This week’s development camp will be a first-look at the Sharks’ most exciting young players, such as 2021 first-round draft pick William Eklund, but among the other prospects searching for a spot on the roster are 12 players who were offered a try-out agreement with the San Jose Sharks. I’m going to break down the basics, so you know who to keep an eye on when the players hit the ice for the San Jose Sharks’ live-streamed scrimmage on Thursday.
One of three forwards offered a spot on the development camp roster, Ontario native MacAuley Carson stands at an imposing 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most USports were cancelled, and the University of New Brunswick, which is where Carson plays, was no exception. Despite the pause, the 22-year-old still has a lot of offensive promise — while he has yet to achieve another 30-goal season as he did during the 2016-17 season with the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL, Carson’s most recent season with the Wolves showed an upswing in his offensive play with 22 goals in 63 games.
Another 22-year-old forward (but a right-handed shot), Albertan Tyr Thompson will have no problem adjusting to San Jose’s summer heat; Thompson has spent the past few years of his collegiate career at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The NCAA’s abbreviated 2020-21 season left Thompson with a -5 rating over 22 games, for a total of 3 goals, 3 assists and 4 penalty minutes. Between his NCAA career and his success in the AJHL, Thompson presents some upside for the Sharks, especially if he can continue to generate some offensive play-making ability. For a team like the Sharks who are searching for players who can consistently hit the back of the net, it’s important for Thompson to demonstrate that he can be counted upon to shore up their offense.
The final forward, Joseph Garreffa, can play both center and wing positions, a versatility that is always a plus for prospective teams. Garreffa’s 2020-21 season was a mixed bag, but his playing for three teams over the course of the year showcases his flexibility.
Garreffa spent the first part of 2021 with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, the first of the try-outs to have spent time with the ‘Cuda previously. In the AHL, he played 2 games for a -2 rating, then went to the ECHL Allen Americans for a period of 18 games, resulting in a notable 9 goals, 12 assists, 2 PIMs and a +6 rating. From there, Garreffa ended the year with the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears, notching 4 goals, 17 assists, 8 PIMs and a -8 rating in 41 games.
Having prior professional experience is definitely to his credit, but the freshly 22-year-old stands at just 5-foot-7 — smaller than the typical NHL forward. Though if you’ve learned anything from NHL players like Brendan Gallagher and Cole Caufield, it’s to not judge a player by their height. Garreffa signed a one-year AHL contract with the Barracuda in June.
Now, for a veritable flood of defensemen (which just goes to show San Jose’s priorities in their reset of the team for next year).
If you watched the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, you may have noticed a theme — the emphasis on drafted players was size, strength and physicality. Quebec native Jeremie Biakabutuka fits right in with that narrative at a height of 6-foot-4, the tallest of the try-outs, and 200 pounds.
Aside from his size, the next thing you notice about Biakabutuka is his skating. Combined with his reach, Biakabutuka has his head up, meaning that he’s able to put himself in optimal positions for both offensive or defensive play. The 19-year-old is one of the more exciting try-outs, and his QMJHL career demonstrates that. Over the course of the 2020-21 season, he first played with the Val-d’Or Foreurs, ending with 2 goals, 10 assists and 25 PIMs in 23 games before playing the rest of the season for the Rimouski Oceanic, which culminated in 3 goals, 3 assists and 6 PIMs in 15 games.
Nick Cicek is another great defenseman to keep an eye on during development camp, as he’s one of the most dependable players on this list. As a stalwart and solid defender for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks for the past four seasons, Cicek wore the ‘C’ during his final year, which was also his most successful year in the WHL, with 5 goals, 16 assists and a whopping 46 PIMs, in 24 games.
The 21-year-old Cicek has the maturity, character and sturdy defensive personality to have earned himself a one-year AHL contract with the Barracuda for the 2021-22 season back in June, having previously agreed to an Amateur Try-Out agreement in May. However, a drawback is his penalty minutes, which tend to run on the higher end (he had 91 PIMs in the 2019-20 season), which can be a liability.
Ranvir Gill-Shane is the youngest of the try-outs on the list, born in 2003 and having just turned 18 in June, which is a stat that definitely makes me feel old. Despite his young age, and the fact that he didn’t have the opportunity to play during the 2020-21 season for the Ottawa 67’s, Gill-Shane has a lot of potential. One of the benefits of bringing in younger players during a reset (*cough, rebuild, cough*) is that younger players tend to be more flexible and adaptable in their playing style, meaning that they’ll be able to transition during a reset more successfully than older players.
Similar to Jeremie Biakabutuka, David Gucciardi is a mid-tier offensive-defenseman whose skating and offensive aptitude make him an exciting player to watch. He has a strong shot and is able to create space in the neutral and offensive zones. He started the 2020-21 season with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms with a result of 3 assists in 4 games, before spending the back half of the season with the Waterloo Black Hawks culminating in 7 goals, 10 assists, and 51 PIMs in 29 games.
Other than the 51 penalty minutes, Gucciardi’s main concern is that he’ll sometimes disrupt the momentum of an offensive push or make misguided passes while under pressure. In order to ensure his place in the NHL, he’ll have to develop his defensive instincts to a greater degree. Heading into his age-19 season, he’ll be joining the Michigan State Spartan hockey program this fall.
Cole Moberg is the only defense try-out to have played the majority of last season in the AHL, indicating his maturity on the ice should be a factor in his playing style. Hailing from North Vancouver in British Columbia, Moberg played 22 games for the Rockford Ice Hogs, where he snagged 1 goal, 4 assists and 14 PIMs. Despite having stronger offensive seasons, this past year was the first in a while where Moberg ended the year with a positive +/- rating, which shows that on an AHL level, he was able to adapt and boost his teammates and make a positive impact with his play-making ability.
For Moberg, demonstrating regularity and consistency will be a big factor during development camp.
As the heaviest player of the bunch at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, right-handed defenseman Montana Onyebuchi packs a powerful shot. Onyebuchi spent the past three seasons in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers, where he also wore the ‘A’ for the past two, and it’s clear why. With his confidence and responsibility on the ice, Onyebuchi makes a great candidate for the Sharks, which is why, along with Cicek, he earned an ATO with the Barracuda, before signing a one-year AHL contract for 2021-22.
The 21-year-old ended his 2020-21 season with 2 goals, 10 assists and 38 PIMs in 20 games.
As a University of Michigan junior, Keaton Pehrson brings his Big-10 Conference experience into development camp. His NCAA career hasn’t been exactly consistent, but his defensive play holds some promise. During the 2020-21 season, Pehrson captured 5 assists and 23 PIMs in 26 games. The 22-year-old is expected to return to Ann Arbor this season.
Similar to Keaton Pehrson, Ontario native Gavin White is somewhat of a question mark. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound defender is the smallest of the defensive try-outs. White is also on the younger end, turning 19 in November. With his most recent team, the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, having not played this past season, it’s difficult to get a read on his defensive play.
His 2019-20 season with the Bulldogs was his most recent season, where he notched 1 goal, 2 assists, 4 PIMs and a -6 rating in 25 games.
As the only goaltender of the bunch, Pierce Charlson is an exciting player to watch. Standing at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Charlson cuts an imposing figure in net. Another Big-10 Conference player, Charlson’s most recent season with Michigan State University presents some promise for the potential future of Sharks’ goaltending.
In the 2020-21 season, the 21-year-old played 7 games, and held a 2.57 goals against average and a 0.938 save percentage.