Joe Pavelski

2020 NHL Draft: Predicting Sharks' targets based on prior team history

2020 NHL Draft: Predicting Sharks' targets based on prior team history

The Sharks' season is over. Their lengthy offseason has begun.

As one of the seven teams not included in the expanded playoff format NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Tuesday, San Jose can now turn its full attention toward getting the franchise back to the postseason. The Sharks ranked dead last in the Western Conference when the season was indefinitely paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now that it has been made official, they finished with their worst points percentage (.450) since Doug Wilson took over as general manager prior to the 2003-04 season.

It's a crucial offseason for San Jose, and Wilson knows it. On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, he laid out the Sharks' top priorities and expectations moving forward. He made it clear that missing out on the playoffs is unacceptable, but remains confident the team can turn things around in short order, much like San Jose did in 2003-04 and 2015-16.

Among the Sharks' top priorities this offseason, Wilson emphasized the importance of having a "great" draft.

"This is going to be a really important draft," Wilson said. "We've got seven picks, but three in the top 60, and this is a really deep draft for what we're looking for. Getting a pick in the first round, having the other two seconds, we know we'll come out of it with some good players."

As things currently stand, the Sharks' top picks in the 2020 NHL Draft consist of the Tampa Bay Lightning's first-round draft pick (acquired in the Barclay Goodrow trade), their own second-round pick and the Colorado Avalanche's second-round pick (acquired in the Brenden Dillon trade). As Wilson mentioned, they all fall within the first 60 overall selections. 

There's always the possibility that one or more of them could be traded, but it sounds like he has a specific position he plans to target.

"We have three very important picks," Wilson continued. "We need to add, if you ask me, probably forwards." 

Forwards, huh? That really shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the Sharks tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the fourth-fewest goals per game this season (2.57), not to mention half of their starting defensemen are locked up long term. Luckily for San Jose, the strength of the 2020 draft arguably is its collection of forward prospects, led by presumptive top pick Alexis Lafreniere.

Barring a major trade, the Sharks won't have any chance to acquire Lafreniere or any of the other cream-of-the-crop prospects. Tampa Bay enters the expanded 2020 NHL playoffs tied for the best odds to win it all with the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights. The Lightning's first-round pick can't fall within the first 15 overall selections (since they're not subject to the qualifying round), and based on expectations, it's likely to land somewhere near the end of the first round.

So, which forward prospects expected to go near the tail end of the first might be Sharks targets? While there are far too many possibilities to account for, there are at least three that would seem to be legitimate candidates based on San Jose's prior draft history.

Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin

NHL Central Scouting: No. 12 ranked North American skater
ESPN: No. 17 overall prospect
Elite Prospects: No. 18 overall prospect

Holloway, 18, is old for his age, having just missed the 2019 draft cutoff by eight days. He was coming off a very strong season at the time, having been named MVP of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but struggled somewhat in his first collegiate season this year on an underperforming Badgers team. Holloway is a talented skater, and at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, possesses great physical skills. He was one of the most anticipated prospects in his class coming into the year, but his struggles could cause him to drop in the first round. He would be a steal if San Jose acquired him in its latter stages.

The Sharks have had decent luck drafting centermen from the University of Wisconsin. Former Badger Joe Pavelski was a seventh-round pick in 2003, and we all know how that turned out. As a prospect, Holloway is both younger and held in much higher regard now than Pavelski was at the time, and while it would be unfair to expect anywhere near the same amount of production, it sure would be a poetic selection.

Lukas Reichel, LW, Eisbaren Berlin

NHL.com: No. 11 ranked European skater
ESPN: No. 23 overall prospect
Elite Prospects: No. 51 overall prospect

Depending on what rankings you look at, there is going to be plenty of variance in Reichel's draft projections. Some are captivated by his creativity and skills at just 17 years of age, while others are concerned about his physicality. His production, however, is hard to ignore. He averaged 0.57 points per game for Eisbaren Berlin this past season, the fourth-highest scoring average by an under-18 player in the history of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top hockey league. Two of the three players that posted a higher U18 scoring average eventually were drafted by the Sharks.

In 1996, San Jose selected Marco Sturm in the second round. In 2001, the Sharks made Marcel Goc their first-round pick. One of them certainly panned out better than the other, but the German connection cannot be ignored.

[RELATED: Exclusive: Sharks GM Wilson on odd season, coach search]

Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (Sweden)

NHL.com: No. 9 ranked European skater
ESPN: No. 30 overall prospect
Elite Prospects: No. 19 overall prospect

Another prospect with a wide range of evaluations, Gunler, 18, offers a skill set that doesn't match up with his draft projection. Why? There reportedly are lingering character and maturity concerns, which ultimately prevented his inclusion in multiple international tournaments. The deeper it gets into the first round, however, his skill and production likely will be too good to pass up. That should sound familiar, especially as it pertains to the Sharks' most recent first-round pick.

Ryan Merkley was regarded as one of the top overall talents in the 2018 NHL Draft, but he slipped all the way to the No. 21 overall pick in the first round due to character concerns, at which time San Jose snatched him up. Merkley unquestionably now is the Sharks' top prospect, and his OHL production insists they got quite a steal. Though Gunler plays an entirely different position, he might offer a similar kind of value.

Four Sharks-Vegas Game 7 nuggets you might not recall from wild night

Four Sharks-Vegas Game 7 nuggets you might not recall from wild night

Editor's note: This story originally was published on March 23. We are re-promoting it on April 23, the one-year anniversary of the epic Sharks-Vegas Game 7.

The sound, and the silence that preceded it, was unforgettable.

Sharks fans at SAP Center roared like never before on April 23, 2019, when San Jose eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights in an epic Game 7 of the teams' first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series. The sight of then-captain Joe Pavelski, bleeding and limp on the ice, emptied the arena of noise. The sight of the Sharks scoring four goals on the ensuing five-minute major penalty -- and, eventually, Barclay Goodrow's overtime winner -- easily filled it.

I reported on Game 7 from an auxiliary press box at SAP Center that night, sitting next to NBC Sports California's director of social engagement, Danny Pedroza. It was unlike any other game Danny, myself or anyone working in either press box that night covered before or after. 

Game 7, the payoff to a bitterly contested series in one of the NHL's best rivalries, included:

Those are just scratching the surface. With Game 7 set to re-air Monday at 6 p.m. PT on NBCSN as part of Hockey Week In America, here are four additional nuggets from the Sharks' wild win.

First time for everything

The Sharks had won Game 7s at home before beating the Golden Knights. They'd also won a Game 7 in overtime, eliminating the Calgary Flames a quarter-century before. They'd never done both at SAP Center, however, until Goodrow lit the lamp with 1:41 remaining in the extra session.

To be fair to the building formerly known as San Jose Arena, it was only the 42nd time in NHL history that a Game 7 would end in (at least one) OT. Plenty of buildings have never seen one, including the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens and Chicago Stadium.

Cody Eakin's major penalty, Pavelski's injury and the power play that followed make this Game 7 one of the most unique in NHL history. But the ending to the Sharks' win that night was pretty distinct, too.

The Sharks and Golden Knights shake hands after Barclay Goodrow's game-winning -- and series-clinching -- goal in overtime. Photo courtesy: Marcus White, NBC Sports California

Powerful play

The Sharks, prior to their historic outburst, had been abysmal on the power play against the Golden Knights. San Jose scored as many goals (four) on the bonkers third-period power play as it did in the six games preceding Game 7.

Shooting percentages often drive scoring droughts as much as anything else, and the Sharks' fallow power play was no different. They scored on 13.81 percent of their 5-on-4 shots during the 2018-19 regular season, and converted just 8 percent of theirs in the first six games of the series. The Sharks then scored on four of their 15 5-on-4 shots -- or, 26.67 percent -- in Game 7.

Sure, San Jose benefitted from the wrong call, but regression to the mean arguably helped the Sharks just as much.

The time is Nyquist

Gustav Nyquist skated just one, 30-second shift in the third period after the Sharks' four-goal power-play barrage. San Jose couldn't make do with a top-six hole in overtime following Pavelski's injury, however, so the Swedish winger filled Pavelski's place alongside Logan Couture and Timo Meier.

Couture, Meier and Nyquist were a dominant trio in overtime. They created three high-danger chances in just 4:33 together, matching the Kevin Labanc-Joe Thornton-Marcus Sorensen combo in nine fewer minutes together.

The Sharks completely controlled play during the extra session, and Nyquist's seamless inclusion on San Jose's top line was a huge reason why. If he didn't, Game 7 could have ended much differently.

[RELATED: Need a home workout? Use Sharks rookie Mario Ferraro's]

Sixth sense

Had the Golden Knights won Game 7, then-Vegas coach Gerard Gallant would have gotten far more credit for a bold tactical move on Jonathan Marchessault's game-tying goal.

Marchessault was one of six Golden Knights forwards on the ice with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury pulled, skating alongside Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Those six comprised the entirety of Vegas' top two forward lines at the time, and they pinned the Sharks in the defensive zone for the entirety of their 41 seconds together.

The Golden Knights' season was on the line, so desperation undoubtedly drove Gallant more than innovation. He deserves credit for creativity, however, especially in a sport that often relies on risk-averse strategies.

Here's hoping that, whenever the NHL starts its next season after the coronavirus pandemic is contained, Gallant's behind a team's bench.

Joe Pavelski's game-winner vs. Jets symbolic of clutch Sharks' tenure

Joe Pavelski's game-winner vs. Jets symbolic of clutch Sharks' tenure

Programming note: Joe Pavelski's game-winning goal in the Sharks' thrilling, last-second 2019 victory over the Winnipeg Jets will re-air on Saturday, April 4 at 9 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay California.

What a game. What a finish.

Joe Pavelski served as captain in multiple capacities throughout his time with the Sharks. Captain of San Jose, Captain America, and frequently, Captain Clutch. On March 12, 2019 against the Winnipeg Jets, both bookend descriptions were apt.

The Sharks entered the game on quite a run. They were undefeated in March, riding a five-game winning streak, including an impressive 3-0 road shutout over the Minnesota Wild the night before. Marc-Edouard Vlasic got San Jose on the board first, but Winnipeg responded with two goals over the ensuing 65 seconds, an early sign that the Sharks would have their hands full.

San Jose pulled even before the first intermission, and both sides managed to score once in the second period. Precisely two minutes into the third, Marcus Sorensen gave the Sharks their first lead since Vlasic's opening goal, but Matheiu Perreault knotted things up for the Jets with less than four minutes remaining in regulation, setting up for what appeared to be an overtime finish.

Pavelski never let it get that far.

With less than 15 seconds remaining in regulation, Winnipeg broke into San Jose's defensive zone, but Vlasic got a stick on a Jets' cross-ice pass, turning a scary defensive situation into an odd-man rush opportunity. Timo Meier raced up the open ice and collected the puck right as he crossed Winnipeg's blue line. Coming in at high speed, Meier attempted to set up Pavelski for the game-winning goal by lifting a saucer pass over the lone remaining Jets' defenseman's stick.

Before the puck reconnected with the ice, Pavelski swatted it out of mid-air, directly into the back of the net with 4.3 seconds left on the clock.

Game over. Winning streak extended in Winnipeg.

It was the usual suspect. Throughout Sharks franchise history, only Patrick Marleau has accounted for more game-winning goals than Pavelski's 60. Though it wasn't apparent at the time, his game-winner against at the Jets that night turned out to be the final one he scored for San Jose. Pavelski departed for the Dallas Stars in free agency last offseason, and while his goal total (14) might be on the decline, he hasn't lost his penchant for the clutch (three game-winners).

[RELATED: How COVID-19 impacts Sharks' salary cap, draft planning]

Pavelski worked his way from being the No. 205 overall pick in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft to being named captain of the United States National Team. Though not the biggest or fastest skater, there was never a harder worker. He endeared himself to Sharks fans through his leadership and effort, and those 355 regular-season and 48 playoff goals didn't hurt either.

Sharks' captain. Captain America. Captain Clutch. Any and all will do.

If you need a reminder as to why, tune into NBC Sports California tonight at 9 p.m.