Sharks

Watch Tomas Hertl give Sharks first lead in week in Game 5 vs. Vegas

Watch Tomas Hertl give Sharks first lead in week in Game 5 vs. Vegas

The Sharks were on the right side of a hot start in Game 5 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series. 

After allowing the game's first goal in three straight losses, San Jose opened the scoring Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights. Tomas Hertl fired a shot over Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's right shoulder, and gave the Sharks their first 1-0 lead since Game 1. 

It was the Sharks' first lead in general since Game 1, too. San Jose last led when the buzzer sounded on a 5-2 win last Wednesday. With nine minutes left in the period, Logan Couture added to it and put the Sharks up 2-0. 

[RELATED: Dante Pettis suggests Drake curse would help Sharks beat Vegas]

The best-of-seven series is in a slightly different place than it was at the time, as the Sharks are now on the brink of elimination from the postseason. San Jose emphasized the importance of getting on the board early, and Hertl's goal accomplished just that. 

But is it too little, too late? 

Sharks prospects to watch: Sasha Chmelevski has NHL breakout potential

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Sharks prospects to watch: Sasha Chmelevski has NHL breakout potential

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 forward Sasha Chmelevski.

After getting his first taste of professional hockey to close out the 2017-18 season, Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski saved the best season of his junior career for what might have been his last this past year. 

The 2017 sixth-round pick scored six points in 10 regular-season and playoff games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda in the spring of 2018, and followed that up 75 points (35 goals, 40 assists) with the OHL's Ottawa 67's last season. He impressed for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver, then finished second behind Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki in OHL playoff scoring with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 18 games, as the 67's lost in the OHL's championship series.

Chmelevski, who turned 20 on June 9, technically could return to major junior as an overage player next season. But, he now is eligible to play in the minors as a pro, and could even earn an NHL spot with a strong training camp this fall. Here's what to expect from the talented forward. 

Sasha Chmelevski

Draft year, position: 2017, sixth round (No. 185 overall)
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 190 pounds
2018-19 team: Ottawa 67's (OHL)

Skill set

Chmelevski, who is from Huntington Beach, has a well-rounded offensive game. He has the on-ice vision to set up teammates, and a strong shot that he uses early and often. Over his last two regular seasons and playoff runs, Chmelevski combined for 585 shots on goal in 147 games, and has only been held without a shot four times during that span. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson praised Chmelevski's "high-end hockey IQ" when the prospect signed his entry-level contract last summer, and Chmelevski won multiple awards with the 67's for his academic success. He told the Daily Pilot during his draft year that he grew up admiring Pavel Datsyuk's two-way game and Andre Tourigny, Chmelevski's coach with the 67's, said that one element of the center's game stands out above all. 

"His best asset, for me, is his competitiveness," Tourigny told the Ottawa Sun in April. You play ping pong with Sasha, and if he loses, he will want to fight." 

Training-camp proving ground

Chmelevski will have an opportunity to break camp with the Sharks in September. The departures of longtime captain Joe Pavelski and wingers Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist in free agency created openings among San Jose's forwards, and Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. told The Athletic's Kevin Kurz that San Jose coach Peter DeBoer would "like to have two centers on each line [who] can take faceoffs" in addition to mentioning "competition at center."

As Kurz noted, it's possible that Chmelevski will be in the mix for a spot on the wing as well as one down the middle. Chmelevski conceivably could get a look on Joe Thornton's wing on the third line if DeBoer moves Kevin Labanc on to Logan Couture or Tomas Hertl's line, or one centering the fourth line if Barclay Goodrow moves back to the wing. The Sharks have long converted centers to wingers -- with Pavelski arguably the most prominent example -- and Chmelevski's versatility bodes well for his chances down the line.

Best-case scenario

Chmelevski earns a spot out of camp, and never really looks back. DeBoer utilizes the forward in a variety of roles as he tries to settle on the right forward combinations, eventually giving Chmelevski consistent minutes on Thornton's wing. 

Separated by two decades in age, the pair finds strong chemistry and Chmelevski rides it to 15 goals in his rookie season. The void left by Pavelski, Donskoi and Nyquist is not entirely filled by the end of Chmelevski's first campaign, but the 20-year-old nonetheless helps by delivering on his initial promise. 

Worst-case scenario

After making the team out of training camp, Chmelevski's first professional season mirrors that of Finnish forward Antti Suomela. Suomela started fast centering a line with Donskoi and Evander Kane, but was sent down to the AHL on Dec. 11 and did not suit up for the Sharks for the remainder of the season. 

Chmelevski has no problems with the pace of the AHL thanks to his brief Barracuda experience, but still struggles to produce much offense and doesn't return to the NHL as other players pass him on the organizational depth chart. There's still hope for improvement in the second year of his entry-level contract in 2020-21, but he ends 2019-20 on the outside looking in at the Sharks roster. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Merkley needs time to develop, but future is bright]

Realistic expectations

Making the big club out of training camp would be encouraging, but Chmelevski starting the season with the Barracuda would not be considered a setback. That could allow the forward to establish himself at the professional level, and earn a look with the team soon after the regular season begins. 

Chmelevski should, at least, be in the mix for an NHL roster spot throughout the season. He has the potential to hang on to one by the end of it, which would be welcome news for a salary cap-strapped Sharks team in need of cost-controlled talent to surround an expensive core. If he can, San Jose's depth up front would look much stronger moving forward. 

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

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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.