SAN JOSE - It's hard to find bright spots in the Sharks' Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Western Conference final. But Dylan Gambrell scoring the team's lone goal -- the first career NHL goal, no less -- was one of the few positive moments.
The goal capped off a season for Gambrell that was filled with moves between the AHL and NHL levels, filling in for injured players and helping the Sharks find the depth they needed down the center of their offensive arsenal. After a campaign of continuously developing his game, Gambrell, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, could be a key to Team Teal's offensive depth next season.
With a long list of free agents to tend to this summer, the Sharks likely will have more positions to fill up front next season and Gambrell could very well be part of that equation. He brings to the table a solid AHL resume, registering 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) and a plus-7 rating in 51 games played with the Barracuda last season, where he primarily played on the team's top line.
While nothing is set in stone, it's possible Gambrell gets a shot at being the Sharks' fourth-line center at the start of next season -- a spot he penciled into multiple times through the 2018-19 campaign. Although he didn't score his first NHL goal until the playoffs, the regularity with which he was in the lineup showed how impressed the Sharks' coaching staff was with his development over the course of the season.
The University of Denver product originally came into the NHL lineup at the start of the season when Joe Thornton was sidelined due to complications with his surgically-repaired knee. But Gambrell made more bounces between the Sharks and the AHL Barracuda as the big league club worked to find the depth it needed at the center position -- a space left empty when Chris Tierney was sent to Ottawa in part of the Erik Karlsson trade.
Gambrell accepted the challenge of moving between the two clubs willingly, telling NBC Sports California back in October he was "taking little notes" while with the big club to learn the best way to conduct himself and play at the NHL level.
The speedy center's biggest note throughout the season was that he needed to boost his physicality at the NHL level -- an area Sharks' bench boss Peter DeBoer saw improvement in as the campaign went on.
"I think he's an honest 200-foot player," DeBoer said in late November when Gambrell was recalled. "He just has to realize up here that, to use that speed, you have to attack holes and draw penalties."
After a Game 6 performance where he went 43-percent in the faceoff circle, laid a nice hit on Tyler Bozak, and scored his first NHL goal, it looks like Gambrell has taken those notes to heart.