Sharks

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should center Dylan Gambrell stay or go?

gambrelltealus.jpg
USATSI

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should center Dylan Gambrell stay or go?

During the Sharks' rollercoaster 2018-19 season, Dylan Gambrell did a little bit of everything.

He would get recalled from the Barracuda when one of San Jose's big guns was injured, fill in on the fourth line when need be, then get reassigned to the AHL with a list of things to work on.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Bonney Lake, Washington native then capped off his first stint in the NHL playoffs by scoring San Jose's lone goal against the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

Needless to say, that was an impressive way for Gambrell to end the season before becoming a potential restricted free agent. Here's a look at why Gambrell could be staying in teal, and why that Game 6 goal might've been his last for San Jose.

Why he could stay

San Jose has a couple pending RFAs that look to be the future of this team, and Gambrell is one of them.

The 22-year-old impressed Sharks coach Peter DeBoer every time he was recalled to the big club, showing growth with every opportunity he got to fill in on San Jose's fourth line. DeBoer's biggest note was that the speedy center needed to bring his physicality up to the NHL level.

“He just has to realize up here that, to use that speed, you have to attack holes and draw penalties,” DeBoer said back in November. "I think he’s an honest 200-foot player.”

Offensive depth is a key area the Sharks want to beef up next season, especially when it comes to finding a winning combination on the fourth line. San Jose spent the better part of last season trying to find a replacement for Chris Tierney, only occasionally finding a combo that could be rolled out multiple nights in a row. 

It's highly possible Gambrell gets the chance to audition for that fourth-line center job full-time when camp gets underway.

Why he could go

As we've said with every skater facing free agency: No one is safe from a trade.

San Jose is still looking to make room to get under the cap and sign some of their key players and are far from being at that point. With draft weekend ready to get underway and free agency just around the corner, there will no doubt be more players on the move. 

And, as the Sharks proved earlier this week with the Justin Braun trade, no level of seniority on the team is going to prevent them from making a deal.

Even though the Sharks were happy with Gambrell's development this season, that wouldn't necessarily stop them including him in a trade.

The verdict

Dylan Gambrell is a player the Sharks want to keep around for a while.

Over the past season, he displayed a strong work ethic and an ability to learn and grow with the team around him, at both the AHL and NHL level. With the Sharks looking to get more out of its bottom six this upcoming season, Gambrell is a player they can plug in and get a lot out of.

[RELATED: Should winger Kevin Labanc stay or go?]

Since Gambrell looked so good centering San Jose's fourth line in the conference final, it's possible he gets a chance to step up and take that job for himself this upcoming season.

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

gambrellusatsi.jpg
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 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.

NHL free-agency review: How Vegas Golden Knights stack up in Pacific Division

sharksvegasusatsi.jpg
USATSI

NHL free-agency review: How Vegas Golden Knights stack up in Pacific Division

Editor’s note: NHL free agency was fast and furious, and the moves that teams did (and did not) make set the tone for next season. All week, we’ll examine the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, and whether their free-agency approach put them in better, worse or the same position. Today, we dive into the Vegas Golden Knights.

The 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs can't be talked about without Game 7 between the Sharks and the Golden Knights in the Western Conference first round

In addition to being the ultimate edge-of-your-seat viewing experience, it gave the rest of the hockey world a glimpse into the bitter rivalry that has very quickly manifested between these two teams.

Despite being around for only two seasons, the Golden Knights have become a force to be reckoned with. And with most of the Pacific Division teams having down seasons, Vegas has emerged as San Jose's biggest competition on the West Coast.

So while the Sharks have a lot to focus on this offseason in terms of their own roster, it doesn't hurt to take a peek at what the opposition is up to, especially a team with no cap space to work with.

Here's a look at what Vegas has been up to since the free-agent market opened up.

Players who stayed

Vegas has been incredibly busy getting its players signed to deals this offseason, keeping important pieces of its roster together. They made the most noise in late June when they signed high-scoring center William Karlsson to an eight-year deal. The top-line pivot ranked second on the team last year with 56 regular-season points.

Vegas also kept some of their depth from last season, locking up forwards Tomas Nosek and Brandon Pirri, and backup goalie Malcolm Subban. 

The Golden Knights still have a couple of players hanging out as free agents. But given they currently have zero room under the salary cap, according to CapFriendly, there will be moves made before anyone else gets signed.

Players who left

The lack of breathing room under the salary cap has, as expected, signaled the exit of a handful of players Vegas had on its roster last season.

Defenseman Colin Miller was traded to the Buffalo Sabres and forward Erik Haula was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes ahead of free agency. Center Ryan Carpenter signed a three-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in the first couple hours of free agency, and French forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare became one of many players scooped up by the Colorado Avalanche that same day.

Rumors have also been swirling that RFA Nikita Gusev could be headed to another team given Vegas doesn't have any room left under the cap, but there could also be another trade in the works to free up some money.

While the moves leave roles to be filled on Vegas' roster, it allows some of its promising young prospects to step up. The Golden Knights likely aren't done making moves this summer.

Better, worse, or the same?

Even with some pieces being moved around this offseason, the core of the Golden Knights is still intact.

With no cap space to work with, Vegas probably will make more moves this offseason. The Knights still, however, look like they're going to be the Sharks' toughest division rival for another season.