The San Jose Sharks are tied into some less than ideal contracts over the next few years. Luckily, this has yet to prevent the infusion of young, new talent into their lineups. There is still plenty of opportunity for the organization’s youth to reestablish the face of the team.
The problem contracts are those that fans of the Sharks, as well as their naysayers, have been discussing rather frantically over the last year or so. The obvious ones like Erik Karlsson and Martin Jones are some of the more concerning contracts out there, though by far not the worst you can find.
To go along with that, many in the hockey community like to throw around the word “bust” as though it were going out of style. Which, perhaps it should, but that is a discussion for another time. There are a couple of players in the Sharks community to whom you may see that word attached, yet there really is no reason for it. For example, Timo Meier constantly has debate from fans as they are constantly unsure of what to expect of him from game to game.
He definitely has had moments where he has raised expectations quite a bit over the last two years, but he hasn’t quite become the player many expected him to be. Though there is absolutely reason to believe he has much more to offer and could very well reach his full potential in the near future, he is not the only one to find hope in. Meier is still just 24-years-old, but he is not the youth that this team can expect more from, even just within the next season.
Mario Ferraro, Noah Gregor, and Others Among “Sure Thing” Core
At 22-years-old, Ferraro is one of the first from the younger group to make steady appearances in the Sharks’ nightly lineup. There is not much that one can say about the defenseman that has not been said throughout his career. He has been playing top-pair minutes and has more than been a bright spot for the team in a year that has looked mostly doom and gloom.
Another one who has become more of a regular on the roster is the 22-year-old forward, Gregor. He has been working hard to prove himself one to watch over the next few years as he continues to quietly impress on most nights. He may be a minus-21 throughout his 58 games in the NHL, but don’t let that fool you; those other nights, he is not so quiet.
Just like Gregor, 23-year-old Nikolai Knyzhov has been making a strong case for himself to be one of the new Sharks core. The defenseman appeared in 56 games over the course of the season and, per Natural Stat Trick, finished with a Corsi-for percentage of 49.78. That sets him in fourth on the team among teammates who played a minimum of 50 games and eighth on the team overall.
Rūdolfs Balcers drew into the Sharks lineup during the season and decided to show everyone what he’s made of. With one of the more impressive seasons of anyone on the roster, he’s definitely going to have some eyes on him as we head into a more normal regular season. Drafted by San Jose in 2015, the 24-year-old winger returned to the Sharks following a two-year stint in the Ottawa Senators organization. With 17 points in 41 games, he was clearly not setting any records this season; however, he did offer a glimmer of hope for the future.
23-year-old Alexander True is working his way to being a staple for the team. After spending most of the last four seasons in the AHL with the San Jose Barracuda, True was given a look toward the end of the season. An opportunity to show the Sharks what he brings to the table and it would be difficult to claim he disappointed. With just seven games this year, the numbers don’t look overly impressive, but on a team where it is fairly easy to point fingers, True just does not stand out as a guy you can blame for much. That will work in his favor when establishing the roster for the upcoming season.
While there has not been an abundance of talk about him, John Leonard has absolutely been making waves for the Sharks. He has been showing himself to be a reliable presence. The 22-year-old forward appeared in 44 games for San Jose this season and has proven worthy of a full-time roster spot. While 13 points on the season wouldn’t normally turn many heads, this Sharks team has struggled to produce and find ways to win games. Leonard entered the lineup fresh from his NCAA stint and has fit in nicely with the system thus far.
Joachim Blichfeld, Sasha Chmelevski, and Others Making Their Case
At this point, with this team, any player who makes a positive impact, no matter how small, is a guy who is going to find support from fans and favor from the team. Several guys have worked to show their worth and that they can be relied upon to do their part.
21-year-old Huntington Beach native Chmelevski finds himself among Sharks who made their NHL debuts this season. He’s had a decent amount of luck on the ice during his short time in the NHL. With two points in his five games, he could be one to return to the camp with more confidence than we have ever seen from him and has every chance to earn a full-time spot on the roster for next season.
One season out of his NCAA run, 23-year-old defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk earned appearances in four NHL games this season. He didn’t draw negative attention to himself, which adds to a list of assets that one can bring to the table. Should the Sharks find room for him on the roster next season, fans can be excited to watch his development on the big stage.
Fellow 23-year-old defenseman Nicolas Meloche also has been a name in discussions for the blue line. Finding his way into seven games for the Sharks this season, he had decent outings that helped remind everyone that there really is a future for this team.
Despite an early end to his season and limited time on the Sharks roster, 22-year-old Joachim Blichfeld has been working to remind the organization just why they picked him up at the end of the 2016 draft. Should he find his footing, he may just be considered the steal of his draft class in a few years. He finished with a 60 CF%, per Natural Stat Trick, the best among all Sharks players. However, with just five games played, the argument comes up that we can’t take that at face value. Yet.
Ivan Chekhovich, like Blichfeld, is yet another seventh-round find. Just 22-years-old, he will be fighting for a permanent spot on the roster this upcoming season. A positive camp and a spot opening night could be exactly the boost this winger needs to find himself breakout.
Alexei Melnichuk and Josef Korenar Holding Down the Crease
Look, it’s no secret that the Sharks are in desperate need of quality goaltending, and there are two options, already in the organization, who may just be able to help in that department. Following Devan Dubnyk’s trade to the Colorado Avalanche, a new set of goaltenders are ready to seize every opportunity that comes their way.
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Melnichuk turned some heads this season; however, it wasn’t always positive. The 22-year-old netminder did not have the outings he was looking for in his few games for the Sharks this season. This is not entirely a reason to panic, though, as the sample size is small, and many other factors could have played into the numbers this season. With more time to develop, Melnichuk will come to show everybody what he is capable of.
Likewise, Kořenář has spent three years in San Jose, but this season saw his NHL debut. While he was not much of a stand-out performer with the Sharks’ affiliate, the 23-year-old has looked more like an NHL-calibre goaltender through his few games with the Sharks. Still not quite where one would want to see a starting netminder, he has yet to appear in enough games to claim that he is the team’s future in net. Whether it is the result of a confidence boost from the promotion to the big league or just the manifestation of his true potential, he will be one to watch as we enter the 2021-22 season.
Obstacles to Establishing This Core Group
The difficult part is that six of these players are restricted free agents this summer, with at least seven more who will need to be signed next summer. With the long-term and expensive contracts of guys like Karlsson, Jones, and Logan Couture, it will be interesting to see how many of the possible new core the Sharks are capable of retaining.
There are also highly anticipated players joining the organization that we have not seen in teal yet. Young talents such as Ozzy Wiesblatt and Tristen Robins have the ability to join the lineup sooner rather than later and may offer even more options.
Realistically, there are more guys fighting for spots than there are spots available. There are a few players not mentioned above who are looking to make an impact for San Jose moving forward. However, this is a good problem for the team in teal at this point. The struggle is figuring out which guys to use for a continuous amount of time so they get the experiences that will help to shape them into the consistent players that will thrive in the NHL.
Lizz Child has grown up in the Bay Area and can be found at nearly every Sharks and Barracuda game. You can also see her writing at dubnetwork.ca where she covers the Portland Winterhawks and the US Division of the Western Hockey League. She has also worked for the Sharks 50/50, having the time of her life interacting with fans and over the season. Following multiple teams and multiple leagues, she is always up to talk hockey whenever possible.