Sharks

What we know -- and what we don't -- about Sharks at NHL halfway point

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USATSI

What we know -- and what we don't -- about Sharks at NHL halfway point

Coincidentally, the halfway point of the Sharks’ 2018-19 campaign fell right on New Year’s Eve during San Jose's 8-5 loss to the Calgary Flames. So while everyone has no doubt switched out their calendars and kicked 2018 to the curb already, this is a perfect time to take a look at what we’ve learned about San Jose so far this season – and the question that is still unanswered.

What we know: The Sharks have the ability to live up to that preseason hype

It may have taken the Sharks a couple of months to iron out the kinks. But a strong December showed the Sharks can buckle down, play a detail-oriented game on a regular basis and even string some wins together.

There were plenty of questions surrounding the Sharks when their season first got underway, and their level of play was inconsistent from night to night. Most onlookers focused in on how superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson was playing and adapting to being on a new team. But the addition of the defenseman wasn’t the only thing the Sharks had to work through early in the season.

There were early-season injuries that shook up the lineup. Then, there was the rigorous travel schedule in October and November. No player or coach would use any of factors as an excuse for not playing well. But, there’s no denying they had an impact on San Jose’s ability to capitalize on chances and play a strong 60-minute game on a regular basis.

But through their difficult stretches of games, the Sharks remained confident they were better than their record showed. After a closed-door meeting during their four-game losing streak at the end of November, San Jose began to turn thingsaround.

Once the Sharks defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 2, the team started getting back to that level they wanted to reach. With a strengthened defensive front, a few new faces in the lineup, and the confidence from a few more wins, San Jose started turning those chances and into goals and turned the losing streaks into strings of wins.

[RELATED: Sam Bennett reportedly won't be disciplined for hit on Sharks' Radim Simek]

What we have yet to learn: Exactly how they match up with the other big teams in the league

The Sharks believe they can match up with any team the NHL has to offer and win, no matter how good the opposition is. Some nights, that appears to be true. On other nights, however, San Jose is constantly playing catchup.

They twice beat the Nashville Predators, who boast one of the league's best scoring defenses, but the Sharks also lost twice to the speedy Toronto Maple Leafs. San Jose so far has split the season series with the Calgary Flames, winning 3-1 at SAP Center last month and losing a wild one on Monday.

Long story short: When it comes to facing off against the league’s toughest competition, the Sharks’ body of work is sort of a mixed bag.

Perhaps the best indicator we’ve seen so far this season of how the Sharks match up against the NHL’s toughest teams was their pre-holiday faceoff against the Winnipeg Jets. While San Jose ended up losing that game, the Sharks stayed toe-to-toe with Winnipeg all night. The loss snapped the Sharks' then-five-game winning streak but coach Peter DeBoer told the media he thought the effort was the best he’d seen from the team over that six-game span.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski added: “We expected to win this game. Especially with the way we’ve been playing, with the way our game is trending.”

Now, it remains to be seen if the Sharks can get on a similar winning streak and emerge victorious in those big games.

With the second half of the season about to get underway and their earlier issues seemingly behind them, now is the Sharks' opportunity to show they can consistently play at a level that will push them past the league’s toughest competition. Their Jan.5 contest against the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning would be an excellent place to start.

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. 

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

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USATSI

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.