Sharks

How these Sharks prospects can help fill goal-scoring void this season

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How these Sharks prospects can help fill goal-scoring void this season

Editor's note: The Sharks open training camp later this week, looking to replace nearly 60 regular-season goals from departed forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Before camp officially begins, NBC Sports California is examining the players who will help San Jose fill that goal-scoring void. We continue with a group of forwards who can crack the roster. 

The Sharks' brass made it clear this offseason that there will be roster spots up for grabs when training camp begins Friday. 

San Jose, after all, lost three wingers who played in top-nine roles during the club's run to the Western Conference final. Experienced young players like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will be asked to play bigger roles, but another wave of forwards behind them will have to make the jump from the minors -- and, in some cases, juniors -- to full-time NHL roles.

Here are five Sharks prospects who, if they make the team, could go a long way towards offsetting the offensive production San Jose lost this summer. 

Joachim Blichfeld 

As an overage player in the WHL last season, Blichfeld tore it up with the Portland Winterhawks. He scored more goals (53), one fewer assist (61) and as many points (114) as he had in his first two seasons in Portland ... combined. 

Blichfeld, in all likelihood, will need some seasoning before he gets a crack at the NHL. The 6-foot-2 Danish winger only played in two playoff games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda two seasons ago, and the jump from major junior star to AHL regular is big enough on its own. Still, the 21-year-old's shot should translate to the pros, and Blichfeld's combination of size and skill bodes well for his development down the line. If he quickly acclimates, it might be enough to earn an NHL role. 

Ivan Chekhovich

Chekhovich looks like a hockey player after taking a puck to the face in a rookie tournament game over the weekend, and he has the skill set to hang around. 

The 21-year-old impressed in back-to-back end-of-season stints with the Barracuda over the last two seasons, and Chekhovich appears ready for the jump to the professional ranks after scoring 105 points (43 goals, 62 assists) with the QMJHL's Baie-Comeau Drakkar last year. His size -- the Sharks listed Chekhovich as 5-foot-10, 180 lbs. in their May prospect report -- could cause some growing pains in adjusting from junior, but Chekhovich has dynamic offensive potential. 

Sasha Chmelevski

Could a roster spot vacated by a right-shooting American center who converted to a winger be filled by another one? That's not to say 20-year-old Sasha Chmelevski is the next Pavelski, but the Huntington Beach native is known for his hockey IQ and competitiveness. 

Chmelevski lined up on the wing in a recent Anaheim Ducks-hosted rookie tournament in Irvine, and positional versatility always helps when one tries to earn a spot in coach Peter DeBoer's lineup. So, too, will Chmelevski's ability to fire pucks on net -- he had just four games in the last two seasons without a shot on goal -- as well as the aforementioned intangibles. If that combination means he's NHL-ready, Chmelevski can help the Sharks bridge their goal-scoring gap from last year. 

Dylan Gambrell

Gambrell, much like Chmelevski, is intriguing because of his versatility. He has played on the wing and centered his own line in his brief NHL career, and the 23-year-old arguably was the Sharks' best player in an injury-necessitated appearance in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

Now entering his third year as a professional, the Sharks need Gambrell to establish himself as an NHL regular this season. Whether that's as a center or winger, Gambrell's collegiate and minor league production are encouraging for his chances. Regularly using the strong shot he displayed on his Game 6 goal will help him stick around at either position. 

[RELATED: Sharks goalie Jones unveils cyborg-inspired mask for next season]

Antti Suomela

Suomela is something of a wild card. The center made the Sharks out of training camp last year, scoring eight points (three goals, five assists) in 27 NHL games. But the Finnish forward was sent down in December, and scored just 20 points in 47 AHL games.

With a full season on North American rinks under his belt, can Suomela's offensive game fully translate? He led Finland's top league in scoring two seasons ago, and flashed solid offensive instincts playing with Donskoi and Evander Kane early last season. It will be interesting to see if Suomela gets a look on the wing in training camp, but him winning the fourth-line center spot would give the Sharks another skilled pivot behind Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton.

Players who will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void in 2019-20

Timo Meier
Kevin Labanc

'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

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'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

Vodka, violence and victory.

“Red Penguins,” a documentary released by Universal for streaming On Demand on Tuesday, chronicles the brief foray by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins into ownership of a Russian professional hockey team. The film features plenty of vodka and violence, although victory proved to be elusive.

Penguins owners Tom Ruta and Steven Baldwin made the decision to invest in the struggling club HC CSKA Moscow, which previously had been controlled by the Soviet Union’s Red Army. Steven Warshaw, then the Penguins' vice president for sales and marketing, was the man tasked with overseeing the day-to-day operations on the ground in Moscow, and guides you through all of the unbelievable twists and turns that came with bringing American ideals of organizational structure and capitalism into a society that was amid a transition from decades of communism.

An in-arena strip club, live bears serving beer and a near nine-figure partnership with Disney are just part of what came to define the Penguins’ wild reign behind the Iron Curtain.

Director Gabe Polsky utilizes Warshaw and his enigmatic personality to tell the majority of the story, but also includes interviews from Russia with the team’s former mascot and broadcaster in Moscow, as well as former Red Army manager Valery Gushin, who developed a unique relationship with Warshaw that was both friendly and contentious.

The crew had to traverse some dangerous ground in collecting the interviews, and even had one interview interrupted by KGB officials.

“This overweight man was just sort of standing behind us for like, way more longer than comfortable,” Polsky said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area last week. “Within a couple minutes, the police show up and you hear it, and start saying ‘get the hell out of here,’ and basically they thought there was a bomb nearby.”

Equal parts hilarious and chilling, “Red Penguins” showcases the wildest aspects of running a professional sports franchise in Russia while detailing the danger and sadness that can be a consequence of doing business parallel to an organized crime syndicate.

Polsky, who is the son of Soviet immigrants to the United States, believes American hockey fans and sports fans in general can get a unique look at the complicated relationship between the two world superpowers, and how that dynamic both brought the Penguins immense popularity in Russia and led to their downfall.

“Almost no films out there, that are English-speaking, that take the audience into Russia,” Polsky said. “Seeing the people, understand the psychology, mentality, up against the American mentality, and you see it even more clearly.

“There’s a lot to kind of unpack and understand in this film.”

Whether you’re a Sharks fan, a general sports fan or even just someone who enjoys a compelling story involving international relations, “Red Penguins” will have you glued to your screen. 

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

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NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

The Sharks' 2019-20 season came to an end on March 11, and the 2020-21 NHL season might not start until December. So what are the players not participating in the NHL restart to do during that six-month hiatus?

Joe Thornton might play hockey in Switzerland. Really. Seriously.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman first reported Friday that the 22-year NHL veteran could take advantage of a new clause implemented by the NHL and NHLPA.

"Every August, [Thornton] goes to Switzerland," Friedman said on "Hockey Night In Canada" on Saturday. "Now we know the Sharks won't be playing until December and the NHL and the NHLPA have allowed players to sign overseas with out-clauses to come back then. One of the storylines to watch in the summer, over the next month, does Joe Thornton sign overseas in Switzerland to play and be ready and in better shape, even to return to the NHL for his 23rd season, whenever it begins."

The Athletic's Kevin Kurz confirmed Saturday the possibility of Thornton playing in Switzerland until the 2020-21 season begins.

Thornton is an unrestricted free agent, and has made it clear he wants to play in the NHL for a few more years. Lacing up his skates in Switzerland could be a good way for the 41-year-old center to stay in shape.

The Sharks finished the 2019-20 season with the worst record in the Western Conference and have several restricted and unrestricted free agents they will try to re-sign. General manager Doug Wilson and the Sharks front office have just under $15 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

It's unclear at this point if the Sharks plan to bring Thornton back for a 16th season with the franchise, but captain Logan Couture told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in March that he hopes the stoppage caused by the coronavirus pandemic will allow Thornton to return for another season.

[RELATED: Ex-Sharks to root for in NHL restart]

“I look at this selfishly for Jumbo, hoping that he does come back with us next year," Couture told Brazil. “You know it saves an extra 12 games on those legs and that body of wear and tear, I know he’s gonna get a little bit older, but I think saving some time on that body will help us if he does come back with the Sharks, which I know we’re all hoping that he does.”

Thornton's future with the Sharks is unclear at the moment, but it looks like he'll be skating around an ice rink in Switzerland soon.