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Top 25 Sharks Under 25: No. 24 Nick DeSimone is crucial to ‘Cuda defense

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DeSimone proved his consistency in his first full professional season. How soon could he be NHL ready?

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: Nick DeSimone #57 of the San Jose Sharks skates with the puck against Pierre-Edouard Bellemare #41 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the third period of their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevad Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Nick DeSimone had one goal for this year: proving that he belonged.

The former Union College defenseman had impressed during an Amateur Tryout with the San Jose Barracuda during their Calder Cup run in 2017. It was clear he had the trust of the organization from the start, immediately slotting into the blueline and making an impact. He was third among rookies in playoff points during that run, behind only Danny O’Regan and Kevin Labanc. Those 13 games, plus the final four regular season games, showed the organization all they needed to know and DeSimone signed a two-year contract with the Sharks.

The small sample size dialed the pressure up for DeSimone’s first full professional season. He’d been a steady scorer for Union, with 48 points over 109 games (though ECAC is arguably the weakest conference, those are still impressive numbers for a defenseman). Those 17 AHL games in 2017 saw him score at a rate of .41 points per game, with 2 goals and 5 assists.

The question remained: could DeSimone maintain that level of production?

It’s worth noting that the Barracuda as a whole struggled last year after losing their top line and top defensive pairing to the mother club. Without Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed, DeSimone and Jacob Middleton took over the reigns as the number one D-pair.

DeSimone proved his worth. Overall, there was a slight dip in his production, dropping from .41 PPG to .34, but was still tied for third among defenseman in scoring with Julius Bergman, who played in six more games than DeSimone.

All of that said, Emmanuel Perry’s model suggests DeSimone has about a 20 percent chance of making the NHL. Part of that could come from 9 of DeSimone’s 20 points last season coming from secondary assists, which tend to be removed in statistical data as insignificant noise. This is backed again by Evan Oppenheimer’s betweenness data, which looks at how players impact scoring through primary points only and for 2017-18 gave DeSimone a score of -.0199, meaning he wasn’t driving play for the team as a whole.

An encouraging stat line for DeSimone is the 106 shots he took last season, ranking fourth in defenseman, again with the fewest games of those four. His shots per game average of 1.80 is actually higher than his D-partner Middleton, who averages 1.70.

Still, of the defense for the ‘Cuda, DeSimone and Middleton are the closest to making the jump to the big time and I don’t think I would hate that. The two of them give the Sharks both a viable right- and left-handed call-up option. But with a crowded blueline, if the Sharks see DeSimone before they’ve clinched a playoff spot, the defense may already be in deep trouble.

What we like

DeSimone is a great skater who exemplifies a modern defenseman in both size and skill. He took the fewest penalties of ‘Cuda defensemen who played at least half of the season last year with just 8 penalty minutes and his shot production is encouraging. He has the trust of the organization and may be able to fill in at the NHL level soon.

Areas of improvement

Being responsible for primary points would be an improvement, but as long as he’s defensively sound, I’m not going to complain.

Highlight

DeSimone’s game winning goal in the final preseason game last year put the Sharks up against the team that would become the best in the Pacific. The follow-through on the rebound allowed DeSimone to bang one past Marc-Andre Fleury — and that wasn’t an easy feat last season.