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3 Takeaways: Player evaluations after 2 preseason games

Preseason hockey doesn’t quite feel like our beloved Sharks hockey, but it’s still pretty fun.

September 20, 2018; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Sam Steel (34) plays for the puck against San Jose Sharks defenseman Ryan Mekrley (6) during the first period at Honda Center. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Sharks wrapped up their preseason series against the Anaheim Ducks last night, sweeping the series 2-0.

Sometimes it’s difficult to give a proper analysis to a player’s performance in the preseason, where both teams are putting out a mix of veterans (and early in the preseason, bottom-six and bottom-pairing veterans, at that) and kids from juniors and the AHL. More often, it becomes useful to look at how players handle specific situations and match ups as opposed to who was on the scoresheet on any given night — for example, last night’s took a dramatic shift once Jared Coreau replaced actual NHL goaltender Ryan Miller in net. Are the goals scored against Coreau weighted as heavily as those against Miller? Likely not, though there’s obviously more that goes into that evaluation.

Another example is that while San Jose out-played Anaheim in Game 1, with a final corsi for percent of 64.04 (per Natural Stat Trick), the same group of seven players were on the ice for all four San Jose goals. That leaves a lot of players left to evaluate in different ways.

That all being said, here are three takeaways from this two-game preseason series.

Who looked good?

Ryan Merkley is a player who comes exactly as described. He played a hair over 15 minutes in his debut, then just shy of 17 minutes last night. And he was everywhere. There wasn’t a moment on the ice where Merkley’s presence wasn’t felt and he was able to do that despite being the youngest player out there. Merkley finished Game 1 with a corsi for percent of 67.57 and 56.41 percent last night. He was on the ice for 5 of the 11 goals scored by the Sharks over these last two games. It also seems as though Merkley is working to showcase his defensive skillset, something that has been a point of critique in the offensive-minded defender’s game.

Ivan Chekhovich did quite well for himself with two goals in Game 1, but was sent back to his juniors club the next day. The reasoning from Pete DeBoer makes sense:

And true, with Chekhovich only being 19-years-old, he would be ineligible to play for the San Jose Barracuda until his juniors season ends. So it seems like he may have known he’d only get one game to show where he’s at before they sent him back down to keep from rushing his development. He certainly made the most of his one game and going back to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar means he’ll get more ice time and more opportunities for growth. Chek-ing in with him this time next year should be a blast.

Rourke Chartier is staking a claim for the 4C spot. He has a lot to prove after being injured for much of last season. He tallied 1 primary and 2 secondary assists last night.

It seems a bit pointless to mention someone who is already been a rostered player looking good in the preseason, but Kevin Labanc is still very young and the preseason has given him an expanded role that he’s thrived in. It’s encouraging to see a player like that looking as confident as a veteran going into the season.

Who looked rough?

Kyle Wood was a player advertised as a potential candidate for the 7D spot this year when he was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes. But he felt very out of place last night. His one assist came on a Lukas Radil goal and was probably the best play he made all night. He also contributed directly to a goal against, though that was the only goal against he was on the ice for and he had the highest time on ice, playing nearly 19 minutes. He was alsoon ice for 3 of the Sharks' 7 goals.

Dylan Gambrell is looking more and more like he needs time with the Barracuda this year. The bottom-six center positions are in hot contention right now and it's hard to imagine Gambrell is looking like a front runner for the role. He was one of only two players last night with a goals for percentage of zero (the other actually being Timo Meier), having not been on the ice for any of the Sharks' 7 goals, but for 1 Ducks goal against. The preseason is when you have to make your presence known and Gambrell looked more like a ghost.

Again, talking about veterans in the preseason is a whole different gambit, but Brenden Dillon has been part of discussions as to who to pair Erik Karlsson with. Doing so would split the ice time fairly evenly among the three defense pairings at even strength. But watching a top pairing of Merkley and Dillon didn't exactly give me confidence that this is a player who can handle twenty minutes every night.

Who was hot-and-cold?

Antti Suomela was very much absent in his first game with the Sharks. The highly-touted newcomer made an impression in practices, paired with Joonas Donskoi and Kevin Labanc. But that didn't seem to translate to game play immediately. After the initial nerves or whatever it may have been, Suomela looked at home in Game 2 on the LSD line, taking home a goal and an assist. Let's hope it was nerves, because if consistent, that will be a fun third line this season.