Sharks

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

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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.

Hurricanes poke fun at Petr Mrazek after fighting Sharks' Joe Thornton

Hurricanes poke fun at Petr Mrazek after fighting Sharks' Joe Thornton

Thursday night’s matchup between the Sharks and the Carolina Hurricanes featured quite a ruckus, which began when Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek slashed Sharks veteran Joe Thornton after a play, prompting Thornton to put Mrazek on his back with a vicious forearm shiver.

During Friday morning’s practice, the Hurricanes decided to have some fun with their goalie by drawing an outline of where their net-minder gracefully hit the ice.

Mrazek remained on his back for several minutes after the blow but remained in the game.

[RELATED: What we learned in Sharks' shootout loss vs. Hurricanes]

The Sharks and Thornton may have won the fight, but the Hurricanes won the game 3-2 in a wild shootout.

Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

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Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

There was no shortage of electricity in Thursday night's rumble between the Sharks and Hurricanes, which San Jose got a point out of after falling 3-2 in the shootout

But the game really went on the verge of exploding when Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek went after Joe Thornton -- which unleashed some next-level fury that Sharks fans on social media like to refer to as "Angry Joe."

"Jumbo plays hard, and the goalie went after him," Logan Couture said after Thursday's loss. "So, I don't know if the goalie expected to get pushed like he did, but if you're going to go at someone you're probably going to get pushed."

Thornton went to give the puck a nudge as he skated by Carolina's net, realizing a bit late that Mrazek already had frozen it. But it was enough to irk the Canes' netminder, who then attempted to violently slash Thornton and subsequently stood up out of the crease as if to square off with the future Hall of Famer. 

Thornton responded with a half-push, half-punch to Mrazek's face, sending the goalie toppling over backward to the ice. Mrazek remained there as a scrum ensued behind Carolina's net. 

[RELATED: Watch Jumbo send 'Canes goalie to ice with forearm shiver]

"I think it definitely gets your group emotionally engaged in the game when you have a goalie swinging a stick at a guy like, but, as you saw, Joe can take care of himself," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer chuckled. 

Even after Thornton was ushered over to the penalty box to serve two minor penalties, Mrazek was slow to get up off of the ice. The long delay in play left some wondering if Mrazek had a concussion, but he stayed in the game. 

This, of course, raised a couple of mid-game questions. Should Mrazek have come out of the game and gone straight into the league's concussion protocol? Was it actually the fall and not Thornton's force that caused him to labor on the ice for so long? Or, was Mrazek waiting things out so Thornton would receive more discipline?

Sharks goalie Aaron Dell offered up his two cents after the game. "He either got hit really hard and should have gone into concussion protocol or he flopped a bit, but I guess that's the ref's call," Dell said with a shrug.

Mrazek didn't offer up much to the media after the game, calling it a "cheap shot" by Thornton before saying he has suffered hits "worse than those, so it's not bad." So, perhaps we'll never know the real story.

While there is a lot of attention on his tiff with Mrazek, Thornton also deserves credit for playing an incredible game. He led the third line along with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc to one of its most impactful games so far this season, and set up Sorensen for San Jose's first goal on the evening. With the Sharks' road trip continuing with a back-to-back this weekend against the Floridian teams, getting that kind of bottom-six contribution is vital.

"He's playing well," Couture said of Thornton. "We need [the third line]. Can't win with only the top six scoring. Some nights you need the bottom six to score, and I think that line's looked really good."