Sommer talks Sharks prospects, and more

sheppard_james_wild.jpg

Sommer talks Sharks prospects, and more

When the NHL lockout began more than 100 days ago, several teams with young, improving players still on entry-level deals had the opportunity to keep those players in North America by sending them to their American Hockey League affiliates.

The Sharks had no such luxury, as guys like Tommy Wingels, Justin Braun and Andrew Desjardins weren’t AHL eligible. Despite that disadvantage, San Jose’s top minor league club in Worcester is having a decent season with a 14-10-1-2 record, good for third place in the tight Atlantic Division. The Sharks (31 points) are just three points behind first-place Portland with two games in hand.

Head coach Roy Sommer said: “It’s kind of staying up with the Joneses. A lot of parity in our league right now.”

Although it may not have any household names on its roster, Worcester features a number of players that could have an impact on the Sharks if a shortened season begins in January. While on-ice success is significant, it pales in comparison to the importance of an AHL team developing talent for its parent club.

Front and center among those names is former first round pick James Sheppard, who was acquired by the Sharks from Minnesota in the summer of 2011 for a third round pick. Aside from a brief stint with Worcester in the second half of last season, Sheppard spent the 2011-12 campaign rehabbing his left knee from a serious ATV accident in September of 2010. The Sharks knew that they were taking a risk when they acquired Sheppard, and Sommer suggests that risk could pay off.

“He’s really starting to find his game now,” Sommer said. “The guy hasn’t played in two years, you knew it was going to take awhile. They’ve got something right now.”

Sheppard (7g, 9a in 27 games) currently has a three-game point streak, with four goals and one assist in that span. That includes two goals in a 4-3 win over Hershey on Dec. 15, a game that Sommer says Sheppard won “all by himself.”
 
“He’s just starting to find his stride, and it looks like he’s almost there. You can see why he was a first rounder,” Sommer said of Sheppard, the ninth overall pick in the 2006 draft.

Sheppard’s 224 games in an NHL uniform give him the most professional experience of anyone on the Worcester roster. Tim Kennedy is second in that regard with 112 career NHL games, and is another guy that Sommer can see potentially contributing to the Sharks if the league and players’ association come to an agreement.

Kennedy has been Worcester’s most consistent offensive threat, and is tied for eighth in the league in scoring with 28 points (12g, 16a).

“He’s real dynamic, kind of a top-six forward guy that moves pucks and is real fast and gritty,” Sommer said. “He’s not real big, but he plays big.”

The 5-10, 175-pound Kennedy played in 27 games with the Florida Panthers last season before San Jose traded for him in late January and assigned him to the AHL.

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While San Jose would have to dig into Worcester’s forward pool in the event of a shortened season, it would likely leave the defense and goaltending alone. The Sharks’ top seven on defense are basically set, as is the goaltending tandem of Antti Niemi and Thomas Griess.

Worcester’s blue line is a young group, and features some intriguing names. Matt Irwin, a 25-year-old who was recalled last season by San Jose but didn’t get into a game is the most NHL-ready according to Sommer, but there are others to keep an eye on.

“Sena Acolatse is another guy that’s really coming along. He’s right up there in defensive scoring in the league,” said Sommer, referring to Acolatse’s four goals and 12 assists in 25 games.

“Matt Tennyson (2g, 12a), I really thought he was a great pickup for the organization. They’re not going to have to wait long for his development. He’s been coming along really nicely.”

There are a couple of high draft picks, too, in 6-8, 230-pound Taylor Doherty (second round, 2009) and 6-3, 230-pound Nick Petrecki (first round, 2007). Doherty, though, is sidelined for at least five more weeks with a sliced Achilles tendon while Petrecki recently returned from a broken hand that kept him out for more than a month.

In fact, Petrecki, who is in his fourth season in Worcester, made his return last Friday in the Sharks’ final game before the Christmas break. Sommer was impressed with the 23-year-old in that game, after Petrecki finished with an assist and a +3 rating.

Although reviews are mixed on Petrecki’s development and skill set, Sommer's opinion is that he could still contribute in the NHL at some point.

“I think he’s on track to what they thought he would be at. He’s a big guy, a monster of a man, and he’s just starting to get things down like keeping his game simple,” Sommer said. “At times he tries to do too much and he gets in trouble, but if he played like he did [Friday] night, he’s not that far away.”

In goal, Alex Stalock (10-5-1, 2.66 goals-against average, .909 save percentage) has gotten a bit more playing time than Harri Sateri (4-6-1, 3.11 GAA, .901 SP).

Stalock, who has successfully returned from a year on the sidelines with a career-threatening nerve injury in Feb. 2011, could be on track to be Niemi’s backup in 2013-14 as Greiss will be an unrestricted free agent.

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Stalock reminds Sommer of another successful American-born netminder.

“He plays a lot like Tim Thomas. Real exciting. If you like watching goaltender he’s definitely fun to watch the way he moves the puck and stuff,” Sommer said.

“We didn’t even know if he was going to play again, but he came back and did everything that he was told to do, and more. He kind of started off a little bit slow for us, but at the season has progressed, I think he’s become one of the top goaltenders in the league.”

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The San Jose Sharks’ newly formed coaching staff hasn’t gotten a chance to work together on the ice in San Jose just yet, but they have all taken trips to Worcester to get a first hand look at some of the organization’s prospect pool.

Sommer, in his 15th year behind an AHL bench, welcomes the support.

“All of them have been real positive. The guys love having them down here,” Sommer said. “It’s a different voice when we’re trying to get the same point across.”

The Sharks’ coaching staff of Todd McLellan, Larry Robinson, Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft were in the Bay Area for the San Francisco Bulls’ ECHL game at HP Pavilion on Dec. 17 for a chalk talk with Sharks season ticket holders. If the NHL season is cancelled, they’ll start rotating back into Worcester.

“They’ve all got good insight and have been around the game a long time,” Sommer said. “A lot of times when you’re at ice level you don’t see as many things as they see.”

Regardless of what happens with the NHL, Sommer’s job description won’t change. He’ll continue to work to strengthen the organization from top to bottom, and assist as many players on their path to the NHL as he can.

Sommer said: “That’s the pride you get when you do this. Not everyone can make it, but the ones that put their time in, and listen, they get there. It’s not the problem getting there, it’s staying there. It’s tough. It’s a tough business up there.”

Sharks conclude 2017 NHL Draft with five more forwards in the system

Sharks conclude 2017 NHL Draft with five more forwards in the system

CHICAGO – After nabbing a center in the first round on Friday, the Sharks added four more forwards and one defenseman to conclude the second day of the annual NHL Entry Draft on Saturday, held this year at United Center.

The Sharks weren’t explicitly trying to restock their forward cabinet, according to general manager Doug Wilson and scouting director Tim Burke, although the club did make two separate moves in surrendering some later round picks to move up in the fourth round (to take center Scott Reedy) and sixth round (to take left wing Sasha Chmelevski).

First, though, it was defenseman Mario Ferraro in the second round at 49th overall. The offensive defenseman was a player that the Sharks targeted, using the pick they acquired from New Jersey last Friday as part of the trade for Mirco Mueller.

“He’s got a lot of speed, offensive guy, exciting,” Burke said. “Puck-moving type of guy.”

Wilson said: “We’re very pleased with the d-man. He’s a very dynamic, athletic guy, great skater. He was a guy that we moved up a little bit aggressively to get because that round, you could see people going after who they wanted. He is a guy that we identified.”

After moving up from the fifth round to the fourth round last Friday, again because of the Mueller trade, the Sharks jumped up 21 more spots in the fourth round by obtaining the Rangers pick at 102nd overall for the 123rd and 174th selections.

Center Scott Reedy is a player that Burke has high hopes for, projecting the Minnesota native as a “second line right winger [with] high-end potential.” Burke pointed out that Reedy, who is friends with first round pick Josh Norris, occasionally played on the same line with Norris for each of the last two seasons with the U.S. Under-18 team.

“He’s a big, strong forward that can play both positions (center and right wing),” Burke said.

Right wing Jacob McGrew, an Orange, CA native, went to the Sharks in the fifth round despite missing all of his first season in junior with a lower body injury suffered in training camp with Spokane (WHL).

“We knew about him before he went up there,” Burke said. “He’s a California kid. … If he was healthy he probably would have gone earlier.”

The Sharks again moved up to snag Huntington Beach native and center Chmelevski at 185 overall, and made their sixth and final pick in the 212th position by taking left wing Ivan Chekhovich in the seventh round. Both players look to have some offensive skill, based on their numbers and Youtube highlights.

Burke was surprised that both players were around so late.

“I thought they had pretty good years and they kind of slipped in the draft,” he said. “We weighed that versus some other more project-type guys, and we thought they had more offense and finish to their game. They just kept sliding, so we took a chance on them.”

Wilson said: “We moved up for the guys we wanted, and then there were some skilled guys at the end that we were surprised were still there. … We’ll go back and take a look how it all went, but we feel, I think, really good about where we ended up with this.”

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

CHICAGO – Ilya Kovalchuk is still reportedly mulling over a return to the NHL, four years after he surprisingly walked away from a monstrous contract with the New Jersey Devils to play in the KHL.

The Sharks have been linked to Kovalchuk, in large part because of Pete DeBoer, who was Kovalchuk’s most recent head coach. In 2011-12, Kovalchuk was a dangerous scoring winger under DeBoer, helping the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final.

It was apparently a good working relationship between the player and the coach for the two seasons they were together, DeBoer said on Friday at the NHL Entry Draft at United Center.

“I loved Kovy in New Jersey,” DeBoer said. “We went to a Stanley Cup Final together. He was a huge piece for us there. I really enjoyed coaching him. I haven’t seen him in four or five years now. I’m sure there’s still a lot of game left there.”

DeBoer said he’s had no contact with the 34-year-old Kovalchuk, who would have to be traded by New Jersey before signing a new contract with any other NHL club. Still, it seems like the Sharks’ coach might welcome a reunion with Kovalchuk, who posted 78 points in 60 games with SKA Saint Petersburg last season, and has 816 points (417g, 399a) in 816 career NHL games with Atlanta and New Jersey.

“I had a really good relationship with him. I had a lot of respect for him as a player and a person,” DeBoer said.

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DeBoer seemed as uncertain as everyone else as to whether Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will return to the Sharks or move on to other clubs as free agents.

But, naturally, it’s on his mind.

“You think about it all the time,” DeBoer said. “They’re obviously important pieces in the history of the franchise, and in our group. I also understand the business side of this, and there’s always tough decisions to make. The way I approach these type of things is I’m going to go to Canada and relax, and Doug [Wilson] is going to make those decisions. I’m sure we’ll have a good group come training camp.”

“We’ve got a really good core group of guys and some tough decisions that have to be made. The one thing Doug and his group has shown over the years is their ability to stay competitive, to find a way even after making tough decisions. I have all the faith in the world in that, and I’m excited about training camp.”

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The Sharks lost David Schlemko in the expansion draft earlier in the week. Vegas then flipped him to the Canadiens for a fifth round pick in 2019.

“I think for David, it’s a great opportunity for him, especially going to Montreal,” DeBoer said. “For us, it’s an opportunity for a young guy to jump in. The one thing we have in the organization is some depth. There’s a lot of guys knocking on the door, and guys hungry to grab that job.”