said Gambrell, who the Sharks picked 60th overall in the 2016 Draft. "That makes it so much easier for a guy like me who's been going up and down a bit."

The Bonney Lake, Washington native was one of the last players at Sharks training camp to be reassigned to the 'Cuda the day before the NHL regular season opened. While the Sharks were starting off their roadie in LA against the Kings, Gambrell was leading the Barracuda with two goals and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Ontario Reign. 

He joined the Sharks on the east coast a couple days later. And although he didn't play in those games, the rookie said he took plenty of mental notes on what the rest of the team was doing.

"Just taking little notes," the University of Denver product said of observing games. "Watching (the other players) and how they prepare, how they handle themselves on the road, the little things they're doing to get ready for a game situation."

Clearly that note-taking is paying off, even at the AHL level. No sooner had the Sharks returned from their final road game against the New Jersey Devils Sunday that Gambrell was reassigned back to the Barracuda for a Monday night tilt. He registered a goal in the second period for the AHL squad -- despite not playing since their season-opener over a week earlier. 

"It was nice to get a game in, for sure," Gambrell said. "The legs took a little bit to get going, obviously. But after the first period I felt pretty good."

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was in attendance to watch the young center in that game. DeBoer told the media after Tuesday's practice Gambrell could see NHL game time soon. Although it isn't clear as of yet where Gambrell would slide into the lineup. While he normally plays center, the Sharks' bench boss slotted him in at wing during the Sharks' preseason. But like with switching back and forth between the AHL and NHL, Gambrell is comfortable playing in either position.

"I've played both wing and center throughout my whole life," Gambrell said, clearly okay with the workload he has taken on. "Wherever I'm slotted in, I'm pretty happy with it."

Sharks' Radim Simek improving, but not expected to play on road trip

Sharks' Radim Simek improving, but not expected to play on road trip

The Sharks made good use of their three-game homestand, earning four of six possible points against high-quality competition to get back on track after a miserable start to the season. San Jose's improved play has coincided with Patrick Marleau's arrival and Evander Kane's return to the lineup, and the Sharks will attempt to build off their recent momentum as they head off on a five-game road trip.

Unfortunately for San Jose, it doesn't sound as if the team will get back further reinforcements for the games in Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Boston. The Athletic's Kevin Kurz reported that defenseman Radim Simek participated in some practice drills Wednesday, but is unlikely to play on the upcoming road trip, according to head coach Peter DeBoer.

Simek underwent knee surgery in March and has been rehabbing ever since. He's been somewhat of a secret weapon for San Jose, as the Sharks went 29-9-3 with him in the lineup last season, and allowed lower rates of shot attempts, shots and chances with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations than when he wasn't. San Jose has proceeded cautiously with Simek and won't rush him back, but the fact that he was participating in more physical drills Wednesday bodes well for a return in the relatively near future.

Speaking of physicality, that's an area DeBoer believes the Sharks have been lacking in recently, and one that both Simek and another on-the-mend defenseman can help out in. Dalton Prout has been out of the lineup since the first game of the season, but that's bound to change soon, according to the Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka.

With both Prout and Simek expected to rejoin the team soon, it begs the question as to who they'll replace. Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brenden Dillon aren't going anywhere, and rookie Mario Ferraro has played well beyond his years. Tim Heed has been in and out of the dog house, and the most likely scenario is that Prout and/or Simek takes his spot on the third pair.

[RELATED: Exclusive: Marleau reflects on Sharks return in ride to SAP]

The Sharks have done a good job to get their feet back under them. They won't be at full strength for the upcoming road trip, but clearly, they're getting closer.

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

SAN JOSE - Saturday night's Sharks-Sabres matchup ended up being an entertaining one for sure, with a lot of the action taking place in the final 20 minutes of the game.

And even though San Jose lost 4-3 and had their three-game winning-streak snapped, they still believe that their overall game is headed in the right direction. 

"When I look at seven or eight games that we've played, that's probably one of the better 60-minute efforts we've got," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said afterward. "I think we're getting better. I can tell you, I like where our game's at now a lot better than I did two weeks ago."

Captain Logan Couture agreed, although he wanted to see a different result in Saturday's contest.

"I thought we played well, we could've done some things better," Couture said, giving the opposition the credit they deserve. "They're a very good team. It's no fluke over there that they have their record. They're playing very good hockey. We had an opportunity to beat them, just one more mistake on our end tonight."

One of the biggest problems San Jose ran into was penalty trouble in the second period. Sure, the penalty kill remains dominant and was able to keep Buffalo's potent power play from finding the back of the net. In fact, San Jose's special teams overall played a huge factor in them keeping the game close. But as Couture explained, being down a skater for too long can have a negative effect on a team's even-strength game -- even one with as good of a PK as San Jose has right now.

"It's tough to get in a rhythm," Couture explained. "There were so many penalties. For our line, especially, I think we only had two even-strength shifts in the second."

But the Sharks are happy with how they pushed back late in the game to keep things close. After the Sabres jumped out to a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, the Sharks began creating more chances in their own end to keep the visitors from running away with the game. They traded tallies with Buffalo thanks to two big goals from Tomas Hertl and Marcus Sorensen. Even after Zemgus Girgensons buried the Sabres' fourth goal on the evening, San Jose continued to press and get looks in front of the net as the final few minutes of play expired.

"I liked our resiliency," DeBoer said. "I thought we battled all night."

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The Sharks will get another crack at the Sabres this upcoming Tuesday as they kick off an East Coast swing in Buffalo. San Jose might not be very happy with the mistakes they made on Saturday night, but they can at least see that their overall game his trending in the right direction.

"We still had a couple of bad mistakes, but we have to learn from it and be better," Hertl said. "It's kind of a tough loss but we have to bounce back. We (play) against them in the next game so we have to be ready for them."