Tim Heed

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

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USATSI

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

It's a darn good thing the Sharks have a bevy of talent coming up the pipeline -- especially on defense.

With news coming out of training camp Friday that Radim Simek is questionable to be ready for game-action when the season opens on Oct. 2, the focus shifts not just to when he might finally rejoin the team, but to who will most likely fill in that void on San Jose's blue line.

With four preseason games remaining, San Jose has a couple of options when it comes to filling in that roster spot.

Being that Simek is a left-handed shooter, the best bets to pencil into the roster from San Jose's group of young talent are Jacob Middleton and Mario Ferraro. Middleton has a strong chance of being the go-to guy, having been recalled from the Barracuda on a few occasions last season to fill in when the injury bug bit the Sharks' blue line especially hard.

Fans might remember Middleton's surprise NHL debut back in January when he went from prepping for a road trip with the Barracuda one night to practicing alongside Brent Burns the following morning. At that time, left-handed defensemen Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were both out of the lineup.

Even with Middleton's prior experience at the NHL level, Ferraro will likely still be a consideration to make the opening night roster. The 21-year-old has been impressing the organization since he participated in rookie development camp back in July and has continued that trend through training camp. Ferraro also has recently been paired up in camp with Dalton Prout -- who the Sharks will likely keep in mind to fill in should one of their right-handed defensemen be sidelined.

Having a few different players who can file into the lineup also gives DeBoer more options as far as mixing and matching his d-pairs. Middleton filled right into Simek's spot alongside Burns last year, and should the pairing of Brenden Dillon and Erik Karlsson stay intact, the Middleton-Burns pairing could be reunited with Vlasic being paired up with Tim Heed. If both Ferraro and Prout demonstrate they're a reliable pair to start, the duo might get the nod which would keep Vlasic and Burns skating together as they have been through the start of the preseason.

Of course, those are just guesses as to how DeBoer's lineup will shake up until Simek comes back healthy.

Naturally, the best-case scenario is that Simek gets into the lineup sooner rather than later. San Jose did go 29-9-3 with a healthy Simek in the lineup last season, after all. Plus, Simek's ticket into a regular roster spot was his uncanny chemistry with Burns.

[RELATED: Why Sharks expect Meier to take step forward]

That being said, the Sharks don't want to rush the Czech defenseman back into the lineup too quickly. Sure, Simek has been training for some time now, following surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Teammate Tomas Hertl told the press on the first day of camp that he talked to Simek over the summer and that the blueliner has been "working his ass off" to get back into playing shape. Nevertheless, the Sharks don't want to bring Simek back to quickly and risk him re-injuring himself.

At least the Sharks have good options for filling out their blue line until he returns.

Sharks counting on certain familiar faces to step up in coming season

Sharks counting on certain familiar faces to step up in coming season

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks know there are new opportunities on the table ahead of the 2019-20 season, and not just for the new crop of fresh faces that have entered training camp. Some more familiar faces have the chance to step up and take on bigger roles for San Jose.

The question now is: Are they up to that challenge?

Here are just a few players who have the opportunity to step it up big time ahead of the new campaign:

Tim Heed

The Swedish defenseman was one of two players last season who were tasked with filling in when Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek both came out of the lineup with injuries. Now, after inking a one-year deal with the Sharks over the summer, Heed has the opportunity to really make an impact.

Heed spent some time playing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic last year, a pairing that could be revisited now that Vlasic's former de facto partner, Justin Braun, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. With Karlsson likely remaining linked up with Brenden Dillon and Radim Simek being paired back up with Brent Burns when he returns to action, Heed could find himself back on Vlasic's right side. 

But Heed isn't a shoo-in for the job. San Jose acquired right-handed blueliner Dalton Prout over the summer and has a couple promising young defensemen coming up the pipeline. How Heed skates over the next couple of weeks could say a lot about where he'll be in the lineup at the start of the new season.

Melker Karlsson

Speaking of Justin Braun, San Jose will miss his presence on the penalty kill. His absence affords players like Karlsson the chance to step up and help make the Sharks' kill as dominant as it was at the very beginning of last season. (Remember, even when the team wasn't playing particularly well, their penalty kill was still pretty darn good.)

But despite being a guy coach Peter DeBoer loves having as an option to move throughout the lineup, Karlsson still has to be better. His numbers have taken a bit of a dip over the last couple of seasons, and there is going to be competition within the bottom-six for a starting spot. 

Any kind of boost in Karlsson's game will help the team out.

Antti Suomela

After a couple of good games at the start of last season, the Finnish forward was reassigned to the AHL and had trouble getting things going with the Barracuda. When NBC Sports California caught up with Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer midway through last season, he said Suomela was still figuring things out.

“With him, the work ethic is there, and he has a big compete to his game,” Sommer complimented back in January. “I think he just has to figure out the North American game. Things happen a lot quicker here than where he was at. But he’s picking it up.”

With roster spots up for grabs this preseason, this is the opportune time for Suomela to put what he's learned on tape.

[RELATED: Why Sharks confident they can make up for lost firepower]

Aaron Dell

Not to sound like a broken record, but neither Martin Jones nor Aaron Dell played particularly well last season and that has to change if the Sharks are going to remain a threat in the West. Dell, in particular, has a prime chance this preseason to right the ship. 

As Dell told NBC Sports California on the first day of training camp, the previous season is in the past regardless of how good or bad it was. 

"You're only as good as your last game, that's kind of how it is," he explained. "They want to see how you are now and how it was then doesn't really matter. You always have to perform."

DeBoer told the press he wants to give both goalies the chance to get a couple of tune-up games in before the regular season starts. That being said, the team's netminding prospects will get a look at some point as well. 

Sharks prospects to watch: Mario Ferraro has future as NHL defenseman

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AP

Sharks prospects to watch: Mario Ferraro has future as NHL defenseman

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 defenseman Mario Ferraro. 

Colorado rookie phenom Cale Makar burst on the scene in the playoffs for the Avalanche last season, looking every bit like an NHL player at the ripe age of 20 years old. Makar scored a goal in his first career game, and then added four assists in the seven-game second-round series against the Sharks.

Before Makar arrived in Denver, he was playing at UMass-Amherst with San Jose defensive prospect Mario Ferraro. While Makar made the jump to the NHL first, he seemed to believe Ferraro would be able to do the same eventually.

"Hardest-working guy I've ever met and played with my entire life," Makar said of Ferraro to the Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka, shortly after the Sharks signed Ferraro to an entry-level contract in April.

Fast-forward a few months, and Ferraro is ever closer to joining Makar at the NHL level. He was very impressive in San Jose's recently completed prospect development camp, and -- given the offseason developments with the Sharks' roster -- he could arrive sooner rather than later.

Mario Ferraro

Draft year, position: 2017, second round (No. 49 overall)
Position: Defenseman
Shoots: Left
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 185 pounds
2018-19 team: UMass-Amherst (NCAA)

Skill set

Ferraro's best skill likely is his motor. He's the energizer bunny out on the ice.

"One of the most high-energy guys you've ever seen, he does not have a bad day," Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. said of Ferraro during the development camp.

"Early in the scrimmage, I thought he kind of carried the play," said Barracuda coach Roy Sommer. "Kind of a hard guy to play against."

Ferraro is a smooth skater with near top-end speed. His shot is solid, but not spectacular. He's an adept passer, and has advanced hockey IQ for a player his age. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he isn't the biggest defensemen, but he doesn't shy away from physical play. 

Training-camp proving ground

As things currently stand, the Sharks' top-six group of defensemen appears to be set. On the right side, San Jose has former Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, as well as Tim Heed. On the left, the Sharks have Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brenden Dillon and Radim Simek. Jacob Middleton could be a factor, too.

That doesn't appear to leave much room at the moment for Ferraro, who shoots left. However, there's reason to believe things could change in the relatively near future.

Dillon -- who also shoots left -- is due to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, and given the financial constraints San Jose is likely to face over the next several years, it's reasonable to assume the Sharks won't be able to re-sign him, given what he could command on the open market. Additionally, if the Sharks are going to make a trade for salary relief any time soon, Dillon seems like one of the obvious candidates to be included.

Ferraro is unlikely to unseat any of the current top-six in training camp, but if he can show the Sharks' brass that he is ahead of schedule and capable of competing at the NHL level, it could open up some options for San Jose moving forward.

Best-case scenario

Ferraro builds off the momentum he generated at the development camp and carries it through training camp, leaving the Sharks no decision but to push him straight from college to the NHL, just like his former UMass-Amherst teammate Makar.

Ferraro dazzles during training camp and claims one of the spots on the Sharks' third defensive pairing. With so much attention focused on the likes of Karlsson and Burns, Ferraro is permitted the time and space to properly learn on the job while being tutored by some of the best players at his position in the entire world.

While he doesn't garner any Calder Trophy votes, Ferraro gains valuable experience in a lengthy Sharks' playoff run and proves to be a logical and obvious eventual replacement for Vlasic.

Worst-case scenario

Ferraro's strong performance at the development camp goes to his head, and the motor that has been his calling card suddenly stalls.

He underwhelms at training camp, and gets dismissed early on, sent down to the AHL with the Barracuda. He remains there all season, and never recaptures the promise that had Sharks coaches so excited.

San Jose then is forced to go further into salary cap treachery, understanding they don't have a realistic internal option to fill Dillon's resulting void.

[RELATED: How Gambrell can earn full-time role with Sharks this year]

Realistic expectations

He's 20 years old!

Expecting Ferraro to go straight from the Frozen Four to the NHL is unfair, to say the least. That just doesn't happen very often, Makar being an obvious exception.

Ferraro continues along his current trajectory, impressing Sharks coaches in training camp, but not enough to expedite his promotion. He spends the majority of the season with the Barracuda, where he solidifies his status as the Sharks' top defensive prospect (Ryan Merkley will also have a say).

He makes his NHL debut as a temporary injury replacement late in the regular season, and enters the following season's training camp earmarked for a spot in San Jose's top-six.