After winning their first two games, the San Jose Sharks rookies finished up their Rookie Faceoff tournament on Monday with a 5-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. While the wins and losses don’t matter, there are plenty of takeaways from the Sharks performance over the weekend.
Sharks are going to have an interesting decision with Gannon Laroque.
Gannon Laroque missed all but four games last year with the Victoria Royals due to hip injuries. In his first game, Laroque scored a goal and an assist, but more importantly, it looked like he had no lingering issues from his surgeries. He looked calm with and without the puck and added plenty of physicality on the blue line. Laroque did his best Erik Karlsson impression with this goal on Friday.
Gannon Laroque’s training camp will be a must-watch. He is eligible to start his professional career since he turned 20 in August. The Sharks have been known to be very slow with their prospects and send them back for their overage seasons in the CHL (Brandon Coe and Ethan Cardwell both went on to dominate their age 20 seasons). Laroque has stated that he wants to turn pro this year. The San Jose Barracuda do have a crowded defense, with Shakir Mukhamadullin, Nick Cicek, Leon Gawanke, Valtteri Pulli, Artem Guryev, and Nikita Okhotyuk all expected to be roaming the blue line. Laroque would benefit from playing, and he will play huge minutes for the Royals. Laroque could also play in the ECHL with the Sharks affiliate, the Witchita Thunder, but expect Laroque to be back in Victoria this fall and in San Jose at the end of his WHL season.
Musty is going to be a monster.
San Jose Sharks general manager Mike Grier might have pulled off a highway robbery drafting Quentin Musty with the 26th pick in this year’s draft. Musty played all three games for the Sharks this weekend. While he didn’t light up the stat sheet (one goal in three games), he was all over the ice making big plays. Utilizing his speed and huge frame, he will be a forecheck monster for the Sharks for years. His puck retrieval skills were on full display for San Jose on Saturday night, as he wouldn’t be denied getting the puck.
Musty has other areas of his game to develop when he returns to Sudbury Wolves over the next two seasons, but the tools are there for Musty. If he is making this impression already, imagine the heights his game can reach in a couple of seasons.
Bordeleau and Ozzy ready for big seasons?
The Sharks’ first two picks of their 2020 draft have plenty of unanswered questions heading into this season. Can Thomas Bordeleau take his game to the next level and be the complete player the Sharks want him to be? For Ozzy Wiesblatt, can he put together his game and show that competitive skill consistently? Bordeleau filled the stat sheet in his two games with two goals and an assist but was praised by Barracuda head coach John McCarthy for taking a step in the right direction with his play inside and out.
For Wiesblatt, a renewed sense of self-confidence could be what he needs to take the next step. He struggled to get consistent playing time last season on the Barracuda until the second half of the season. In limited action this offseason, Wiesblatt has looked to have found that confidence. He is more engaged in the offensive zone and around the puck. Wiesblatt should start the season with the Barracuda, but expect a more active and attacking Wiesblatt. His aggressive, in-your-face style of game is cat-nip for Grier, who played with the same style. Expect Wiesbaltt to make a jump this season.
An improved defensive core
Mike Grier has aggressively tried to overhaul the Sharks prospect defense core since he arrived in San Jose, and the fruit is starting to bear. Mukhamadullin has made massive strides in a short time since coming from Russia. After a shaky start in San Jose, he scored 10 points in 12 games for the Barracuda. In this tournament, Mukhamadullin was playing top minutes for Coach McCarthy and looked the part of a top defenseman. Despite being 6’4″, he is smooth in his skating with and without the puck. He will still need to clean up some of his decision-making, but with more experience, that should become less of an issue.
Valtteri Pulli, the Finnish defenseman who signed with the Sharks as a free agent this offseason, looks like a potential diamond in the rough. Standing 6’6″, he also looks very smooth with and without the puck but adds a more physical element than Mukhamadullin. Pulli is expected to stay in San Jose this season, even if he doesn’t make the Sharks out of camp. At 22, there is plenty of road for him to continue to grow and develop and be a nice piece for the Sharks over the next few seasons.
With Montanya Onyebuchi now in Arizona, who will be the tough defenseman who isn’t afraid to answer the bell? Enter Artem Guryev.
Guryev can not only throw them down with the best of them but plays a tough, physical, defensive brand. He found a bit of a scoring touch last season after a midseason trade to the Flint Firebirds, but Guryev is willing to defend the dirty areas and make the lives of everyone around him easier with his gritty style of play. Guryev is going to be a fan favorite for the Barracuda very early.
Chrona, the early favorite
While the goalie spots 1-3 are pretty much locked in for the Sharks/Barracuda with Mackenzie Blackwood, Kaapo Kähkönen, and Eetu Mäkiniemi in that order. The backup spot on the Cuda is a massive competition heading into training camp. The University of Denver product, Magnus Chrona, laid an early claim to the job with his performance on Saturday night. He was about five minutes away from posting a shutout. While he didn’t see much action in the first period, he was very strong down the stretch as Vegas made a push to try to get back into the game. The Sharks desperately need a goaltender to pop for them, and Chrona has the resume and pedigree to be that player.