Sharks

Notes: Sharks' Dillon fills in nicely; Burns' defense

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Notes: Sharks' Dillon fills in nicely; Burns' defense

SAN JOSE – When Justin Braun was lost for two games recently with an infection in his elbow, the Sharks’ depth on defense was again brought into focus.

While the inexperienced third defense pair was a risky play, the Sharks were fortunate to have Brenden Dillon around to at least fill the void left by Braun in the top four.

The 25-year-old’s play seems to be continually improving, and he fit in well with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. In 24 games this season, Dillon has 1 goal and 3 assists along with a +7 rating, the highest among Sharks defensemen.

He admitted last year was a tough transition after he was acquired from Dallas in November.

“I’m a big rangy guy, and we had a system in Dallas where we’d use two hands on a stick, and that’s what the coach wanted. As soon as I got here, [Sharks coaches] Larry [Robinson] and Jimmy Johnson wanted me to change it a little bit. I think there was that adjustment period where you’re thinking, watching the game and not really reacting.

“I think this year coming in, right from training camp having a full couple weeks to get in and know how things are going to be, for me personally that was invaluable.”

The solid six-foot-four, 225-pound blueliner’s tireless work ethic off of the ice allowed him to better prepare for a rebound season.

“After last year, I wasn’t happy with how my season went. I thought I could have been a lot better,” he said. “I made that a focus, whether that was working on my skating, working on my shot, watching video. Coming into this year, I wanted to be that much better.”

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Brent Burns took exception to a suggestion here that he should have stayed on his feet on the Penguins’ second goal on Tuesday. Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin put a shot on net that was stopped by Martin Jones, but Matt Cullen banked the loose puck into the net off of the back of Jones’ pad at 4:40 of the second period giving the Pens a 2-0 advantage.

The big defenseman has a tendency to drop to the ice frequently on odd man rushes, and there are differing philosophies on whether that’s the right technique. Pete DeBoer doesn’t think Burns should change a thing, though.

“I thought it was a great decision. He’s broken up probably a half dozen sure goals on two-on-ones by doing that,” said the coach. “I thought it was the right decision at that point. Made the kid get the shot up in the air, and it actually ended up being a harmless play behind the net that probably shouldn’t have gone in.

“I think Burnzie’s decision making defensively on the ice has been fantastic.”

The mistake on the play actually came earlier when Mike Brown went for a big hit, leaving the Penguins players room to operate after a faceoff win in their offensive zone. That prompted a visit to the coach’s office.

“I had a talk with Pete today. Our line can’t be a minus line,” Brown said. “We’re kind of getting scored on a little bit too much right now, and we can’t be a liability out there. We’ve got to sharpen that part of our game up, but it is good to know that we have the personnel and the players on the fourth line that can play and produce, and we can spend time in their zone. It’s good to know he has that confidence.”

* * *

Mirco Mueller was reassigned to the Barracuda on Thursday. Six weeks into the season, the Sharks are still looking for someone to secure that sixth defenseman spot, whether it’s Mueller, Matt Tennyson or someone else.

Mueller didn’t get much ice time in the third period against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. DeBoer has had a tendency to limit the minutes of Mueller and Tennyson late in games.

“Until you establish yourself, until you get the coach’s trust, it’s hard to get the benefit of the doubt. That’s what all young players battle,” he said. “In order to get that benefit of the doubt you’ve got to string together eight or 10 really good games. That’s just the reality of it. ... I think we’re getting a little closer. There’s been a good game or two, a couple that we can’t have those drop-offs."

"There's no doubt Mirco Mueller, this is part of his development. Whether he becomes a full-time valuable NHL player at Christmas or whether it's next year at Christmas, this is all part of it."

The Sharks had yet to recall a seventh defenseman for Thursday's practice, but will add a body for the flight later to Anaheim.

Sharks prospects to watch: Mario Ferraro has future as NHL defenseman

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AP

Sharks prospects to watch: Mario Ferraro has future as NHL defenseman

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will highlight five different Sharks prospects to watch heading into the 2019-20 season. Some have a chance to make the NHL roster as soon as this year, while others face critical years in their development. We continue with defenseman Mario Ferraro. 

Colorado rookie phenom Cale Makar burst on the scene in the playoffs for the Avalanche last season, looking every bit like an NHL player at the ripe age of 20 years old. Makar scored a goal in his first career game, and then added four assists in the seven-game second-round series against the Sharks.

Before Makar arrived in Denver, he was playing at UMass-Amherst with San Jose defensive prospect Mario Ferraro. While Makar made the jump to the NHL first, he seemed to believe Ferraro would be able to do the same eventually.

"Hardest-working guy I've ever met and played with my entire life," Makar said of Ferraro to the Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka, shortly after the Sharks signed Ferraro to an entry-level contract in April.

Fast-forward a few months, and Ferraro is ever closer to joining Makar at the NHL level. He was very impressive in San Jose's recently completed prospect development camp, and -- given the offseason developments with the Sharks' roster -- he could arrive sooner rather than later.

Mario Ferraro

Draft year, position: 2017, second round (No. 49 overall)
Position: Defenseman
Shoots: Left
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 185 pounds
2018-19 team: UMass-Amherst (NCAA)

Skill set

Ferraro's best skill likely is his motor. He's the energizer bunny out on the ice.

"One of the most high-energy guys you've ever seen, he does not have a bad day," Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. said of Ferraro during the development camp.

"Early in the scrimmage, I thought he kind of carried the play," said Barracuda coach Roy Sommer. "Kind of a hard guy to play against."

Ferraro is a smooth skater with near top-end speed. His shot is solid, but not spectacular. He's an adept passer, and has advanced hockey IQ for a player his age. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he isn't the biggest defensemen, but he doesn't shy away from physical play. 

Training-camp proving ground

As things currently stand, the Sharks' top-six group of defensemen appears to be set. On the right side, San Jose has former Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, as well as Tim Heed. On the left, the Sharks have Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brenden Dillon and Radim Simek. Jacob Middleton could be a factor, too.

That doesn't appear to leave much room at the moment for Ferraro, who shoots left. However, there's reason to believe things could change in the relatively near future.

Dillon -- who also shoots left -- is due to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, and given the financial constraints San Jose is likely to face over the next several years, it's reasonable to assume the Sharks won't be able to re-sign him, given what he could command on the open market. Additionally, if the Sharks are going to make a trade for salary relief any time soon, Dillon seems like one of the obvious candidates to be included.

Ferraro is unlikely to unseat any of the current top-six in training camp, but if he can show the Sharks' brass that he is ahead of schedule and capable of competing at the NHL level, it could open up some options for San Jose moving forward.

Best-case scenario

Ferraro builds off the momentum he generated at the development camp and carries it through training camp, leaving the Sharks no decision but to push him straight from college to the NHL, just like his former UMass-Amherst teammate Makar.

Ferraro dazzles during training camp and claims one of the spots on the Sharks' third defensive pairing. With so much attention focused on the likes of Karlsson and Burns, Ferraro is permitted the time and space to properly learn on the job while being tutored by some of the best players at his position in the entire world.

While he doesn't garner any Calder Trophy votes, Ferraro gains valuable experience in a lengthy Sharks' playoff run and proves to be a logical and obvious eventual replacement for Vlasic.

Worst-case scenario

Ferraro's strong performance at the development camp goes to his head, and the motor that has been his calling card suddenly stalls.

He underwhelms at training camp, and gets dismissed early on, sent down to the AHL with the Barracuda. He remains there all season, and never recaptures the promise that had Sharks coaches so excited.

San Jose then is forced to go further into salary cap treachery, understanding they don't have a realistic internal option to fill Dillon's resulting void.

[RELATED: How Gambrell can earn full-time role with Sharks this year]

Realistic expectations

He's 20 years old!

Expecting Ferraro to go straight from the Frozen Four to the NHL is unfair, to say the least. That just doesn't happen very often, Makar being an obvious exception.

Ferraro continues along his current trajectory, impressing Sharks coaches in training camp, but not enough to expedite his promotion. He spends the majority of the season with the Barracuda, where he solidifies his status as the Sharks' top defensive prospect (Ryan Merkley will also have a say).

He makes his NHL debut as a temporary injury replacement late in the regular season, and enters the following season's training camp earmarked for a spot in San Jose's top-six. 

Sharks prospects to watch: Dylan Gambrell can earn full-time NHL role

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USATSI

Sharks prospects to watch: Dylan Gambrell can earn full-time NHL role

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will highlight five different Sharks prospects to watch heading into the 2019-20 season. Some have a chance to make the NHL roster as soon as this year, while others face critical years in their development. We start with center Dylan Gambrell. 

Dylan Gambrell's second professional season didn't begin in the NHL, but it ended there. 

The 22-year-old split time between the Sharks and their AHL affiliate last year, scoring 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) in 51 regular-season games with the San Jose Barracuda and leading all Barracuda players (minimum five games played) in points per game (0.88). That scoring touch didn't immediately translate to the NHL, but Gambrell ultimately scored his first NHL goal on a big stage during his 13th career game, when the rookie drew into the lineup in Game 6 of the Western Conference final. He signed a two-year contract with the team last week. 

The Sharks' litany of offseason departures up front should, barring any additional moves this summer, give Gambrell a chance to crack the big club's roster out of training camp and begin the season in the NHL for the first time in his career. Here's what to expect from the most recent San Jose draft pick to make his NHL debut.

Dylan Gambrell

Draft year, position: 2016, second round (No. 60 overall)
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 185 pounds
2018-19 team: San Jose Sharks/San Jose Barracuda (AHL)

Skill set

Gambrell is known for his versatility and two-way acumen, in large part because of his speed and hockey sense. He skated on the top unit of the University of Denver's power play and penalty kill under current Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery and played a big role for the Barracuda last season. 

Although he has finished with more assists than goals in every season dating back to his days at Denver, Gambrell boasts a strong shot. He scored on 13.6 percent of his shots in the AHL last season, and 11.8 percent of his shots in college. Gambrell's lone NHL goal, a quick wrist shot past Blues netminder Jordan Binnington, provided a glimpse at his shooting skill

Training-camp proving ground

Once the Sharks make it official and re-sign veteran center Joe Thornton, there could be up to three forward spots up for grabs based on the lineups San Jose iced in the Western Conference final. Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist and Joe Pavelski signed elsewhere earlier this month, arguably leaving roles vacant on three separate lines. 

Gambrell, who was used on the wing and down the middle by Sharks coach Peter DeBoer last season, has an opportunity to win a spot as a bottom-six forward. That likely would be as the fourth-line center, allowing Barclay Goodrow to move back to the wing. Whether or not the Sharks reunite with Patrick Marleau, Gambrell seems like a longshot for a look on the wing higher up the lineup. Still, his offensive pedigree at lower levels can't necessarily be discounted given who San Jose will have to replace. 

Best-case scenario

Gambrell seizes an opening among the Sharks forward corps at training camp, eventually becoming a staple in San Jose's NHL lineup. He begins the season as the team's fourth-line center against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 2, and remains in the spot in the regular-season finale against the Anaheim Ducks six months later. 

As the season progresses, Gambrell earns a role on the penalty kill and allows DeBoer and the Sharks coaching staff to selectively manage the minutes of top centers Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. Chipping in 20 to 25 points against bottom-six competition would be an added bonus. 

Worst-case scenario

Gambrell can't seize a spot in training camp or crack the NHL lineup outside of intermittent injury call-ups. He continues to play well with the Barracuda but becomes a "Quadruple-A" player in his age-23 season: Prolific in the AHL, but unable to earn a regular role in the NHL. 

That makes the Sharks, who are light on draft picks and tight against the salary cap, explore acquiring a fourth-line center at the trade deadline ahead of the Stanley Cup playoff push. 

[RELATED: How rival Golden Knights look after free agency]

Realistic expectations

Gambrell might not spend the entirety of the season in the NHL, but it is fair to expect him to win a spot on the roster out of training camp and enter the postseason as a regular forward. 

After re-signing defenseman Erik Karlsson and winger Timo Meier to big contracts, the Sharks need contributors on cheap deals. Gambrell, who reportedly carries a $700,000 salary-cap hit over the next two seasons, fits that bill. 

A shortage of available forwards pressed him into the Sharks' lineup in the Western Conference final, and he responded by scoring San Jose's only goal in Game 6. He'll need to rise to the occasion again in a similar situation this fall.