The NHL is in a holding pattern while the league looks into possibilities of restarting the currently-paused season in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but that hasn't stopped the Sharks from being active. On Monday, San Jose added to its organizational depth by signing two European prospects to entry-level contracts.
After going into the weekend as "front-runners" to sign Russian goaltender Alexei Melnichuk, the Sharks sealed the deal and made the signing official on Monday. Melnichuck, 21, was ranked eighth on NHL Central Scouting's list of 2018 international goaltenders.
"Alexei was being pursued by a number of teams and we're pleased that he decided to join the Sharks," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a team statement. "He has a unique blend of athleticism and technical play and has impressed at each level he has advanced. This past season he has proven that he can more than hold his own amongst players much older than he and we are excited for him to work with Evgeni Nabokov and our development staff."
In 16 games during the 2019-20 season with SKA St. Petersburg in Russia's top league, the KHL, Melnichuk went 8-5-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and four shutouts. He won several honors, including KHL Goaltender of the Month (Sept.), two-time Goaltender of the Week (Sept. 23/30) and two-time Rookie of the Week (Sept. 30/Dec. 30).
"I think that this gives [the Sharks] a glimmer of hope," NHL.com's Pete Jensen said of the Melnichuk signing on Monday's episode of the "NHL Fantasy on Ice" podcast, "and a piece to solidify their biggest position of weakness, which is huge. It sounded like many teams were in the running for this guy, Melnichuk, and the fact that they could get him speaks that maybe the window might still be a little, couple of inches open."
Also on Monday, the Sharks announced the signing of 26-year-old center Fredrik Handemark. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound native of Sweden brings plenty of European experience with him to San Jose, along with a penchant for winning faceoffs.
"Fredrik is a well-rounded player who can play in all situations and ranks as one of the top faceoff centers in Europe dating back to his time in juniors," Wilson said of Handemark in a team statement. "He is a powerful skater with high character and leadership qualities having been the captain for the Malmo Redhawks the past three seasons and has played well the last few years at the National level. We are happy to have him join our organization."
Across 52 games with the Redhawks in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this past season, Handemark recorded 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists), posted a plus-nine rating, led the SHL in face-off percentage (.615) and in total faceoffs taken (1,029), and finished tied for seventh in game-winning goals. In his time with Malmo dating back to the 2015-16 season, Handemark never finished a season below a 50-percent win-rate in the faceoff circle. In 329 career SHL games, he tallied 136 points (47 goals, 89 assists) with a 57.3 faceoff win percentage (2,770-for-4,834).
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Goaltending has been the Sharks' Achilles heel over the last two seasons, and San Jose was tied for 25th in the NHL in faceoff win percentage when the season was indefinitely paused. Clearly, Wilson is hoping Melnichuk and Handemark can eventually help bring about improvement in those areas.