Dylan Gambrell

How these Sharks prospects can help fill goal-scoring void this season

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USATSI

How these Sharks prospects can help fill goal-scoring void this season

Editor's note: The Sharks open training camp later this week, looking to replace nearly 60 regular-season goals from departed forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Before camp officially begins, NBC Sports California is examining the players who will help San Jose fill that goal-scoring void. We continue with a group of forwards who can crack the roster. 

The Sharks' brass made it clear this offseason that there will be roster spots up for grabs when training camp begins Friday. 

San Jose, after all, lost three wingers who played in top-nine roles during the club's run to the Western Conference final. Experienced young players like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will be asked to play bigger roles, but another wave of forwards behind them will have to make the jump from the minors -- and, in some cases, juniors -- to full-time NHL roles.

Here are five Sharks prospects who, if they make the team, could go a long way towards offsetting the offensive production San Jose lost this summer. 

Joachim Blichfeld 

As an overage player in the WHL last season, Blichfeld tore it up with the Portland Winterhawks. He scored more goals (53), one fewer assist (61) and as many points (114) as he had in his first two seasons in Portland ... combined. 

Blichfeld, in all likelihood, will need some seasoning before he gets a crack at the NHL. The 6-foot-2 Danish winger only played in two playoff games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda two seasons ago, and the jump from major junior star to AHL regular is big enough on its own. Still, the 21-year-old's shot should translate to the pros, and Blichfeld's combination of size and skill bodes well for his development down the line. If he quickly acclimates, it might be enough to earn an NHL role. 

Ivan Chekhovich

Chekhovich looks like a hockey player after taking a puck to the face in a rookie tournament game over the weekend, and he has the skill set to hang around. 

The 21-year-old impressed in back-to-back end-of-season stints with the Barracuda over the last two seasons, and Chekhovich appears ready for the jump to the professional ranks after scoring 105 points (43 goals, 62 assists) with the QMJHL's Baie-Comeau Drakkar last year. His size -- the Sharks listed Chekhovich as 5-foot-10, 180 lbs. in their May prospect report -- could cause some growing pains in adjusting from junior, but Chekhovich has dynamic offensive potential. 

Sasha Chmelevski

Could a roster spot vacated by a right-shooting American center who converted to a winger be filled by another one? That's not to say 20-year-old Sasha Chmelevski is the next Pavelski, but the Huntington Beach native is known for his hockey IQ and competitiveness. 

Chmelevski lined up on the wing in a recent Anaheim Ducks-hosted rookie tournament in Irvine, and positional versatility always helps when one tries to earn a spot in coach Peter DeBoer's lineup. So, too, will Chmelevski's ability to fire pucks on net -- he had just four games in the last two seasons without a shot on goal -- as well as the aforementioned intangibles. If that combination means he's NHL-ready, Chmelevski can help the Sharks bridge their goal-scoring gap from last year. 

Dylan Gambrell

Gambrell, much like Chmelevski, is intriguing because of his versatility. He has played on the wing and centered his own line in his brief NHL career, and the 23-year-old arguably was the Sharks' best player in an injury-necessitated appearance in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

Now entering his third year as a professional, the Sharks need Gambrell to establish himself as an NHL regular this season. Whether that's as a center or winger, Gambrell's collegiate and minor league production are encouraging for his chances. Regularly using the strong shot he displayed on his Game 6 goal will help him stick around at either position. 

[RELATED: Sharks goalie Jones unveils cyborg-inspired mask for next season]

Antti Suomela

Suomela is something of a wild card. The center made the Sharks out of training camp last year, scoring eight points (three goals, five assists) in 27 NHL games. But the Finnish forward was sent down in December, and scored just 20 points in 47 AHL games.

With a full season on North American rinks under his belt, can Suomela's offensive game fully translate? He led Finland's top league in scoring two seasons ago, and flashed solid offensive instincts playing with Donskoi and Evander Kane early last season. It will be interesting to see if Suomela gets a look on the wing in training camp, but him winning the fourth-line center spot would give the Sharks another skilled pivot behind Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton.

Players who will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void in 2019-20

Timo Meier
Kevin Labanc

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.

Sharks re-sign young centers Dylan Gambrell, Antti Suomela to contracts

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Sharks re-sign young centers Dylan Gambrell, Antti Suomela to contracts

The Sharks continued to fill out their roster for next season Thursday, re-signing a pair of restricted free-agent forwards who could be in the mix for more playing time next season and reportedly locking up their remainder of their restricted free agents as well.

San Jose re-signed forwards Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela to two- and one-year contracts, respectively, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson announced Thursday. They reportedly also signed blue liners Nick DeSimone and Kyle Wood, as well as forward Maxim Letunov, according to Cap Friendly.

The Sharks did not disclose contract terms for Gambrell and Suomela, per club policy, but each deal reportedly is worth $700,000 annually, Bay Area News Group's Curtis Pashelka reported. 

Gambrell's contract reportedly is a two-way deal -- meaning he will be played less if sent down to the minors -- in the first year and a one-way in the second, according to Fear the Fin's Sheng Peng. 

Gambrell, 22, played eight regular-season games with the Sharks in 2018-19 and two more in the playoffs. He scored his first NHL goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference final against the St. Louis Blues, and should be in the mix for a regular role on the fourth line following San Jose's offseason departures up front. A second-round pick in 2016, Gambrell also scored 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 40 games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda. 

"Dylan had success at the AHL level with the Barracuda this past season, helping to lead the league's youngest team to another Calder Cup playoff berth," Wilson said in a statement. "He has continued to show us growth in all areas of his game, and, with his goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference final, has proven he can handle the pressure of the NHL. We look forward to his continued development, and the impact he will have on the Sharks."

Suomela, 25, ended training camp last season as the Sharks' presumptive third-line center, flanked by Joonas Donskoi and Evander Kane. The Finnish forward played in 27 of the Sharks' first 30 games and scored eight points (three goals, five assists), but was sent down to the Barracuda on Dec. 11 and did not return to the NHL. He scored 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 34 AHL games. 

"Antti will be looking to build off of his first year in North America and we are excited to see where he takes his game this coming season," Wilson said in a statement. "He has shown that he can adjust his game to the smaller rink and we are looking forward to him competing for a spot on our NHL roster this season."

DeSimone, 24, is yet to make his NHL debut but scored 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists) in 65 AHL games last season. The right-shooting defenseman, whom the Sharks signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, tied for sixth among AHL blue liners in points and seventh in goals, and was recalled in a couple of instances when the Sharks needed an extra defenseman due to injuries. The Sharks re-signed Tim Heed and signed Dalton Prout to one-year deals, so the right side of defense appears set behind Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. But, DeSimone could be in the mix for an in-season call-up.

Wood and Letunov, 23, both are coming off of their first seasons with the Barracuda. Both players were acquired in separate trades with the Arizona Coyotes, and Wood scored 35 points (six goals, 29 assists) from the Barracuda's blue line last season. Letunov, who played three seasons at the University of Connecticut, scored 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in his first pro season last year. 

[RELATED: Are rival Kings any better after free agency?]

With all players reportedly locked in for the league-minimum salary, the Sharks maintain salary-cap flexibility no matter how their training-camp competitions shake out. With each of his restricted free agents now under contract, Wilson can shift his attention to re-signing Joe Thornton. 

San Jose currently has just under $4.7 million remaining in cap space, according to Cap Friendly. Thornton's contract was worth $5 million last season, but Wilson said the 39-year-old was willing to take less than he ultimately signed for in each of the last two years if it meant the Sharks retained Patrick Marleau in 2017 and signed John Tavares in 2018. Marleau is now a free agent after the Carolina Hurricanes bought out the final year of his contract following a trade from the cap-crunched Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Sharks would appear to have enough room to reunite Marleau and Thornton.