Top 25 Sharks Under 25: No. 9 Noah Gregor is set to take the next step
A burst of offense to close out the season shifted the narrative on the speedy forward.
A glance at Noah Gregor’s NHL stat lines might seem underwhelming to those who haven’t watched the speedy forward play. Prior to the 2021-22 season, Gregor played a total of 58 games over the course of two pandemic-shortened seasons, and scored just eight goals combined.
This season, on the surface, appeared to promise more of the same. Between his call-up to the San Jose Sharks in November and the end of March, Gregor amassed just four goals. He posted one of the lowest shooting percentages in the league and many questioned head coach Bob Boughner for routinely placing Gregor in the line-up.
The conversation changed, though. Despite the criticism, his commitment to becoming a more complete player paid dividends. Gregor persisted, and in the final month of the season, his scout-touted strengths flowered into tangible offense. This success even secured him a position with ever-competitive Team Canada at the 2022 Men’s World Championships, recently hosted by Finland, who won gold, while Canada was the runner-up.
Six years ago, Gregor garnered the attention of San Jose’s scouts as a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League (WHL). As a 17-year-old in 2015-16, he scored 73 points in 72 games, including 28 goals. Gregor continued near that productive pace with nine points in ten games during the WHL playoffs. He also earned the chance to represent his home country at the 18U World Championships. The Sharks, fresh off of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance, drafted him in the fourth round of that summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
For the next three years, Gregor continued to play in the WHL, returning to Moose Jaw after the draft and scoring at a higher pace. In 2017-18, Gregor was named an alternate captain for the Warriors. Following a mid-season trade to the Victoria Royals, he put up 29 points in 30 games, then 12 points in 11 playoff games for his new team.
On April 6, 2018, Gregor signed a three-year entry-level contract with San Jose, immediately making his professional hockey debut suiting up for the San Jose Barracuda for one AHL playoff game. Gregor really came into his own in his final season of major junior hockey. The veteran forward, newly acquired by the Prince Albert Raiders, fired away with 43 goals and 88 points in just 63 games. In the playoffs, Prince Albert went all the way to win the WHL’s championship, and Gregor was a key offensive piece in that run, with 24 points in 23 games.
The sole playoff game for the Barracuda ate up a year of his entry-level deal, but for the remainder of the contract, Gregor bounced back and forth between the Sharks and Barracuda. He made his NHL debut on October 19, 2019 against the Buffalo Sabres.
Doug Wilson awarded Gregor with a one-year contract for the 2021-22season, and it was expected by some that he would make the opening night roster. That was not to be. After training camp, Gregor was assigned to begin the season wit the Barracuda. He admitted to not performing at his best during camp, but in October, Gregor scored 12 points in eight AHL games. He quickly earned a role with the Sharks and never looked back.
This past season, he scored eight goals to match his prior career total. Four of those goals came in just the final month of the season. The young, budding line of Thomas Bordeleau, Rudolfs Balcers and Gregor appeared to provide a breadth of speed, skill and defense all in one.
He now remains a restricted free agent and it would not be surprising to see him back at SAP Center next season. Right now, all signs point to Gregor taking another major step in his development next season.
What We Like
Gregor’s speed has always stood out. Throughout the season, he showed flashes of his skating prowess by generating chances with a burst of speed down the wing. His defensive game has already earned him a larger role at both ends of the rink. Boughner rewarded this defensive responsibility with more ice time on the penalty kill. He also has a quick-strike ability, as many of his goals came off the rush on a wrist shot or a quick rebound in the slot.
Areas of Improvement
Gregor could benefit from some more confidence with the puck. Utilizing his speed down the wing, patience in holding onto the puck might open up some more opportunities for the young forward. Confidence may come with the right bounces. It is easy to envision that a few early goals for Gregor next season could facilitate a legitimate breakout year.
This goal came near the end of the season, when Gregor was mostly playing with Bordeleau and Balcers. It exemplifies all of Gregor’s best assets in one shift.
As Brent Burns picks up the puck and initiates the breakout, Gregor stops and remains available as a pass option along the boards, taking glances up the ice to note the positions of the opposing forecheckers. Once Burns finds Balcers in the middle of the defensive zone, Gregor bursts up the wall along the available ice. Balcers recognizes that the speedy Gregor is flying down the wing, and smartly flips the puck into a soft spot just past St. Louis’ blue line.
At this point, it’s a race for the puck between Gregor and St. Louis defenseman, Nick Leddy. Gregor beats Leddy, and with three quick touches of the puck, gets a shot on goal that beats Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington. Leddy seemingly didn’t even recognize that Gregor was coming from his right side, and Binnington should have been able to make that save. Nonetheless, this goal displays the kinds of offensive opportunities Gregor’s speed, quick-release and defensive responsibility can manufacture for what was an anemic San Jose offense.