Sasha Chmelevski

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

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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

Joe Thornton's return should benefit Sharks' promising young forwards

Joe Thornton's return should benefit Sharks' promising young forwards

SAN JOSE -- In addition to hitting multiple career milestones last season, Joe Thornton was instrumental in bringing out the best in some of the younger players around him.

With a stacked crop of fresh faces looking to crack the roster this season, Jumbo Joe -- fresh off signing a one-year deal that will keep him in teal -- will likely lead the way yet again in developing some of San Jose's future stars.

"It's a privilege for all of us to be around him because it's contagious," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton on Friday at the team's practice facility. "How he's impacted this franchise on and off the ice, but also his teammates and all the young guys who have the ability to learn and watch (him) and see what it takes to truly be great."

Last season, Thornton found success as San Jose's third-line center with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc on his wings. The 23-year-old Labanc and 27-year-old Sorensen both registered career-highs in points, many of which were scored while playing alongside No. 19. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio combined for 23 goals during the 2018-19 season.

Thornton's ability to get so much out of the youngsters around him is "rare," Wilson said, although part of it can be attributed to how close San Jose's AHL team plays to the big club.
 
"It's funny, there were years (Thornton) would go to Barracuda games and he'd say 'those are my guys,'' Wilson mused.  "It's one of the reasons we love to be so loyal to our own players. The proximity of the Barracuda being here, the rink being right across the street, and the fact that our players and our veterans follow them."

Training camp doesn't get underway until next week, but the Sharks are already excited about the contingent of young players looking to make the big roster this year, mainly forwards such as Ivan Chekhovich, Sasha Chmelevski and Lean Bergmann. San Jose noticeably lost some of its offensive firepower over the offseason with Joe Pavelski among the crop of players who departed in free agency. But Wilson went so far as to say the Sharks are "as excited about this group of forwards coming in as we've ever been" heading into camp.

No doubt, having a veteran like Thornton in the dressing room with such a promising young group coming in gives the team a boost.

"The energy -- it's funny to see all the young kids come in and look over and see Joe Thornton in the gym," Wilson said. "(It) just creates a lot of energy and excitement around this group."

Whether any of the young hopefuls coming into camp play on a line with Thornton still remains to be seen. At the very least, San Jose's incoming class will get a little bit of time during camp to learn from the future Hall of Famer. 

[RELATED: Jumbo fully healthy as he prepares for 15th Sharks season]

"I've never met another player who loves the game like him, loves this team, and makes everyone around him better like that," Wilson complimented.

Sharks prospects to watch: Sasha Chmelevski has NHL breakout potential

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Sharks prospects to watch: Sasha Chmelevski has NHL breakout potential

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 continue with forward Sasha Chmelevski.

After getting his first taste of professional hockey to close out the 2017-18 season, Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski saved the best season of his junior career for what might have been his last this past year. 

The 2017 sixth-round pick scored six points in 10 regular-season and playoff games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda in the spring of 2018, and followed that up 75 points (35 goals, 40 assists) with the OHL's Ottawa 67's last season. He impressed for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver, then finished second behind Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki in OHL playoff scoring with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 18 games, as the 67's lost in the OHL's championship series.

Chmelevski, who turned 20 on June 9, technically could return to major junior as an overage player next season. But, he now is eligible to play in the minors as a pro, and could even earn an NHL spot with a strong training camp this fall. Here's what to expect from the talented forward. 

Sasha Chmelevski

Draft year, position: 2017, sixth round (No. 185 overall)
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 190 pounds
2018-19 team: Ottawa 67's (OHL)

Skill set

Chmelevski, who is from Huntington Beach, has a well-rounded offensive game. He has the on-ice vision to set up teammates, and a strong shot that he uses early and often. Over his last two regular seasons and playoff runs, Chmelevski combined for 585 shots on goal in 147 games and has only been held without a shot four times during that span. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson praised Chmelevski's "high-end hockey IQ" when the prospect signed his entry-level contract last summer, and Chmelevski won multiple awards with the 67's for his academic success. He told the Daily Pilot during his draft year that he grew up admiring Pavel Datsyuk's two-way game and Andre Tourigny, Chmelevski's coach with the 67's, said that one element of the center's game stands out above all. 

"His best asset, for me, is his competitiveness," Tourigny told the Ottawa Sun in April. You play ping pong with Sasha, and if he loses, he will want to fight." 

Training-camp proving ground

Chmelevski will have an opportunity to break camp with the Sharks in September. The departures of longtime captain Joe Pavelski and wingers Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist in free agency created openings among San Jose's forwards, and Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. told The Athletic's Kevin Kurz that San Jose coach Peter DeBoer would "like to have two centers on each line [who] can take faceoffs" in addition to mentioning "competition at center."

As Kurz noted, it's possible that Chmelevski will be in the mix for a spot on the wing as well as one down the middle. Chmelevski conceivably could get a look on Joe Thornton's wing on the third line if DeBoer moves Kevin Labanc on to Logan Couture or Tomas Hertl's line, or one centering the fourth line if Barclay Goodrow moves back to the wing. The Sharks have long converted centers to wingers -- with Pavelski arguably the most prominent example -- and Chmelevski's versatility bodes well for his chances down the line.

Best-case scenario

Chmelevski earns a spot out of camp, and never really looks back. DeBoer utilizes the forward in a variety of roles as he tries to settle on the right forward combinations, eventually giving Chmelevski consistent minutes on Thornton's wing. 

Separated by two decades in age, the pair finds strong chemistry and Chmelevski rides it to 15 goals in his rookie season. The void left by Pavelski, Donskoi and Nyquist is not entirely filled by the end of Chmelevski's first campaign, but the 20-year-old nonetheless helps by delivering on his initial promise. 

Worst-case scenario

After making the team out of training camp, Chmelevski's first professional season mirrors that of Finnish forward Antti Suomela. Suomela started fast centering a line with Donskoi and Evander Kane, but was sent down to the AHL on Dec. 11 and did not suit up for the Sharks for the remainder of the season. 

Chmelevski has no problems with the pace of the AHL thanks to his brief Barracuda experience, but still struggles to produce much offense and doesn't return to the NHL as other players pass him on the organizational depth chart. There's still hope for improvement in the second year of his entry-level contract in 2020-21, but he ends 2019-20 on the outside looking in at the Sharks roster. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Merkley needs time to develop, but future is bright]

Realistic expectations

Making the big club out of training camp would be encouraging, but Chmelevski starting the season with the Barracuda would not be considered a setback. That could allow the forward to establish himself at the professional level, and earn a look with the team soon after the regular season begins. 

Chmelevski should, at least, be in the mix for an NHL roster spot throughout the season. He has the potential to hang on to one by the end of it, which would be welcome news for a salary cap-strapped Sharks team in need of cost-controlled talent to surround an expensive core. If he can, San Jose's depth up front would look much stronger moving forward.