Sharks

Sharks notebook: Prospects quickly making impression at development camp

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USATSI

Sharks notebook: Prospects quickly making impression at development camp

SAN JOSE -- How the Sharks' prospects perform during this week's development camp might not bear much weight on who makes the NHL roster in October.

If anything, it serves as more of a "getting to know you" event.

But San Jose's development camp scrimmage Wednesday did, however, give Sharks and Barracuda coaches an early look at new players and served as a check-in for prospects who've spent the past year with their junior teams.

Not to mention a sneak peek at how these players could look at the AHL and NHL levels.

"You can say what you want about it being a 'development' camp, but I think it's an evaluation also, of guys and where they're at and where you see them down the road," Barracuda coach Roy Sommer said after the scrimmage. "It gives you a pretty good picture of what the future looks like."

Even though Wednesday's scrimmage was just that, the future for some of San Jose's top prospects already is looking pretty bright.

Top forward prospects impressing

Forwards Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich already were two prospects the Sharks were excited to have in their system. 

That excitement was turned up a notch during Wednesday's scrimmage when the two, paired up with forward Lean Bergmann, exuded almost instantaneous chemistry.

"The scrimmage had a pretty good pace to it, but those two guys stood out," Sommer said. "Both of them I think will be really good players at the American League level."

Both skaters spent brief stints with the Barracuda since being drafted by San Jose, but they hadn't spent much on-ice time together before Wednesday.

Chmelevski acknowledged it was nice to find that on-ice dynamic so close to the start of camp.

"That was pretty much the first time we've played as a line," the 20-year-old center said. "Our chemistry was great today, and I really liked the way we played."

Russian winger Chekhovich is coming off a monster season for Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL, and Southern California product Chmelevski recently tallied seven points for Team USA in the World Junior's competition.

Needless to say, this current go-round together at development camp is going a bit smoother than when they first played with the Barracuda a few years ago. 

"When we both came to the Barracuda a couple of years ago, we didn't really know what to expect," Chmelevski said. "Me and him, we really got along well, and obviously he's a great player. I think there's a lot of similarities to our game, and he's a good guy to be around. So, it's definitely fun reuniting with him in camp."

Both players already have created some buzz as being Barracuda players who could get a look with the big club. Chmelevski said his goal for the summer is to keep building on his game, no matter for which squad he plays.

"Regardless of where I do play this year, I just want to keep improving my game," Chmelevski added. "Just prove that I deserve to be here."

Ferraro receives tips from former teammate

Blueliner Mario Ferraro was paying close attention to the Sharks when they played the Avalanche in the second round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. Not just because he was San Jose's second-round pick in the 2017 draft. But because his former University of Massachusetts-Amherst teammate, Cale Makar, was playing for Colorado.

When asked if he'd had any contact with Makar during that time, Ferraro laughed.

"During [the playoffs] I think he was pretty dialed in, so I didn't talk to him as much," he said with a grin. "But after, I asked him a few questions."

The left-handed defenseman admitted, however, that watching a teammate from afar play in the NHL gave him some perspective.

"It builds a lot of confidence in myself and my former teammates," Ferraro explained. "We see how a player we compete against every day in practice and compete with is doing well. It says, 'Hey, maybe I can be that guy as well. I can play at the next level.' "

That confidence already is shining through. Development camp is just a couple days old, but Ferraro already has made a big impression.

"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. enthusiastically said. "He's had a really good camp so far."

Sommer agreed: "Early in the scrimmage, I thought he kind of carried the play. Kind of a hard guy to play against."

On top of being fast and a playmaker, the prospect out of King City, Ontario, demonstrated in Wednesday's scrimmage that he isn't afraid to play a physical game -- a good quality for a player who will have the opportunity to start off training camp with veterans such as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.

Merkley making progress

Ryan Merkley didn't register any points in the two games he played with the Barracuda this past season. Nevertheless, San Jose is happy with what it saw last year when checking in with the 2018 first-round draft pick.

"We were probably at 40 of his games this year," Wilson said. "Whenever we went to his games, we would talk to him afterward."

Merkley was considered a risky pick-up for San Jose, being noted as an offensively minded defenseman who needed to focus more on the defensive side of his game, But after ending the season with 71 points and a plus-four in 63 games, the Oakville, Ontario, native appears to be making the right adjustments.

"I thought I had a good start," Merkley said of his season, which started with the Guelph Storm before a mid-season trade to the Peterborough Petes. "In Guelph, I had good numbers -- thought I played well. I had a tough adjustment going into Peterborough to start, but I think I picked it up near the end there."

[RELATED: Sharks issue qualifying offers to six players]

While his regular season brought on some uncertainty because of being traded, Merkley said he felt good being at his second development camp in San Jose.

"It's more comfortable, for sure," Merkley said. "When you're coming in your first year, you're nervous, you don't know what to expect, how hard it is. But it certainly feels good being here for a second year."

Sharks prospects to watch: Why Ryan Merkley still has time to develop

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USATSI

Sharks prospects to watch: Why Ryan Merkley still has time to develop

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 Ryan Merkley. 

Doug Wilson’s first 2018 NHL Draft pick was a one-timer from the blue line. The Sharks general manager conceded that fact last June after selecting super-talented, equally mercurial defenseman Ryan Merkley No. 21 overall.

Wilson’s gamble raised some eyebrows, viewed as both high risk and high reward.

“We were looking for difference makers,” Wilson said (via Bay Area News Group) shorty after making the pick. “At the No. 21 spot, you have to take a little bit more risk. We spent a lot of time with this kid and we feel comfortable.”

Wilson was instantly cool with Merkley’s skill, as an offensive-minded defenseman and true blue-chip prospect. He grew comfortable adding a teenager with on-ice transgressions to his name, some history of insubordination and a selfish reputation.

The Sharks got a top-10 talent far lower in the draft order, and would glean great value if Merkley realizes his vast potential.

There’s a slim chance dividends pay out this upcoming NHL season, if Merkley can floor folks in training camp and crack the Sharks regular-season roster. That’s a big if and a big ask for someone so young, with so many established pros at his position. Here’s what to expect from someone many consider the Sharks’ best prospect.

Ryan Merkley

Draft year, position: 2018, first round (No. 21 overall)
Position: Defenseman
Shoots: Right
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 170 pounds
2018-19 team: Peterborough Petes (OHL)

Skill set

Strip away, for a moment, Merkley’s many red flags. Focus only on his talent, and one thing becomes crystal clear: The kid belongs.

Sure, there are lapses on the defensive end and he’s a smidge undersized, but Merkley has all the talent and skill required of NHL defensemen capable of impacting both ends of the ice. He has great vision and offensive instincts, accumulating points faster than most as his position. Merkley also is an accurate passer and playmaker who thrives going forward.

There’s little question he needs work on the other end, as he must prove consistently effective there and not put pucks in harm’s way.

Training-camp proving ground

Merkley doesn’t have to dominate in his second NHL training camp. He must, however, show growth and development from last preseason to this one, a stretch spent mostly in Canadian major junior in the Ontario Hockey League. San Jose has put significant effort into Merkley’s development, well beyond ice work, and wants to see progress.

Merkley lived with Brent Burns during the Sharks’ prospect development camp last summer, allowing him to see firsthand how hard the former Norris Trophy winner works and trains to maintain greatness. Burns and Merkley were drafted years apart, but in roughly the same point in the first round. They grew up in Ontario towns just two hours part and play similar styles of hockey at the same position, so emulating Burns would help fast-track Merkley’s development process.

Best-case scenario

Merkley’s a right-handed defenseman. Same for Burns. And Erik Karlsson. So, yeah. There are some roadblocks impeding significant minutes with the Sharks now and for the foreseeable future.

The soon-to-be 19-year old could still force his way onto the NHL team’s roster by showcasing great skill constantly enough to take a spot on the third defense pairing. He’d likely have to wrestle the gig from Tim Heed, who just re-upped with the club on a one-year deal.

Merkley would add instant offense to that group, just as Burns and Karlsson do on the top two pairs. NHL experience could possibly accelerate his development playing with and against the world’s best, making him a contributor with great upside on an entry-level contract or a more valuable commodity on the trade market.

Worst-case scenario

Great talent lays fallow, with on-ice efforts overshadowed by more of the antics that decreased his draft stock and built an unwelcome reputation.

The Sharks want progress from the prodigious talent, even if a loaded defensive depth chart doesn’t have room for him yet. A rough showing in Sharks training camp and a ho-hum season in junior hockey -- any signs of stagnancy or regression, really -- would be a disappointment for someone the Sharks believe can be a quality NHL player.

Realistic expectations

Merkley stuck around quite a while during last year’s training camp, even after the junior season started. The Sharks wanted him to learn from Burns and Karlsson and a locker-room culture known for its professionalism. They added him to the San Jose Barracuda roster on an amateur tryout late last season, after the junior season was over.

Merkley should’ve gained valuable experience there that he can build upon in 2019-20, a season he likely will spend in the OHL with a chance to represent Canada at the World Juniors this winter.

[RELATED: Can Sharks' Ferraro go straight from college to NHL?]

That isn’t a terrible thing. The Sharks want him to play, and he could get more from significant ice time in junior over being the Sharks’ sixth or seventh defender.

Merkley should be better now, with last year’s seasoning and a trade in the OHL now behind him. His best remains ahead. The teenager should post big numbers this season, grow stronger defensively and be ready to validate Wilson’s gamble the following year.

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.