Noah Gregor showing confidence, proving to Sharks he belongs in NHL

Noah Gregor showing confidence, proving to Sharks he belongs in NHL

SAN JOSE -- Noah Gregor made his NHL debut with the Sharks on Oct. 19 after being called up from the AHL earlier that day. The 21-year-old appeared in 10 of San Jose's next 12 games, totaling zero points and posting a minus-6 before being sent back down to the Barracuda on Nov. 17.

A week later, Gregor was called back up and scored his first career NHL goal in the next game he played. However, that would be the only point he registered before once again being sent back to the Barracuda towards the end of December after seven more NHL games.

Gregor had to wait almost an entire two months for his next pot of coffee in the NHL. Given how he has played since, he might have said goodbye to the AHL for good.

In getting the primary assist on Stefan Noesen's first-period power-play goal in the Sharks' 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, Gregor offered the latest evidence that he has no intention of ever being sent back down. Since being called up on Feb. 13, he now has tallied three points (one goal, two assists) across eight games.

"Just a lot of confidence," Gregor explained what's different in this go-around with the Sharks following Thursday's loss. "I went down and worked on some things that translated into my recent call-up, and I think I've done a pretty good job of being confident and knowing I can play at this level."

While Gregor's self-confidence might be near an all-time high, he has also been given indications from the coaching staff that they, too, have confidence in him. Interim coach Bob Boughner recently moved Gregor up to the first line alongside Logan Couture and Evander Kane, and the rookie was actually manning the point on the power play when he found Noesen for the goal.

"He thinks the game very well. He's fast," Noesen described Gregor. "Overall, his hockey IQ is pretty good. Every time he's on the ice he creates something, and that's what you want to see."

San Jose's captain echoed a similar sentiment. 

"He's quick," Couture said of his new linemate. "He's smart. He sees the game well. As he gets more experience, he's going to get some more patience with the puck. He has a creativity where he can make plays. You can tell he's a skill player -- and he has got a good shot."

Both of the goals Gregor has scored at the NHL level support that last assessment.

Given the current state of the Sharks and the fact they're all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, you can expect Gregor to get plenty more opportunities to prove that he belongs. Consequently, he'll likely find himself in positions he's not accustomed to.

Such was the case Thursday night when Gregor had to fill in defensively for Brent Burns, who had previously jumped up in the play and was unable to get back as a Wild skater moved into the neutral zone. In an effort to get into better defensive positioning, Gregor attempted to transition from skating forwards to backwards.

To put it lightly: It wasn't the most graceful look.

"A little better skating forwards than backwards," Gregor said with a chuckle. "Tough pivot there by me."

[RELATED: Sharks' emergency goalie reveals how he prepares to play]

There surely will be more growing pains for Gregor as he continues to establish himself at the NHL level, but since his most recent call-up, those have often been overshadowed by evidence of promise.

Gregor has no intention of going back to the AHL, and lately, he's playing like it.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search

Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search

On Tuesday afternoon, the NHL announced its “return to play” format, which effectively ends the season for seven clubs, including the Sharks.

San Jose now faces an offseason of unprecedented length. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hopes the Stanley Cup can be awarded by the fall months, with the next season beginning in December or January, 2021 at the latest.

That gives Sharks general manager Doug Wilson some interesting scenarios trying to turn a team around during very abnormal times.

Wilson spoke with NBC Sports California in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. Here are some highlights from the Q&A:

NBC Sports California: On closure to this regular season, and replicating the last time the Sharks didn’t make the playoffs:
Wilson: “That’s what we’re looking to do again. You learn from experience like this. We didn’t get off to a great start this year, and that’s on us. That’s on all of us. But from this, you can grab some more knowledge and wisdom moving forward.”

On the Sharks not participating in the experimental “return to play” 24-team format that the NHL is hoping to execute:
“Make no mistake, we wish we were playing. Missing the playoffs is unacceptable for this franchise. I think we’ve only done it once since 2003. But we’re trying to make the best of it, which is the point that you’re making. To get Erik Karlsson, and Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture and Radim Simek all back 100-percent healthy with the extra time.

"If we use this time wisely, we can come out of it better on the other side. We like our team. We have the bones of a good team. We just have to play the right way and get off to better starts to a season than we did this year.”

Does winning a Stanley Cup mean anything different in 2020?
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to put an asterisk besides it or discount the season. We’ve had other seasons without the full complement of games. The playoff format will be arduous, and whoever wins will deserve to win.”

Will announcing the next permanent head coach come soon?
“Now, we have time to build the staff that’s best going forward for this team. Bob (Boughner) has certainly got the inside track. I thought he did a good job with our team, we were playing some really good hockey, the right way, defending better, our PK (penalty kill) was good.

"And then when you lose Erik (Karlsson), Logan (Couture), and Tomas (Hertl), that makes it pretty difficult. We’re still in the middle of that process. We’ll be very thorough.”

On the Sharks' issues with goaltending and team defense:
“Goaltending gets blamed, it’s the easy target to go to. Here we had the best penalty killing in the league — same goaltending, same defensemen, same forwards, yet we struggled five on five. Whether that’s preparation, attitude, commitment, whatever it is.

"Collectively you have to look at it: how can we play better in the defensive zone? That’s all five people, to give the goaltender a chance.”

[RELATED: Where Sharks go from here now that their season is over]

What is the most uncertain aspect for the Sharks right now?
“It’s really the timeline, you want to work backwards. Players are creatures of habit. The cycles of training and preparing of training and getting ready. This will be the longest time off our team and players have ever had.

"And you’ve got to use that time very well. You don’t want players under-training, or over-training. We’ve talked with our strength and medical people, trying to figure out the best way to get the programs in place so when they come into camp, they’re ready to go.”

On the balance of sports returning soon but not too early:
“I’m proud of our ownership, our players, and our league. Health is the most important thing. This supersedes sports. This is about what’s best for our fans, the safety and good health of everybody.

"It’s going to take everybody to get through this. I’m not sure we’re completely out of the woods yet.”

NHL draft lottery: How Sharks will be impacted by league's new setup

NHL draft lottery: How Sharks will be impacted by league's new setup

Twenty-four NHL teams can now turn their full attention to the restarting of the currently-paused season. The Sharks are not one of them.

Having slipped into last place in the Western Conference just prior to the indefinite pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, San Jose did not qualify for the expanded postseason structure NHL commissioner Gary Bettman described Tuesday. The Sharks' season, as well as those of the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres, are now over.

Which means, it's time to turn their attention to the offseason.

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has his work cut out for him. The Sharks finished the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign with their worst points percentage in his 16-year tenure at the helm. There are some obvious needs that must be addressed. Of course, they won't be able to utilize their own first-round draft pick -- which they gave up in the trade to acquire Erik Karlsson -- in order to do so.

Bettman announced that the first phase of the 2020 NHL Draft lottery will be held on Friday, June 26, and really, there is no change as far as San Jose is concerned. As the team with the third-worst points percentage, the Sharks' first-round pick (owned by Ottawa) will have the same odds of landing first overall -- 11.5 percent -- as it would have anyway. Obviously, though, no matter where it ends up, the selection will belong to the Senators.

15 teams in total will be included in the lottery, which is the same as prior years. The seven teams that didn't qualify for the expanded playoffs will be joined by the eight teams that lose in the qualifying round. It's fairly complex, but as it relates to the Sharks, their first-round pick automatically will fall within the top six overall selections. Ottawa's own first-round pick is guaranteed to fall within the top five, and combined with San Jose's first-rounder, there is a great chance the Senators will have two picks in the top five, if not the top three.

That's tremendous for Ottawa, and might make things look even bleaker for the Sharks. But, the fact of the matter is, we've known San Jose wouldn't have its own first-rounder for quite some time now, and more importantly, it was the right decision to make. Hindsight is 20/20 and it's easy to question it now, but players like Karlsson are not a dime a dozen. He is on the shortlist of the best defensemen in the NHL, and the package San Jose gave up for him -- even including the 2020 first-rounder -- absolutely was worth it. You make that trade 100 times out of 100, and the same goes for the extension, too.

So, yes, the Sharks likely will miss out on a chance to acquire one of the top overall talents in the upcoming draft, but that can't be viewed in a vacuum. Not to mention, San Jose actually does own a first-round pick in the draft, which they acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Barclay Goodrow at the trade deadline. 

[RELATED: What you need to know as Sharks' long offseason begins]

The Lightning had the second-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference when the season was paused, so it is impossible that their first-round selection will fall within the first 15 overall picks, as they're not subject to the qualifying round. The earlier Tampa Bay gets eliminated, however, the earlier their first-rounder -- owned by the Sharks -- will fall in the first round.

So, Sharks fans, rather than waste energy lamenting the first-rounder San Jose doesn't have, google Karlsson highlights and root against the Lightning. That ought to make you feel a little better.