Dalton Prout

Sharks' Radim Simek improving, but not expected to play on road trip

Sharks' Radim Simek improving, but not expected to play on road trip

The Sharks made good use of their three-game homestand, earning four of six possible points against high-quality competition to get back on track after a miserable start to the season. San Jose's improved play has coincided with Patrick Marleau's arrival and Evander Kane's return to the lineup, and the Sharks will attempt to build off their recent momentum as they head off on a five-game road trip.

Unfortunately for San Jose, it doesn't sound as if the team will get back further reinforcements for the games in Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Boston. The Athletic's Kevin Kurz reported that defenseman Radim Simek participated in some practice drills Wednesday, but is unlikely to play on the upcoming road trip, according to head coach Peter DeBoer.

Simek underwent knee surgery in March and has been rehabbing ever since. He's been somewhat of a secret weapon for San Jose, as the Sharks went 29-9-3 with him in the lineup last season, and allowed lower rates of shot attempts, shots and chances with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations than when he wasn't. San Jose has proceeded cautiously with Simek and won't rush him back, but the fact that he was participating in more physical drills Wednesday bodes well for a return in the relatively near future.

Speaking of physicality, that's an area DeBoer believes the Sharks have been lacking in recently, and one that both Simek and another on-the-mend defenseman can help out in. Dalton Prout has been out of the lineup since the first game of the season, but that's bound to change soon, according to the Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka.

With both Prout and Simek expected to rejoin the team soon, it begs the question as to who they'll replace. Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brenden Dillon aren't going anywhere, and rookie Mario Ferraro has played well beyond his years. Tim Heed has been in and out of the dog house, and the most likely scenario is that Prout and/or Simek takes his spot on the third pair.

[RELATED: Exclusive: Marleau reflects on Sharks return in ride to SAP]

The Sharks have done a good job to get their feet back under them. They won't be at full strength for the upcoming road trip, but clearly, they're getting closer.

Sharks' Mario Ferraro absorbing advice while competing for NHL roster

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AP

Sharks' Mario Ferraro absorbing advice while competing for NHL roster

SAN JOSE -- Mario Ferraro hasn't earned himself a spot on the Sharks' opening night roster just yet. With an impressive preseason campaign wrapping up this week, however, it's looking more and more likely that the 21-year-old will skate with the big club when the regular season opens up on October 2.

But Ferraro isn't getting ahead of himself. 

Despite clearly being on the shortlist of young players who could make the Sharks' roster out of camp, he's just trying to build up his game and learn from all of the established players around him.

"I feel like I'm in a good spot, but I try not to focus on that kind of stuff," Ferraro said Saturday after San Jose's tune-up contest against the Vegas Golden Knights. "I try to improve as much as I can to hopefully one day be a Shark, and I take in all the advice that I can from people around me."

The competition has been fierce in this year's camp with San Jose having roster spots that need to be filled, and the blue line has been no exception, particularly with Radim Simek questionable to return for the start of the season.

According to Ferraro, that heightened competition is fuel to work harder.

"This is the NHL level so you're going to get some pretty good competition, especially on the back end in San Jose," Ferraro said. "But that competition pushes me and pushes everyone else in this room to get better and better. And that's something that you don't get everywhere. To be surrounded by such great players who are all competing for the same goal, it really pushes me and makes me a better player."

One player who has been pushing Ferraro that extra mile has been Dalton Prout -- a new face in San Jose's dressing room, but also an eight-year veteran. The two have been paired up on San Jose's blue line as of late, and having a teammate like Prout to look up to both on the ice and off has been a plus for an NHL hopeful like Ferraro, who brings a lot of energy to the game.

"We actually grabbed a bite to eat the other night just before the game," Ferraro recalled with a smile. "I'm thankful to be able to play with a guy like that. He's such a great leader and a really good person. It's good to learn from a guy like that who has experience and he definitely does a good job of covering my back out there for sure."

Ferraro got an extended look in Saturday's preseason game, leading all Sharks' skaters with 22:17 minutes of ice time. He also contributed three of the 31 hits San Jose laid on Vegas that evening -- a testament to Ferraro gearing up for heightened physicality at the NHL level.

"I think he's getting used to the NHL pace and the size of the guys," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said, going on to compliment Ferraro's performance throughout training camp. "His competitiveness has always been off the charts. He's ready to play every night and he brings a lot of good energy."

[RELATED: How Sharks can fill void on defense until Simek returns]

Whether that energy is something Ferraro gets to put on the NHL ice at the start of the season still hasn't been determined yet. But his drive to continue building on his game and learn from the players around him speaks well for his future.

"I'm always looking to get stronger and stronger," Ferraro said. "There's always room to improve."

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

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USATSI

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

It's a darn good thing the Sharks have a bevy of talent coming up the pipeline -- especially on defense.

With news coming out of training camp Friday that Radim Simek is questionable to be ready for game-action when the season opens on Oct. 2, the focus shifts not just to when he might finally rejoin the team, but to who will most likely fill in that void on San Jose's blue line.

With four preseason games remaining, San Jose has a couple of options when it comes to filling in that roster spot.

Being that Simek is a left-handed shooter, the best bets to pencil into the roster from San Jose's group of young talent are Jacob Middleton and Mario Ferraro. Middleton has a strong chance of being the go-to guy, having been recalled from the Barracuda on a few occasions last season to fill in when the injury bug bit the Sharks' blue line especially hard.

Fans might remember Middleton's surprise NHL debut back in January when he went from prepping for a road trip with the Barracuda one night to practicing alongside Brent Burns the following morning. At that time, left-handed defensemen Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were both out of the lineup.

Even with Middleton's prior experience at the NHL level, Ferraro will likely still be a consideration to make the opening night roster. The 21-year-old has been impressing the organization since he participated in rookie development camp back in July and has continued that trend through training camp. Ferraro also has recently been paired up in camp with Dalton Prout -- who the Sharks will likely keep in mind to fill in should one of their right-handed defensemen be sidelined.

Having a few different players who can file into the lineup also gives DeBoer more options as far as mixing and matching his d-pairs. Middleton filled right into Simek's spot alongside Burns last year, and should the pairing of Brenden Dillon and Erik Karlsson stay intact, the Middleton-Burns pairing could be reunited with Vlasic being paired up with Tim Heed. If both Ferraro and Prout demonstrate they're a reliable pair to start, the duo might get the nod which would keep Vlasic and Burns skating together as they have been through the start of the preseason.

Of course, those are just guesses as to how DeBoer's lineup will shake up until Simek comes back healthy.

Naturally, the best-case scenario is that Simek gets into the lineup sooner rather than later. San Jose did go 29-9-3 with a healthy Simek in the lineup last season, after all. Plus, Simek's ticket into a regular roster spot was his uncanny chemistry with Burns.

[RELATED: Why Sharks expect Meier to take step forward]

That being said, the Sharks don't want to rush the Czech defenseman back into the lineup too quickly. Sure, Simek has been training for some time now, following surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Teammate Tomas Hertl told the press on the first day of camp that he talked to Simek over the summer and that the blueliner has been "working his ass off" to get back into playing shape. Nevertheless, the Sharks don't want to bring Simek back to quickly and risk him re-injuring himself.

At least the Sharks have good options for filling out their blue line until he returns.