John Leonard

Sharks' John Leonard hopes to follow in ex-roommate Mario Ferraro's footsteps

Sharks' John Leonard hopes to follow in ex-roommate Mario Ferraro's footsteps

UMass-Amherst has produced its fair share of NHL talent. Aside from longtime Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, the school's most prominent NHL alumni are defensemen, such as Colorado Avalanche phenom Cale Makar. The Sharks have found plenty of success with UMass defensemen, whether it be former blue-liners Justin Braun and Matt Irwin, or current rookie Mario Ferraro.

Ferraro, San Jose's second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, made the jump straight from college to the pros, and was arguably the brightest spot of the Sharks' season that has since been indefinitely paused due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The following year, San Jose went back to the UMass well in the 2018 draft, but this time used a sixth-round selection on forward John Leonard.

Fresh off of being the NCAA's leading goal-scorer and a Hobey Baker award finalist, Leonard officially agreed to join the Sharks franchise this past week, and he hopes to follow in his former college roommate's footsteps.

"The reason Mario was able to do that was just based off his work ethic and his drive to want to be great," Leonard said on an introductory conference call with reporters on Friday. "He's definitely someone I look up to. I was his roommate at school and we worked out together every day and trained together. His work ethic alone got him to where he is and I'm definitely going to try to do everything I can to follow that up."

Though Leonard has committed to San Jose, he has yet to officially sign, as he's waiting for clarification as to if and when the current season might resume. In the meantime, just like the rest of the NHLers currently practicing social distancing, he's doing his best to stay in shape.

Given that he used to work out with Ferraro in college, naturally, it begs the question as to whether or not Leonard has tuned into Ferraro's "quarantine" workouts that he is posting online. According to his former roommate, this is nothing new.

"Yeah, he was actually doing those at school, too," Leonard explained, "but they were a little bit more under the radar. Now they're open to the public and he loves it."

Ferraro surpassed even the wildest of expectations in his rookie season, and Leonard will certainly be challenged to do the same. If he's able to, however, it stands to reason that the former roommates might be reunited.

From the sounds of it, Leonard wouldn't mind -- though he might want to keep an eye on the pantry.

"The best thing about it is just his personality," Leonard said of rooming with Ferraro. "He's always in a good mood. He's a hilarious guy and he's just always fun to be around. Worst thing? I don't know. The guy ... he's always eating, so maybe he takes my food a little bit."

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

Ferraro already appears to be an important piece of the Sharks' core moving forward, and they're definitely hoping that Leonard can join him. 

If he impresses enough, he'll have his own room in no time.

How coronavirus could impact Sharks' salary cap, 2020 NHL Draft plans

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AP

How coronavirus could impact Sharks' salary cap, 2020 NHL Draft plans

While the Sharks' top priority is the health and safety of their players, employees and surrounding community, there's no denying that the indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is going to severely impact San Jose's bottom line.

Though Sharks president Jonathan Becher couldn't give a specific value, he admitted Tuesday that the financial losses would "be a big number" and will "significantly exceed what [the franchise] traditionally experiences and be the largest it has been before."

San Jose is not alone in that reality. With no games being played, all 31 NHL teams are going to experience something similar.

Even so, Becher anticipates that the Sharks will spend up to the salary cap this offseason. Of course, nobody knows if or when the current season will resume, when the next one will begin or what the salary cap will be set at. F

or general manager Doug Wilson, whose directive is to get San Jose back to a level of contention in short order, the ambiguity of the situation isn't a desirable added challenge and he must have contingencies prepared.

"This is a difficult situation for everybody, as a community, as a society -- and that's what the priority is," Wilson said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. "On the hockey side, we look at it and we say, OK, when it does start up -- and it will start up again, whether it be for this season or next season -- here are the parameters we have to operate under.

"We may need to have younger players coming, or players on entry-level contracts. We may have to make some tough decisions on some key players. That's just going to be the nature of our business. We've had to go through this before, and as I said, it's the same for everybody. So, you plan and you go down parallel paths of, whatever may come, you're prepared for. It doesn't make it easy, but that's our job."

Wilson hasn't been through a previous pandemic with the NHL, but he was the Sharks' GM during the 2004-05 lockout, which is about as close as the league has recently been to the current situation. He is hopeful those tough decisions are kept to a minimum, but he isn't wasting valuable time and energy worrying about what might or might not happen.

"I think every team has got that same concern," Wilson responded when asked about potentially buying out one or more players. "Am I fearful? No. It'll be mandated to us what the rules are moving forward, what the cap is and all that. So, until then, we just focus on the things that we can focus on, which is preparing for the draft, preparing for some decisions with players that could be available, such as Brinson [Pasichnuk] and John [Leonard].

"We've got a couple more things in the hopper that we're looking at right now. Potentially, who could be UFAs. You look under every rock to find ways to get better."

Just this week, Wilson got two collegiate stars in Pasichnuk and Leonard to agree to join the organization. Leonard was San Jose's sixth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft who just finished as the NCAA's leading goal scorer and a Hobey Baker award finalist for UMass, while Pasichnuk was a three-year standout at Arizona State. Suddenly, that 2018 draft, in which the Sharks drafted top prospect Ryan Merkeley and selected another who ultimately was traded for high-scoring Swede Jonathan Dahlen, has the look of a franchise-altering one.

Given the current state of the Sharks, Wilson knows the upcoming 2020 draft class must do the same. He reloaded San Jose's pick arsenal at the trade deadline, and the Sharks will now go into the 2020 NHL draft with seven selections, including three in the first 60 picks.

Wilson and his staff are doing their best to capitalize on such a crucial draft, though social distancing has forced them to get creative. Like so many of us, they've been staying in touch through teleconferencing, and despite the unprecedented situation, Wilson feels they're "extremely well prepared."

[RELATED: Wilson seems likely to bring Boughner back as Sharks coach]

Nonetheless, he's feeling the pressure to hit it out of the park.

"It's not the perfect-case scenario," Wilson explained. "It isn't. But it is the same for everybody. Our guys are on top of it. They have meetings every day. They're exploring, gathering as much game tape and as much knowledge. I know the league and the combine will provide us with every piece of information they can, but it's just going to be different.

And it's a very important year for us with three picks in the top 60 in a draft that we think has got a lot of things we're looking for -- especially in the top 60 picks. We've got to get it right. It means more work and more focus without as much information as we usually have. So be it."

Yes, the coronavirus pandemic will greatly impact the Sharks' financial bottom line. But the bottom line for Wilson is that his directive remains unchanged.

Sharks' injured stars expected to make full recovery by training camp

Sharks' injured stars expected to make full recovery by training camp

It has been nearly three full months since the last time Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson all played in the same game for the Sharks.

Couture scored with precisely one minute remaining in regulation on Jan. 5 to give San Jose a commanding two-goal lead on the road against the Washington Capitals. In what would turn out to be arguably the most crushing loss of their season, the Sharks proceeded to give up two goals over the final minute before losing 5-4 in overtime.

That was the insult. Next came the injury.

In the second period of San Jose's next game on Jan. 7 against the St. Louis Blues, Couture took an awkward fall into the end boards and emerged with a fractured ankle. He would miss the next 17 games while recovering. By the time he returned to the lineup on Feb. 25, both Hertl and Karlsson's seasons had already ended.

Hertl tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 29. Just over two weeks later, Karlsson was placed on season-ending injured reserve after breaking his left thumb against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 14.

While the Sharks certainly experienced their fair share of struggles earlier in the season, the severe injuries endured by arguably their three best players were always going to be too much to overcome. San Jose wasn't anywhere near playoff position when the NHL season was indefinitely paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Though it remains to be seen if and when it will resume, it's safe to assume the franchise's postseason streak has come to an end.

Yep, the last few months have been pretty dark for the Sharks. Not being able to play games isn't helping, but the clouds might be parting.

In addition to restocking their draft cupboard at the trade deadline, the Sharks had two collegiate standouts -- John Leonard and Brinson Pasichnuk -- officially agree to join the organization Wednesday. On a conference call with reporters on Thursday, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson hinted that some more signings might be coming down the pipe in short order.

The most promising update Wilson provided, however, was how Couture, Hertl and Karlsson are progressing from their respective injuries.

In Couture's seventh game back in the lineup, he took a puck to the face -- the guy has the worst luck -- and was placed in concussion protocol as a precautionary measure on March 8. That was San Jose's penultimate game before the season was indefinitely paused, and he has been symptom-free ever since. The only thing preventing Couture from hopping back out on the ice -- if that were a possibility right now -- likely is his conditioning level, something he recently took steps to address

"Logan is feeling really good," Wilson told reporters. "I've talked to him quite a few times over the last little while. He has used the time really well. Sounds good, he got himself a Peloton, so he's riding every day. He's just about all the way back."

Like Couture, Karlsson's recovery hasn't been set back by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Erik is close to being all the way back," Wilson said, "and will be 100 percent for next season."

Though Hertl's injury was far more serious than the other two, his injury update was the most promising of the three.

"We got great news on Tomas Hertl," Wilson informed. "Talked to him yesterday. He's well ahead of schedule. Everything is going extremely well, and there should be no doubts with him being ready when next season starts, too."

Wilson insisted that all Sharks players and personnel are adhering to government recommendations and social distancing, but Hertl still has access to the team's training facility as he goes about his rehab. Wilson believes that access, combined with Hertl's previous knee injuries, has expedited his recovery this time around.

"He has been able to go to the facility and rehab with [head athletic trainer] Ray Tufts," Wilson explained. "He has got full flexibility and extension of his knee. I think what has happened, too, is he has the benefit -- we say that now; not a benefit at the time but it certainly is now -- he knows the process to go through. This is not an unknown for him.

"And talking to him yesterday, he just sounded outstanding. He's healed up, he's rested, he has got full extension. He has got some strengthening to do, but he said he even feels that he's well ahead of where he thought he would be, and that's been confirmed by our training staff and Ray Tufts, also."

[RELATED: Sharks' restocked draft picks, college signings offer hope]

We don't know when the next NHL season will begin. Heck, we don't even know if the current one will continue.

But whenever the Sharks next take the ice with a legitimate chance to contend for the postseason, it appears they'll have all three of Couture, Hertl and Karlsson in tow, which will be a huge help.

If San Jose is going to emerge from the recent darkness, those three likely will need to lead the way.