The San Jose Sharks are cutting down their training camp roster a little bit each day. Now, as the end of preseason approaches, five rookies remain in the mix, each vying for a spot on the Sharks opening night roster. Here’s who’s left:
Entry Draft: 2021, Round 1, #7
Size: 5’10”, 175 lbs.
2020-21 Team: Djugarden, SHL
2020-21 Stats: 40GP, 11G, 12A, 2 PIMs
The Sharks’ 2021 first round, seventh overall draft pick has, so far, lived up to the hype his name brings. Over and over head coach Bob Boughner has expressed how impressed he and the rest of the coaching staff have been with his game performances. Eklund isn’t a flashy player — he’s creative but unselfish, can create space on the forecheck, and, perhaps most importantly, can be relied upon to clean up the little things on the back end.
Out of all of these rookies, Eklund is the one I would expect to stay with the big club the longest — he has the maturity and decision-making capabilities to slot into the Sharks lineup as it is, especially since we still don’t know what the Sharks will do with Kane, and how they’ll structure their forwards and defense.
Nationality: Czech Republic
Entry Draft: 2020, Round 7, #201
Size: 5’10”, 183 lbs.
2020-21 Team: Rimouski, QMJHL
2020-21 Stats: 22GP, 12G, 13A, 30 PIMs
It’s safe to say that Adam Raska was a steal for the Sharks in the 2020 Entry Draft. Along with Eklund, Bob Boughner and management have consistently been vocal about how impressed they are with Raska’s preseason and training camp performances. He’s a confident goal scorer and physical player. The biggest question mark for Raska is how long he can sustain his offensive production and level of physicality in games, especially when the defining factor that the coaches are looking for in their rookies is consistency. If Raska can prove he can continue his pace of play for a significant length of time at the NHL level, then I can’t see why the Sharks won’t take a chance on him for their opening night lineup.
Entry Draft: 2019, Round 6, #184
Size: 6’0”, 175 lbs.
2020-21 Team: IIves, SM-Liiga
2020-21 Stats: 44GP, 1G, 6A, 34 PIMs
Hatakka is a quietly impactful player. He was relatively sedated throughout the Sharks development camp, was more noticeable in the Rookie Faceoff Tournament, and now seems to have hit his stride in the preseason. Like Eklund, he’s not necessarily flashy, but oftentimes the most NHL ready rookies are the ones who are dependable, not showy. Hatakka won’t be counted upon to be a regular point getter, but as the Sharks trend towards the more physical style of play, Hatakka’s physical presence and punishing defense is a lucrative point. He’ll hit big, body players off of pucks, and lock down the neutral zone.
Entry Draft: 2018, Round 4, #102
Size: 6’4”, 222 lbs.
2020-21 Team: University of North Dakota, NCHC
2020-21 Stats: 29GP, 14G, 10A, 8 PIMs
Weatherby is the oldest of the rookies (and when I say ‘oldest’, I say it with a grain of salt — we’re the same age but I’ve gotten so used to seeing rookies born after 2000 that anything before then is a shock). You can tell that Weatherby has the work ethic to make his way onto the Sharks roster, if not now, then certainly this year. If he is sent down to the Barracuda, you can bet that he’ll be at the top of the call-up list. Weatherby’s been consistent in generating high quality scoring chances and providing support to his linemates, and his maturity and quick-thinking on the ice stands out. Plus, he’s a strong on faceoffs, which is always a coveted skill for teams.
Entry Draft: 2018, Round 1, #21
Size: 5’11”, 186 lbs.
2020-21 Team: San Jose Barracuda, AHL
2020-21 Stats: 31GP, 1G, 10A, 14 PIMs
Ryan Merkley has been inching towards consistent production, but he struggles with sustaining energy and sticking with defensive plays and covering players. He can have one standout period, then be a ghost in the next period of the same game. That being said, for all of Merkley’s coverage and energy problems, he’s been working on them in training camp. Each preseason game he gets a little bit more consistent, and now the Sharks are giving him an opportunity to prove his first-round pick status in more NHL arenas.
What do you notice that all of these rookies have in common? For the most part, it’s consistency. For Raska and Merkley, the question is how consistent they can be for long periods of time, and for Weatherby, Eklund and Hatakka, it’s about how effective they are in the places they’ve already shown consistency. These rookies have already proven that they can make an impact in the short-term with the Sharks in preseason games, but now it’s about reaching that next level and proving their long-term efficacy in an NHL setting.
The next preseason game is Monday, October 4, at SAP Center against the Anaheim Ducks. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET.