Stopping the puck has been the Achilles’ heel of the San Jose Sharks as they finished 27th in the league in goals against per game in 2019-20 and are 24th from 2018-20. While there is more to keeping the puck out of your net than goaltending, it is clear the Sharks would love to have a young and capable alternative to Martin Jones. It remains to be seen if Jones can turn his game around, newly hired goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov didn’t have a whole lot of time to fix the holes in Jones’ game.
There might also be a change in coaching style from the ways of Peter DeBoer to presumably Bob Boughner and Rocky Thompson. Per Kevin Kurz at The Athletic on May 26, 2020, it appears as if Aaron Dell will not return to the Sharks in 2019-20, thus the job to backup Jones is open. (from ‘Sharks’ offseason guide: How the NHL’s 24-team format impacts San Jose,’ The Athletic, 05/26/2020) So what do the Sharks have in the pipeline? Let’s dig in. There are the four goalies currently signed to their entry-level contract (ELC) and thus the closest to appearing in a game for the Sharks; Josef Korenar, Alexei Melnichuk, Andrew Shortridge, and Zachary Emond.
The Sharks’ top internal option based on NHL-readiness is Josef Korenar. Korenar is a 22-year-old undrafted goalie the Sharks signed in 2018 after a strong showing at both the World Junior Championship and league play in his native Czech Republic. His first season in the AHL, 2018-19, was successful as he posted a 23-8-3 record for a decent San Jose Barracuda team along with a .911 save percentage (SV%) and 2.54 goals-against average (GAA).
The Barracuda struggled in 2019-20, which is reflected in Korenar’s 12-16-7 record with a much worse .891 SV% and 3.11 GAA. He will be the most likely to win the backup job in camp if the Sharks don’t sign a veteran backup for Martin Jones.
He has one more year remaining on his ELC before becoming a restricted free agent (RFA) so the time is now for him to show he can take the next step. If he cannot, it’s possible he may not return to the Sharks in 2021-22.
The 25-year-old Anchorage, Alaska native Andrew Shortridge was also undrafted (there is a theme here). He was signed by the Sharks on April 3, 2019 to a one-year ELC after a stellar season with Quinnipiac University where he went 18-7-2 with a 1.51 GAA and a .940 SV%.
There were high hopes for the 6-foot-4 goalie in 2019-20, but after starting 3-7-0 for the Barracuda, he was sent to the Allen Americans of the ECHL where he fared a bit better. Shortridge will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season and it seems unclear if he will be back. If he is back, I’m sure it will be on an inexpensive deal, but the Sharks may want to give other goalies in their system more playing time and let Shortridge walk.
The 22-year-old St. Petersburg, Russia native Alexei Melnichuk was also not drafted, but signed by the Sharks on May 4, 2020. The 6-foot-1 goalie has played his whole career in the SKA St. Petersburg system appearing in 16 KHL games this year going 8-5-1 with a 1.68 GAA and a .930 SV%. He was just about as good in the VHL the past two seasons. The big question for me remains, is he really this good, or just a product of an excellent system? He’s only had a handful of games on the international stage outside of the SKA system and the results were mixed. He should transition to North America and compete for a job in the AHL.
To get a little more context on Melnichuk, I spoke with @TPEHockey on Twitter who relayed that he is “super good down low, great edge work so he can hold his stance and get low and be ready to take away the ice. Good at remaining sealed to the ice as he moves very quickly. His reflexes, especially with his legs, are really good. He can quickly kick out his legs to make saves. The problems come when he has to make bigger movements where he gets a bit clunky and he sometimes gets best when he’s not quite square to the puck yet.”
There is certainly plenty of opportunity for Melnichuk to demonstrate he can be an NHL goalie. He will have to prove he can be successful in North America first, hopefully that happens with the Barracuda, but it could take some time with the Americans as well. Melnichuk is the biggest wild-card for me and while I don’t think this will happen, if anyone is going to do what Jordan Binnington did for the St. Louis Blues in 2018-19 for the Sharks, it might be Melnichuk. A more likely success story is that he does very well in the AHL in 2020-21 and then competes for an NHL job in 2021-22 or 2023-24.
Taken in the sixth round in 2018 (176th overall), Zachary Emond may have the highest upside of any of the Sharks’ prospects, though he is the furthest from being NHL-ready. The 6-foot-3 20-year-old just finished his third full season in the QMJHL. After a rocky 2017-18, where he posted a .897 SV% with a 2.36 GAA for Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in 24 games he had a dazzling 1.73 GAA with a .932 SV% in 2018-19.
In that draft-plus one season, the Huskies won the Memorial Cup and Emond was the backup where he went 24-0-1 in his 27 starts. After his tremendous performance, the Sharks signed him to a three-year ELC on May 30, 2019. In his 2019-20 draft-plus two seasons, Emond became the starter just as the Huskies lost five of their top scorers and defensive stalwart Noah Dobson.
Not surprisingly, they were decidedly worse around him, which partly explains his 3.16 GAA, .908 SV%, and a disappointing 25-23-4 record. Emond should challenge for a job with the Barracuda in 2020-21. If he can regain his confidence and continue to make strides as a professional, he may be able to crack the NHL in two to three years.
Unlike some teams who seem to have an anointed future started, the Sharks have some promising young goalies, but more question marks than anything. I could see any of them working out, but I could also see none of them working out. It is fair to mention that the Sharks have never drafted a goalie in the first or second round of the draft, perhaps it is time to buck that trend.
If I had to put my money on any of their young goalies I would have to say that Melnichuk and Emond are the most promising. They are the two with the most upside, but also the most unknown. Hopefully for the Sharks, at least one of them becomes an NHL starter.
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. Follow me @VictorNuno12