Injuries to the San Jose Sharks have necessitated moves from the American Hockey League’s San Jose Barracuda. Who will we see next with the big club?
Going into the 2020 All-Star Break, the Sharks found themselves 11 points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. At that point, there was still hope for the team in teal that they pull off a run and get back into the playoff race, a la St. Louis Blues in 2019.
Sharks Have Gaping Holes At Center
After injuries to Tomas Hertl against the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 29 and Joel Kellman against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 1, any lingering playoff hopes have faded for the Sharks. Hertl will be out for the season with an ACL and MCL injury. Kellman is out indefinitely.
Captain Logan Couture had already fractured his ankle against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 7 and is out for an estimated six weeks. That leaves three centers on injured reserve for the Sharks, along with defenseman Dalton Prout.
Instead of doom and gloom, the Sharks are seeing an opportunity. This is especially true for the young forwards of the Sharks’ AHL team, the Barracuda.
First in Line from the Barracuda
First in line was 23-year-old Dylan Gambrell. Gambrell was a second-round draft pick (60th overall) in 2016 and started this season with the Sharks. He was sent back to the Barracuda on Dec. 18 and returned to the Sharks during the All-Star break. The rookie center has two goals and five assists in 33 games with the Sharks this season and three goals with nine assists in 15 games with the Barracuda.
Gambrell, who has played both center and right wing, is a good playmaker who was not expected to play full time with the Sharks this season. He doesn’t have a huge upside but did score 16 goals with 22 assists in his first pro season with the Barracuda in 2018-19.
Next was 25-year-old center Antti Suomela who has been up and down a couple of times from the Barracuda this season. So far, Suomela has played in 12 games for the Sharks with no goals and three assists. With the Barracuda, he has four goals and three assists in 11 games.
Suomela was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Sharks in the summer of 2018 and played in 27 games last season scoring three goals with five assists. Suomela has the potential to be a top-six center in the future and should be a fixture in the Sharks lineup the rest of the season, including some possible time as a wing.
23-year old Maxim Letunov was called up to the Sharks on Feb. 1 but did not play that night against Tampa Bay. Letunov was drafted in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2014 Entry Draft by St. Louis and has scored 10 goals with 20 assists for the Barracuda. Expect Letunov to become a checking third-line center who will play full time with the Sharks next season.
The newest member on the Sharks roster is 22-year old Alexander True who was called up on Feb. 3, after the Kellman injury. True led the Barracuda last season with 24 goals and 31 assists in 68 games.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound center was not drafted and has at least played in Calgary the Flames’ building as a Seattle Thunderbird in the Western Hockey League. He scored the overtime game-winning goal to win Seattle the WHL Championship in 2017. You can’t coach size, but True might still be a season or two away from being in the NHL full time.
There are several other options on the Barracuda club for the Sharks to consider, including a trio of 21-year-olds. Noah Gregor has played 18 games with the Sharks already, scoring one goal. The center has six goals with 10 assists for the Barracuda this season. Gregor has been called up several times from the Barracuda. Dec. 23 was the last time he was sent down.
Gregor could potentially be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL. In reality, he is probably still a couple of seasons away from being ready to be a full-time Shark.
Joachim Blichfeld may be the next to get a shot with the big club. The wing played well in three games with the Sharks. The most recent was on Jan. 18 when he played over 16 minutes against the Canucks. Blichfeld was drafted in the seventh round (210th) in 2016 after scoring 105 goals in the WHL for the Portland Winterhawks.
Blichfeld could eventually become a second-line right winger in the NHL. However, he might bounce between the Sharks and the Barracuda for the next season or so.
The third is winger Lean Bergmann. The undrafted German played in eight games for the Sharks this season, notching an assist. He has also scored five goals with eight assists in 23 games with the Barracuda.
Bergmann is probably the longest shot of the 21-year-olds. However, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound wing has a nasty shot of his own.
One other Barracuda forward with a big upside is Sasha Chmelevski. The 2017 sixth-rounder (185th overall) is knocking on the door but may not quite be ready. The 20-year-old could eventually be a first-line player. Expect him to stay with the Barracuda awhile longer.
The next month will be an interesting one for the Sharks. Injuries have created movement from the Barracuda to the big club. Further roster moves by general manager Doug Wilson could result in more opportunities from those on the Barracuda. Keep an eye on how the Sharks manage the young forwards.