The San Jose Sharks will participate in the Rookie Faceoff Tournament from Sept. 17 to Sept. 20. The tournament will be held at Gila River Arena and the Ice Den Scottsdale in Arizona, with four teams from the Pacific Division (Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights) and two from the Central Division (Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche) taking part.
The Sharks will play three games against the other top prospects in their division. The first game is this Friday, Sept. 17, against the Ducks at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. On Sept. 19, the Sharks will play the Golden Knights at 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET. Their final game of the tournament will be on Sept. 20 against the Ducks once more, which will be played at a perfect time for the early-risers (and a terrible time for the athletes), at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET.
Streaming options and tickets can be found here, and it’s important to note that streaming will be limited to participating teams’ home broadcast areas. All games will be live audio broadcast through the Sharks Audio Network, with no restrictions.
There’s been a lot of buzz around the Sharks top players who will be playing in the rookie tournament (Jasper Weatherby, Ozzy Wiesblatt and this year’s first-round selection, William Eklund), but if you watched the Development Camp Scrimmage on August 19, or are even vaguely familiar with Doug Wilson’s success in late rounds of the draft, then you’ll know that there are quite a few exciting young players who are developing in the waves for the Sharks.
Here are five underrated players to keep an eye on during the Rookie Faceoff Tournament:
Brandon Coe was drafted in the 2020 Entry Draft at 98th overall, and while currently unsigned, clearly impressed the Sharks during development camp. At 6-foot-4, Coe has incredible dexterity for his size, and great defensive instincts — not always typical for a forward. Coe played with William Eklund on the top line for Team Teal during the development camp scrimmage and notched an assist on Eklund’s goal from a tic-tac-toe play, due in part to Coe’s ability to create space and set up Eklund.
He spent the 2020-21 season with the San Jose Barracuda (AHL) due to the OHL shutdown. Coe played 17 games for a total of 1 goal, 4 assists, 6 penalty minutes and a -6 rating. He’s likely to return to the North Bay Battalion for the 2021-22 season.
Daniil Gushchin was drafted in the 2020 Entry Draft along with Coe, at 76th overall. He signed an entry-level contract with the Sharks through the 2023-24 season, with a $850,833 cap hit. The former Muskegon Lumberjack will not be returning to the USHL, though he may not see NHL time this season. Gushchin spent the last three seasons in Michigan, where he played 139 games and totaled 70 goals, 77 assists, 114 PIMs and a +42 rating.
Similar to Brandon Coe, Gushchin is a defensively minded forward, with a solid backcheck and quick transition game. Gushchin is a playmaker, and nothing showed it like his development camp performance. Despite Team Teal struggling with a defensive breakdown, Gushchin’s speed and movement shone, particularly in the second period, with a few opportunities for greasy goals. He’s not afraid to get in front of the net and be a physical presence for the team. It eventually paid off with an assist on Adam Raska’s goal, where Gushchin created space by pulling from the corner. Perhaps his most memorable moment was his shootout goal — a cheeky between the legs, backhander that flipped up and over the glove of Zachary Emond.
Artemi Kniazev was drafted in 2019, at 48th overall, and signed a three-year entry-level contract that same year. After sliding the last two years, he’s now signed through the 2023-24 season with a cap hit of $789,167. Kniazev is an offensive-minded defenseman, who has a smooth stride and great control of his edges. The Sharks are focusing on players who are adaptable and versatile, with an emphasis on physicality and offense, and Kniazev checks all those boxes.
Kniazev was dangerous from the first period during the development camp scrimmage and scored the equalizing goal (a short-sided one-timer) for Team White. Kniazev is a relentless shot-taker, excelling at setting up rebound shots and capitalizing upon defensive mistakes and hesitation. It seemed like anytime he was in front of the net, his team scored, with assists coming on Jacob McGrew and Krystof Hrabik’s goals.
Kniazev spent the majority of the 2020-21 season with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL), where he played 14 games and scored 5 goals, 13 assists, 10 PIMs and a +9.
Ryan Merkley is perhaps the most “developed” of the Sharks prospects and is expected to take the next step in the organization this season. Merkley was drafted in 2018 at 21st overall, and is in the second active year of his three-year entry-level contract, with a cap hit of $863,333. In the 2020-21 season, Merkley played 31 games with the Barracuda, for a total of 1 goal, 10 assists, 14 PIMs and a -13.
Merkley is a dynamic defender with all the makings of an NHL-ready defenseman. He has good instincts and but reliability has never been his strength. His development camp scrimmage was a mixed bag. The first period was excellent, with a series of good breakout passes and a lot of little details that kept the puck in the offensive zone for Team Teal. They leaned heavily on Merkley, and while his overall performance showcased his ability to make small plays that advanced the overall gameplay, his third period showed that he still struggles with maintaining speed and energy in a losing game.
Benjamin Gaudreau is the sole goaltender on this list. He’s currently unsigned, but he was drafted this year’s Entry Draft in the third round at 81st overall. Gaudreau is young, but he’s fast, with the ability to make quick adjustments in response to the pace of play, and isn’t afraid to challenge players from the top of the crease. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gaudreau was only able to play for Team Canada in the World Juniors Championships U18 tournament in 2020-21, appearing in five games and posting a 2.20 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage under his belt.
During the development camp scrimmage, he was in net for Team White in the second period, and he settled in quickly. Gaudreau didn’t have to face many shots, but the ones he did, he was able to get control of easily. Since he only played one period, the rookie tournament will give us a better idea of where he is at in his development, and what kind of goaltender he could be for the Sharks.
The Rookie Faceoff Tournament will give us Sharks fans the best idea of who the top prospects in the Sharks organization are, and how soon they’ll be called up to the NHL. The full tournament roster can be found here.