The San Jose Sharks’ blue line is stacked with household hockey names, like Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Marc-Édouard Vlasic. As these stars age, younger players will be asked to step up. While most attention has been focused on Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s undisputed top prospect, rookie Mario Ferraro was the most impressive young Shark in the lineup.
An Undervalued Draft Pick
The Sharks saw something that nobody else did in Ferraro—that’s why they took him in the second round of the 2017 draft, not two rounds later where he was projected to go (from ‘Pronman: A close look at Sharks prospects Mario Ferraro and Jake Kupksy,’ The Athletic, 10/20/2017). Bob McKenzie, for instance, ranked Ferraro 81st in his class, nearly 40 spots after San Jose general manager Doug Wilson took a chance on him.
Two years later, the gamble paid off. Despite skipping the minor leagues, the 21-year-old was the best rookie in San Jose this year. In fact, he was the only rookie to successfully carve out a spot in the roster for the majority of the season.
Ferraro played two solid years at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in Hockey East after being drafted from the USHL. In his first year at UMass, he led the team in points by defensemen, outscoring the now-NHL superstar Cale Makar. Surprisingly making the Sharks roster out of training camp for the 2019-20 season, Ferraro played in 61 games before the season came to an early end, scoring 2 goals and 9 assists for 11 points, numbers that make him the fourth-highest scoring returning Sharks defensemen next year.
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While offensively Ferraro is no Burns or Karlsson, his numbers can help the Sharks out on a blueline missing Brenden Dillon, who was traded to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline. Of Ferraro’s 11 points, five came in the final seven games of the season when his minutes increased after Dillon was traded. Ending on such a promising note has to give the Sharks confidence for next season since he has proved himself a reliable top-four defenseman.
If things go well, and Burns and Karlsson return to their normal numbers, Ferraro doesn’t need to produce too much offense. He should be a reliable shutdown player next to a defense partner like Burns, Karlsson, or in the future, Ryan Merkley.
NBC Sports Philadelphia analyst Colby Cohen commented, “He could complement a star No. 1 guy someday, or be a second-pair stud when he grows into his NHL game… He’s strong enough defensively and he’s not going to slow down a stud like Karlsson” (from “Sharks’ Mario Ferraro adjusting to the NHL after he was the ‘best kid we’ve ever coached’ at UMass,” The Athletic, 10/08/2019).
That’s exactly what he did at UMass next to Makar.
Learning from the Best
The San Jose rookie is probably playing with the best set of veterans that he could ask for. He has not one but two Norris Trophy-winning peers to learn from, in addition to the ever-reliable Vlasic. Ferraro has constantly expressed his admiration for the Sharks leaders like Burns and has shown a work ethic that can help elevate his game to the next level, a work ethic so compelling that former teammate Makar praised him as the “hardest-working guy I’ve ever met and played with my entire life.” (from ‘Alex Kerfoot explains why he chose the Avalanche over the Sharks,’ Mercury News, 04/30/2019)
Ferraro’s scenario recalls Roman Josi’s early years playing alongside Shea Weber in Nashville. In the 2011-12 season, Josi was only 22 and all the attention was on Weber’s 46-point year. Josi had 16 points in 52 games—numbers not that far off from Ferraro’s this season.
This season, Josi put up 65 points in 69 games while still being a top defensive player. Former Nashville assistant coach Phil Housley said parts of Josi’s game “took a giant leap forward” after being paired with Weber. (from ‘Preds’ Roman Josi takes over from former mentor Shea Weber,’ Toronto Sun, 06/11/2017) Ferraro’s offensive talent, especially his shot, has a long way to go before he could think of putting up point-per-game numbers like Josi did this year.
But because he gets to learn from the best in the business in Karlsson and Burns, both of whom have had statistically superior careers compared to Weber, no one should be surprised if Ferraro puts up a 30 or even 40-point season sometime soon. With Dillon gone, Burns needs a new defense partner and it could very well be Ferraro.