Sharks

How Chekhovich epitomizes Sharks rookies' adjustment to NHL

Sharks
Sharks' Ivan Chekhovich

Ivan Chekhovich's 2020-21 season has transpired across three leagues on multiple continents.

The Sharks' seventh-round pick (No. 212 overall) in 2017, Chekhovich opened this season on loan with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the KHL. He scored 36 points in 47 regular-season and playoff games against teams from Russia, Finland, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and even China, before joining up with the AHL's Barracuda in March.

Chekhovich made his NHL debut a week ago, and the 22-year-old assisted on Timo Meier's first-period goal Friday during the Sharks' 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes and picked up his first career NHL point.

The Russian winger told reporters in a video conference Friday that a week made a world of difference.

"[My] second game was way better than the first one," Chekhovich said. "The first one was really tough. The second one was easier."

Chekhovich said the difference in speed surprised him during his first game, in which he played 10:55 and didn't record a shot on goal. He had two Friday night, feeling his way through an adjustment that takes some time for young players.

That much was evident in the Sharks' defeat at SAP Center, during which San Jose very much showed its age. Including Chekhovich, the Sharks iced seven rookies, two skaters playing in their second NHL seasons, one playing in his third and another in his fourth.

Twenty-two-year-old rookie goaltender Josef Korenar, for instance, stopped four of the 33 shots he faced after recording a .909 save percentage (or better) in each of his previous three starts. His and the Sharks' struggles Friday were epitomized during a two-minute stretch in the third period.

 

Korenar denied Phil Kessel on a breakaway with 17:05 remaining in regulation, preserving a 2-2 tie. One minute and 58 seconds later, Kessel made no mistake when sprung for another breakaway, which coach Bob Boughner said resulted from a forward failing to cover for defenseman Mario Ferraro as he jumped up in the offensive zone.

That mistake, and many others Friday, fit a larger pattern of inconsistency Boughner has seen in the Sharks' youngsters over the last few games, many of whom are being given an extended look following San Jose's elimination from playoff contention. Those growing pains are all part of the process.

"From a coaching perspective, I want to get guys to play hard all the way to the end," Boughner said. "Although we started well tonight, [we] didn't finish the way I wanted. But back at it tomorrow. Yeah, it would be nice to put a couple wins up in the win column right now, but there's a lot of other things that I'm looking for as well. We're gonna battle tomorrow, we're gonna come back just like we always have here, and try and find a way and make a lineup we think we can win with."

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The Sharks will make yet more changes Saturday on the second half of a back-to-back. Rookie forward Sasha Chmelevski will draw back in, and Boughner said he was happy with the 21-year-old's play in Wednesday's win over the Colorado Avalanche. Alexei Melnichuk, meanwhile, will make his first NHL start in net after debuting in relief of Martin Jones nearly three months ago.

Neither player has racked up nearly as many flight miles as Chekhovich, but they'll both try to follow his lead Saturday by finding more comfort with another game under their respective belts.

"I wasn't ready in the first game," Chekhovich recalled. "I didn't expect that guys were gonna be so fast. In the second [Friday], it was way better."