The San Jose Sharks were fairly active at the 2021 NHL trade deadline. They moved their offseason signing Devan Dubnyk to the Colorado Avalanche for a 5th round pick in 2021 and veteran defender Greg Pateryn. They also acquired goalie Magnus Chrona from the Tampa Bay Lighting. This is a good opportunity to review where the goalies in the system are and how they have been doing. The prospect pyramid will need to be updated at a later date.
The Jones Rollercoaster Continues
After garnering the first star of the month for March, Martin Jones has struggled recently. He did begin April with a 30 save shutout against the Los Angeles Kings on April 2nd and came right back with a win in back-to-back games the next night saving 35 of 37. He is 6-2 against his former team this season and 19-6-3 for his career. If only he could play exclusively against the Kings. Since early April, the wheels have sort of come off the rails and whatever slim playoff hopes the Sharks thought they had are essentially gone.
Part of Sharks’ hesitance to move on from Jones no doubt is in part due to his large contract. He is signed for three more seasons after this at $5.75 million per season. Another part of the reason is likely that the three seasons from 2015-2018, that included the Stanley Cup Final and Western Conference Final appearances, Jones was really good. According to Evolving Hockey, during that span, he saved a whopping 21 goals above expected, which was good for 13th best in the NHL.
During the past three seasons including this one combined, Jones GSAx is -34.74. That is the 5th worst of all goaltenders, just ahead of Joonas Korpisalo (-37.62), former teammate Jonathan Quick (-38.03), Keith Kinkaid (-38.83), and just-traded Dubnyk (-54.96). The truth is the team play has to carry a lot of the blame, both for propping Jones up during his run of being good and now when he seems to be so bad. Either way, it is far past time to move on from Jones.
Josef Korenar, who’s name is not pronounced how most non-Czech speakers would think, finally made his NHL debut this season on April 14, 2021 against the worst in the Honda West Division Anaheim Ducks. It seemed like a really good opportunity for Korenar, but he unfortunately could not cash in. He let in four goals on 27 shots and although none were of the soft variety, he didn’t do enough to keep his team in the game. The Sharks had an expected goals against of 1.8 so decent protection and if Korenar hadn’t let that fourth one in at the very end of the game on a fluky play by the defense, it would have looked much better.
No lasting conclusions should be made on Korenar’s one start, but hopefully we will get to see more starts by him before the end of the season so the Sharks can make an informed decision moving forward. If he can at least be close to league average, he would make for a decent backup to Jones next season and perhaps even steal starts. A lot of this will depend on how the other goalies in the system play, but the Korenar is arguably the most NHL ready of any of their prospect goalies so the choice is likely either resigns him to be the back up in 2021-22 or let him walk. Based on what I’ve seen, I’d probably just re-sign him, unless a better opportunity comes along.
The prospect goalie I’ve been most excited about since he signed as a free agent in the spring of 2020 is Alexei Melnichuk. After playing in the KHL while the NHL was still on hiatus in the fall of 2020, Melnichuk made his much anticipated North American debut in 2021. The transition has not been seamless as he has shuffled from the AHL to the taxi squad and even making his NHL debut in relief of Jones on February 11.
Melnichuk has only appeared in 11 games for the Barracuda, sharing the net with Korenar, Sam Harvey, and Zachary Sawcheknko. With Korenar now in the NHL, hopefully Melnichuk will get more consistent playing time for the Barracuda. The future is very bright for Melnichuk as can be seen by the Hockey Prospecting chart featuring both he and Korenar.
The Big Swede
A very under the radar move at the 2021 trade deadline was the Sharks’ acquisition of Magnus Chrona from the Lightning. The Lightning certainly don’t look like they are going to need any goaltending help for many years with Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy signed for seven more seasons after this one.
Chrona was drafted by the Lightning back in 2015 and was a bit of a surprise selection. He transitioned nicely to the NCAA in his rookie season, but took a step back in 2020-21 as the Pioneers struggled as well. Chrona will return to the University of Denver for his junior season and hopes to return to form. Comparing him to another Sharks’ prospect, he seems to have a slightly better chance than Zachary Emond to be an NHLer.
Who Patrols the Shark Tank Crease in the Future?
Of course nothing is for certain, but it certainly seems like Melnichuk will be the guy. He is the one they are being most patient with, really working on his development and not throwing him into games this season when their chances of winning the Cup are essentially zero. He has the highest equivalency per Hockey Prospecting and the best track record thus far.
It is possible that Korenar regains his form from two seasons ago and comes into his own in the NHL. I feel that is pretty unlikely, but there is a chance he is their guy. I find it equally unlikely that Jones regains his form from several seasons ago that Korenar is their guy long term.
Chrona has the most outside chance at developing into an NHL goalie, but there is still plenty of time for him. Emond, who once had a lot of promise has hit a snag in his development, though also still young. One of these two could certainly make big strides in the next two to three years and become the answer. If I had to bet though, I would go all in on Melnichuk.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife.