Jordan Binnington

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.

Logan Couture scores twice in two minutes to tie Sharks-Blues Game 2

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AP

Logan Couture scores twice in two minutes to tie Sharks-Blues Game 2

SAN JOSE -- With two goals in a span of 1:59, Stanley Cup playoff leading goal-scorer Logan Couture brought his Sharks right back into Game 2 of the Western Conference final Monday night. 

Thirteen seconds after San Jose winger Marcus Sorensen was called for interference for tripping up St. Louis Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson in the Sharks' offensive zone, Couture turned SAP Center's chants of "Ref, you suck!" into cheers when he snuck his backhand shot through St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington's five-hole on a short-handed breakaway. 

The Sharks, trailing 2-0 and facing a potential three-goal hole at the time, had life.

Couture was not done there. Just 12 seconds after Sorensen's penalty expired, Couture grabbed an outlet pass from Timo Meier for another breakaway. Then, from the top of the left face-off circle, Couture snapped a shot through Binnington's five-hole to tie the game at two goals apiece. 

With 13 goals this postseason, Couture leads the NHL and is only one goal shy of matching Joe Pavelski's franchise record for a playoff run.

A record-tying goal from Couture on Monday would also tie the game. The Blues broke the deadlock just under 10 minutes after Couture's second, thanks to Robert Bortuzzo's back-hand effort.

Sharks vs. Blues live stream: How to watch NHL playoffs Game 2 online

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USATSI

Sharks vs. Blues live stream: How to watch NHL playoffs Game 2 online

The Sharks have won the first game in each of their three playoff series thus far. On Monday, San Jose will attempt to follow that up with an additional victory for the first time.

Coming off an impressive 6-3 victory over the Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference final on Saturday, the Sharks have a chance to take their first 2-0 series lead of their current playoff run when they face St. Louis in Game 2 Monday night at SAP Center.

The six goals allowed by the Blues in Game 1 were more than they had allowed in the final three games combined of their second-round series victory over Dallas. Rookie Jordan Binnington will get an opportunity to bounce back for St. Louis, while San Jose netminder Martin Jones can tie Boston's Tuukka Rask for the postseason lead with his 10th playoff win.

[RELATED: Couture in running for Conn Smythe, but what about Selke?]

Here's how to watch Game 2 between the Sharks and Blues on TV and streaming live online, as well as pre and postgame coverage on NBC Sports California.

When: 6 p.m. PT on Monday, May 13, on NBCSN (Sharks Playoff Live starts at 5 p.m. on NBC Sports California)
Live Stream: NBC Sports appfuboTV -- Try a free trial (MyTeams by NBC Sports app for pregame/postgame)