SAN JOSE -- Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters last month that he'd like some of the team's freshest faces to earn playing time so he didn't have to keep rotating players in and out of his lineup. His exact wish was for "for somebody to grab these jobs and us [to] go with the same lineup."
Ten games later, a couple of young players have held their place. DeBoer said that there's still work to be done -- like with most things involving the Sharks so far this season -- but Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor have taken big strides.
"Out of the group of guys that we've rolled through there, I think Dylan Gambrell has done the best job at figuring out how to be an effective everyday guy and I think Noah (Gregor) has been the second-closest guy to doing that," DeBoer said Saturday morning as San Jose geared up to host the Nashville Predators.
The coach's earlier comments came on the same day Gregor was recalled from the Barracuda. The rookie hasn't tallied his first NHL point yet, but he has played in eight of 10 games since coming up from the AHL. The 21-year-old forward has shown off his speed, DeBoer wants to see more from Gregor in his own zone.
"His speed jumps out at you, his skill jumps out at you," DeBoer said of Gregor. "He's learning how to compete at the NHL level and he's realizing it's hard to create space at this level in order to create offense. You have to be good all over the ice because if you're not creating a goal a night you can't be giving up a goal a night. Those are all the things young guys go through."
DeBoer pinpointing Gambrell as a young player who has seized a role is no surprise. Gambrell, when healthy, has been one of the few regulars on the Sharks' fourth line, although he is another player DeBoer has said he wants to see a tighter defensive effort from.
Not surprisingly, the Sharks are looking for all of their young guns to play more of a two-way game as the season progresses. The biggest key, according to DeBoer? Knowing when to pick your spots.
"You don't want to take away their creativity," DeBoer explained. "But there are times and places for that, and that's the tough thing (about) playing at this level. Unless you're a front-line guy, you've got figure out room and time to make an offensive play and when you don't. The score of the game and the time of the game. I think our young players defensively are still figuring that stuff out and we've got a ways to go."
Gambrell and Gregor will be challenged Saturday against the Predators. Nashville already plays a heavy defensive game, but likely will emphasize it even more after surrendering nine goals to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. While all of the Sharks will be tested, the young fourth-liners face the hardest task.
"When you look around the league at the teams that we've had (in the past), we want to get to the place where we have four reliable lines that we can stick out," DeBoer said. "If they get stuck out tonight against (Ryan) Johansen you're not trying to figure out a way to get them off the ice. That they can survive those situations."