SAN JOSE With two open spots on the Sharks roster, the road from development camp to the NHL probably seemed shorter than usual this summer.
In the wake of the Sharks decision to cut ties with center Eric Fehr and defenseman Dylan DeMelo this offseason, skaters that competed in Fridays annual prospects scrimmage at SAP Center had extra incentive to bring their best games to the rink.
While several prospects stood out in Team Marchments 4-3 win over Team Ricci, chances are slim that any of them will make the Sharks opening-night roster this fall. At this point, the inside lanes in the race to fill the vacancies belong to a pair of former-European professionals who received exemptions from camp this year.
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Free agent signee Antti Suomela is the leading candidate to win the fourth line center job that the Sharks spent most of last winter trying to fill. Suomela led the Finnish Liiga in scoring last winter, and at age 24, hell bring more maturity and experience to the fourth line than anyone who attended development camp this week.
The Sharks beat out roughly 12 teams to acquire Suomelas services; theyll probably need to give him an NHL job. Ive also heard some chatter suggesting that Suomela is capable of playing third line center in the league. He should be a fun prospect to follow this winter.
On the back end, Radim Simek is the leading contender to fill the vacancy left by DeMelo. Under this scenario, Tim Heed would partner up with Brenden Dillon on the third pairing while Simek serves as the Sharks seventh defenseman.
Simek, who signed with the Sharks last summer out of the Czech league, isnt going to blow anyone away with his offense, but the 25-year old plays a mature-detailed game. The Sharks believe hes ready to graduate to the NHL after he spent last winter acclimating himself to North American hockey with the AHL Barracuda. It also makes sense to have Simek serve as a scratch at the NHL level instead of taking valuable development time away from a younger player.
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Although Suomela and Simeks are leading the pack heading into training camp, its possible that Dylan Gambrell, Jacob Middleton and Rudolfs Balcers will all see time with the Sharks this year.
Gambrell acquitted himself well when he suited up for the Sharks last three regular season games last season. The 21-year old is an A-plus skater with plenty of hockey sense and his 200-foot game is mature for his age. Gambrell appears to have a bright future with the Sharks, but hell probably needs to earn his way up with the AHL Barracuda first.
Over on the wing, Balcers was the Barracudas top scorer last year, recording 48 points in 67 games. Balcers still needs to round out his game, but he could give the Sharks some skill if they need scoring.
On the other side of the puck, Middleton is a stay-at-home defenseman who continues to earn respect from the Sharks front office after making the Barracuda on a try out two years ago. If someone on the Sharks blue line suffers an injury, the 22-year old will be first in line for a recall.
The Sharks raised eyebrows by taking Ryan Merkley with the 21st overall pick in last months draft because of the 17-year olds character issues.
Merkley was considered the most-talented blue liner in the draft after top pick Rasmus Dahlin, but he fell out of the top-10 because of concerns about his attitude. In junior hockey, he got pulled out of a game after arguing with his coach. He also served a three-game suspension last winter for hacking an opponent with a vicious-retaliatory slash.
But the Sharks dont see Merkley as a high-risk pick because of his character. The risk with Merkley is tied to his defensive game. After all, he posted a combined minus-70 rating in his first two years with the Ontario Hockey Leagues Guelph Storm. Regardless, the Sharks arent too worried; they insist that defense is teachable.
We have zero questions about his character, I was told. Everything is on ice.
Jeremy Roy wasnt a participant in development camp, but the Sharks say hell be ready to go in September.
The Sharks 2015 second-round pick (No. 31) missed 47 Barracuda games last season because of knee issues. He also sat out all but 10 games during his final year of junior hockey in 2016-17 because of a major-knee injury, as well.
According to the Sharks, Roy is skating and is expected to be on the ice for the first day of training camp.
Josh Norris scored the game-winning goal Friday night, burying a spin-o-rama feed from Sasha Chmelevski with just 13.4 seconds left on the clock.
The Sharks 2017 first-round pick took big strides in camp this summer, impressing the coaching staff with the confidence he displayed while holding the puck.
He just seems to have the puck on his tape a little more. Last year, he was jumpy with it, Mike Ricci said. Hes trying to create more plays instead of just getting rid of the puck.
Norris is returning to Michigan this fall for his sophomore season of NCAA hockey.
In addition to Norris, Middleton, Linus Karlsson, Evan Weiner, Jake McGrew, Marcus Vela and Jonathan Martin scored goals in the scrimmage.
McGrew is an interesting prospect to keep your eyes on.
The Sharks selected McGrew in the sixth round (No. 159) of last years draft after he missed the entire 2016-17 with a major-knee injury. McGrew came back strong last season, compiling 38 points in 65 games, earning an invitation to Team USAs world junior team showcase later this month.
The 19-year old could prove to be another late-round steal by Doug Wilson and company.
Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich willed the Barracuda into the Calder Cup playoffs last spring after they joined the squad for the last six games of the regular season.
Chekhovich recorded nine points and Chmelevski chipped in with four as the Barracuda went 6-0 down the stretch to clinch a playoff berth.
Regardless, neither player will be back with the squad this winter. Theyre too young. The AHL requires Canadian junior players under the age of 20 to be sent back to their respective teams if they fail to earn spots in the NHL.
I didnt think their playoffs were great, Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer said, putting things in perspective.
Its not hurting them going back. Its only going to help them.
Mario Ferraro stole the show during Thursdays scrimmage at Solar4America Ice. The Sharks 2017 second-round pick scored a goal, picked up an assist and seemed to push the puck into the offensive zone every time he was on the ice.
It was Ferraro against Team Teal, Sommer said. He was involved in every play. I think hes ready for (the AHL).
The 19-year-old defenseman will play hockey at UMass this winter.