World Juniors

Sharks prospects to watch: Sasha Chmelevski has NHL breakout potential


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. 

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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. 

World Juniors: USA, Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski drop gold medal game


World Juniors: USA, Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski drop gold medal game

Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski scored a goal and an assist in the third period, but the United States fell short of a gold medal-winning comeback against Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship on Saturday. Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko scored the game-winning goal with 1:32 remaining in the third period.

Chmelevski was named the Americans' player of the game. In addition to his two points, he led the game with six shots on goal.

The Americans trailed by two goals with just 14 minutes left in the third, after Otto Latvala doubled Finland's lead. 61 seconds later, Chmelevski kick-started the Americans' comeback. 

Chmelevski dropped a pass to linemate Jack Hughes -- the prospective No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft -- but Hughes' shot was blocked. Chmelevski found the puck at the bottom of the left face-off circle moments later, and fired a shot past sprawling goaltender Ukko-Pekko Luukkonen.

1:46 later, Chmelevski set up the game-tying goal. The Huntington Beach native grabbed a loose puck, and whipped a cross-ice, back-hand pass to former Sharks prospect Josh Norris, who one-timed past Luukonen to even the score.

Finland and the United States appeared headed for overtime, until Kakko broke the Americans' hearts. 

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The United States trailed by a goal after 40 minutes, and Chmelevski himself had a few close calls.

Late in the period, the 19-year-old couldn't corrall a bouncing puck, fanned on the ensuing shot and hit the outside of the post. He was also denied a short-handed scoring chance with about a minute-and-a-half left in the opening frame.

The United States appeared to take a 1-0 lead 10 minutes in, but Oliver Wahlstrom's goal was disallowed for goaltender interference. The officials determined Chmelevski intefered with Luukonen, and the score remained knotted at zero. 

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After his two-point effort in the gold medal game, the Sharks prospect finished the tournament with seven points (four goals, three assists). That tied for second on the United States, and Chmelevski also played on the power play and penalty kill for the silver-medal winners.

The Sharks drafted Chmelevski in the sixth round (No. 185 overall) of the 2017 draft. He is in his final year of junior eligbility -- unless he returns as an overage player -- and has 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 30 games with the Ottawa 67s this season. Last spring, Chmelevski skated in six regular-season games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda on an amateur tryout, helping the Sharks' top affiliate clinch a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He scored four points down the stretch, and added two more points in four postseason games. 

World Juniors: Sharks prospect Ivan Chekhovich cut from Russia with injury


World Juniors: Sharks prospect Ivan Chekhovich cut from Russia with injury

Sharks prospect Ivan Chekhovich was left off Russia's roster for the 2019 World Junior Championships due to injury, Russia's coaching staff announced on Christmas. 

The winger, who turns 20 on Jan. 4 and is thus in his last year of eligibility for the tournament, told Russa's Sport Express he injured his back lifting weights. Chekhovich did not play in Russia's third and final exhibition game before the tournament on Sunday. 

His injury is a big loss for the Russians. Chekhovich entered Wednesday as the QMJHL's seventh-leading scorer (55 points) and second in goals (29). No Russian player in Canada's three major-junior leagues has more points, goals, and assists. 

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The Sharks drafted Chekhovich in the seventh round in 2017, and signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract in April. He played for the AHL's San Jose Barracuda on an amateur try-out last spring, scoring nine points (three goals, six assists) in six games -- each of which the Barracuda won in order to sneak into the Calder Cup playoffs. Chekhovich was among the Sharks' first training camp cuts this fall, but scored two goals and added an assist in his lone preseason appearance. 

With Chekhovich injured, American forward Sasha Chmelevski will be the Sharks' lone representative as the tournament begins Wednesday in Vancouver. Chmelevski, who has 39 points in 30 games for the OHL's Ottawa 67s this season, sparked the Barracuda alongside Chekhovich last spring. The 2017 sixth-round pick played in one preseason game for the Sharks this fall.

Former San Jose prospect Josh Norris, who was among the players traded to the Ottawa Senators in September for superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson, is also on the United States' roster. The Americans face off against Slovakia in their first game of the tournament on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. PT.