Sharks GM Doug Wilson explains why top prospects are still in minors

Sharks GM Doug Wilson explains why top prospects are still in minors

SAN JOSE -- There has been an overwhelming reaction to the Sharks' current group of promising prospects since training camp started back in September.

The offseason featured the organization boasting about how happy they were with the young talent coming up the pipeline. Yet at the end of training camp, the majority of those players were reassigned to the San Jose Barracuda. Since so few players have appeared with the big club since the season started, fans have been under the impression that not enough of these promising players have "stepped up."

But as Sharks' general manager Doug Wilson explained in an exclusive one-on-one with NBC Sports California, giving San Jose's crop of rookies enough time to develop at the AHL level is imperative.

"It was never a forgone conclusion that they would make the (NHL) team," Wilson said. "We look at this as a platoon system rotating people through."

New faces such as Lean Bergmann, Noah Gregor, and Jonny Brodzinski have rotated through the Sharks' lineup over the first month of the regular season as the team has dealt with injuries and suspensions. But even while filling roster spots for the NHL team, Wilson says the Sharks aren't looking to deviate from their game plan of getting the rookies plenty of work in with Roy Sommer and the Barracuda coaching staff.

"We've altered (our plan) a little bit with the suspension to Evander, injuries to Marcus (Sorensen) and other injuries that we have suffered," Wilson said. "But these young players are the key to our future. Roy, Mike Ricci, Evgeni Nabokov, Jimmy Bonneau, Michael Chiasson -- what they do is tremendously important to make sure the players are ready to play on a regular basis. And then when they come up, they get put in roles that they can succeed in."

When you look at how some of San Jose's most recent young guns have come up through the pipeline, it makes more sense as to why the organization isn't in a rush to bring any of their prospects up too soon.

"You take a look at our history, at Timo Meier's journey, Tomas Hertl's journey, Kevin Labanc's journey ... I think we do a really good job and we aren't going to alter that approach,": Wilson said.

Of course, it can't be left out that the Sharks do have one newbie who is impressing on the big stage. Rookie defenseman Mario Ferraro made the opening night roster and, despite the Sharks' rough start to the season, has visibly elevated his game with every opportunity he gets.

"Mario has played hard every night," Wilson said. "He reminds me a lot of when Radim Simek came in last year."

With so much season left, there's a strong possibility more prospects will get the chance to play with the big club as the Sharks need players to pencil into spots vacated due to injuries or suspensions. But in the meantime, they'll be getting plenty of work in at the AHL level so they'll be ready for the task of regularly playing at the NHL level.

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Bergmann, who has six points in five games for the Barracuda, is a perfect example of that kind of player.

"Lean plays with a high compete level and we know it's just a matter of time before he's ready," Wilson said. "But we want to make sure he grows as a player before then, too."

NHL trade deadline: What Sharks fans need to know before dealing ends


NHL trade deadline: What Sharks fans need to know before dealing ends

The Sharks are in a somewhat unfamiliar spot this trade deadline. 

San Jose almost certainly will not make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2015, making general manager Doug Wilson a seller heading into the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Wilson already has got the ball rolling puck dropped on this process, shipping out defenseman Brenden Dillon to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a pair of draft picks. The return left a bit to be desired, as my comrade in content Brian Witt argued after the deal, but Dillon's departure formally marked the beginning of Wilson's re-tooling as he looks to get the Sharks back in playoff contention next season. 

Who could be on their way out? Which contenders have salary-cap space to burn? Here are the answers to the most pressing questions headed into Monday's deadline. 

When is the NHL trade deadline?

Monday, Feb. 24 at noon PT. 

How much salary-cap space do the Sharks have?

The fine folks at Cap Friendly project the Sharks will have $6,431,667 in salary-cap space at the deadline. The Sharks have not yet placed defenseman Erik Karlsson on long-term injured reserve, according to the site, and placing his $11.5 million cap hit on LTIR would give San Jose a significant amount of room to work with. 

Who are the pending unrestricted free agents on the roster? 

Forwards Melker Karlsson ($2 million cap hit), Joe Thornton ($2 million), Patrick Marleau ($700,000), Stefan Noesen ($700,000), defensemen Tim Heed ($960,000), Radim Simek ($675,000) and goaltender Aaron Dell ($1.9 million) all can become UFAs on July 1. 

Who is most likely to get traded? 

Karlsson seems to be the likeliest candidate. He's a versatile bottom-six forward with three seasons of 10-plus goals who spends a lot of time on the penalty kill. The Swedish winger is not going to command a haul, but he's exactly the kind of player rival GMs with Stanley Cup aspirations give up a mid-round pick for at the deadline. But Karlsson left the Prudential Center in a walking boot after the Sharks' loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, according to The Athletic's Kevin Kurz, and the severity of the injury will determine what kind of return -- if any -- San Jose could fetch for the forward.

The Sharks seem to view Simek as part of their future on the blue line, while Noesen has scored just five goals in 24 games with San Jose since the Pittsburgh Penguins waived him earlier this season. Dell, Marleau and Thornton are intriguing trade possibilities, however. 

The latter two wouldn't bring back much in a trade, but could the 40-year-olds compel a contender to pull a Ray Bourque and trade for a franchise icon in the twilight of his career? The call will be Marleau and Thornton's, especially in the latter case given the trade protection in his contract. 

Dell has seized the reigns as the Sharks' starter in net, and San Jose's handling of him at the deadline will make it clear how the team views him heading into the 2020-21 season. The Sharks won't trade him if they see him as their starter next year, but it could be prudent to maximize the return if they don't. They'll be worse in the short-term, increasing the likelihood the Ottawa Senators draft a top prospect with one of the picks the Sharks traded for Erik Karlsson, but that shouldn't weigh into their decision since that's the risk you run when you don't lottery-protect a pick. 

What about the rest of the Sharks' roster?

The Sharks are going to finish a mile out of the playoffs, and they have a lot of big money on the books. They are paying eight players at least $5 million: Two are done for the year (Erik Karlsson, Tomas Hertl), one is working his way back from injury (Logan Couture) and four of the five players have some kind of trade protection (Evander Kane, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones). Could the Sharks clear a star's salary at the deadline? 

Wilson told reporters Tuesday that the Sharks have "the bones in place" of a playoff team next season, and it's difficult to envision San Jose reaching that goal without most of those contracts -- or equivalent players at different positions with similar salaries -- on the books. The Sharks tinkered around the edges of the roster in 2015 when they last missed the playoffs, saving the splash for the summer in trading for Jones. 

Don't bet on the Sharks trading a big name -- or a prospect for a big name -- Monday, and save your predictions for NHL draft weekend in late June.

[RELATED: Hannan explains what Dillon, Sharks are going through]

Who are the contenders to keep an eye on?

Any team in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a possibility, but some teams are worth monitoring more than others. Below is a non-exhaustive list of contenders who could call Wilson before Monday. 

  • Colorado Avalanche: The Avs currently have more salary-cap space than any team in playoff position (over $25.5 million as of this writing, per Cap Friendly), and top-six forwards Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri currently are on injured reserve. NHL executives reportedly believe the Avalanche could be a fit for Thornton, and he wouldn't add any long-term money to Colorado's books. 
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told The Athletic that he is "looking for a bottom-six guy who can give us depth, fit in on different lines, give us some balance." That could be Melker Karlsson, if healthy, though Pittsburgh's lack of 2020 picks and subpar farm system mean Wilson should have better options elsewhere.  
  • Vegas Golden Knights: The Sharks have never traded with their division rivals, but Peter DeBoer now is behind the Golden Knights' bench. Vegas is right up against the cap, even with Alex Tuch on LTIR. San Jose would be able to retain salary on each of its pending free agents, or even take back a matching contract. Could the Knights be a Karlsson fit, given his history with DeBoer? 
  • Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes and lackluster goaltending have gone together like peanut butter and jelly over the last half-decade, and this year is no different. Carolina is in the bottom third of the league in 5-on-5 save percentage while in a fierce fight for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot. The Canes reportedly are interested in Chicago netminder Robin Lehner, and Dell would be a cheaper fallback option -- if the Sharks actually decide to trade him. 
  • Nashville Predators: Calling the Predators "contenders" is generous, but Nashville still has a path to the postseason. The Predators, like the Sharks, fired their coach earlier this season in hopes of meeting preseason expectations. Could Preds GM David Poile pull the trigger on a blockbuster, and possibly for one of the Sharks' aforementioned big contracts? Nashville seems like as good an option as any to pull off something surprising this deadline. 


Programming Note: The "2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show" is coming your way this Monday, Feb. 24 at 11:30am on the MyTeams app and on! How will the Sharks be impacted heading into the Noon deadline? Don’t miss it!

Alex True proving to be Sharks' silver lining in season of dark clouds

Alex True proving to be Sharks' silver lining in season of dark clouds

The Sharks team that took the ice against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night is not the one San Jose entered the season with. Heck, it's not even the one it entered the month with.

Captain Logan Couture has been out since early January with a fractured ankle. Tomas Hertl was the next marquee player to fall, tearing ligaments in his knee and ending his season on Jan. 29. All-world defenseman Erik Karlsson lasted two additional weeks before his season ended with a broken thumb. Evander Kane isn't injured -- that we know of -- but he hasn't played any more recently than Karlsson, as Thursday's 2-1 loss marked the third and final game of his recent suspension.

And what has all that left the Sharks with? A giant, gaping hole at the top of their lineup.

"I think those are the games where you sort of see that lack of offense, that lack of skill that's out of our lineup really play effect," San Jose interim coach Bob Boughner said following the one-goal defeat at Prudential Center. "You can get by some nights with it, and if you get a power-play goal or you get a couple bounces, you get some puck luck, but on nights like this, you don't have a Karlsson, you don't have a [Couture], you don't have Hertl, you don't have Kane -- those are the guys that chip in those one or two extra pucks a night."

Against the Devils, the Sharks did not score a power-play goal, nor would you describe them as being particularly lucky with the way the puck bounced. Without those additional boosts, it's clearly going to be tough for San Jose to get by in its extremely diminished state, even against a similarly struggling team like New Jersey. Team Teal simply doesn't have anywhere near the margin for error that it is accustomed to.

The only goal the Sharks did score Thursday wasn't lucky, and it came from a group of players who likely wouldn't have even been on the ice if not for the laundry list of absences. Defenseman Tim Heed, playing in his second game since Karlsson went down, got San Jose on the board with a shot through traffic from the point. Jacob Middleton, playing in his first game since Brenden Dillon was traded to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, earned the primary assist. Alex True, appearing in his seventh career NHL game (all since Hertl got hurt), had the secondary helper, continuing a stretch in which the 22-year-old rookie has taken advantage of the opportunity afforded him. It was his fourth point -- all assists -- since making his debut.

"He has come in and been very detailed," Boughner said of True. "He has provided us with that big center that we need on those depth lines, and he has chipped in offensively. He has got a few points here of late, and it's because he's in, he has got that reach, he has got that stick on puck. He's trying to be physical, so I think that helps us. We're getting depth scoring from those guys. Unfortunately, no offense coming from the top of the lineup."

[RELATED: Hannan explains what Dillon, Sharks are going through]

The lack of scoring from the top of the lineup -- or what's left of it, at least -- is obviously a major concern. But at the very least, some of the players whose paths to the NHL were previously blocked are proving they deserve to be part of San Jose's future.

And, given the current state of the team, that's one of the best things that can happen for the Sharks throughout the rest of a season where dark clouds have been far more prominent than silver linings.