Doug Wilson Jr., Roy Sommer and scouts talk Barracuda prospects
The San Jose Sharks and the San Jose Barracuda are hunting history together.
The Sharks are aiming to be just the third organization to win both the Stanley Cup and the Calder Cup in the same season. The Montreal Canadiens, alongside the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, accomplished this feat in back-to-back years (1976, 1977). The New Jersey Devils, alongside the Albany River Rats, both hoisted championship trophies in 1995.
We all know how well the Sharks have played this year, especially recently, but the Barracuda are also doing their part: The Barracuda’s .707 points percentage paces the Western Conference. They’re one of just two squads above .700 right now; the Carolina Checkers top the AHL with .714.
For the San Jose organization to win a double-championship, a school of Barracuda and Barracuda alumni will have to rise to the occasion.
Focusing on current Barracuda, can Dylan Gambrell suit up for the Sharks in the playoffs? Will Josef Korenar back up in the NHL this year? Looking long-term, do any Barracuda prospects project as a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman?
Doug Wilson Jr., Roy Sommer, Pete DeBoer and three NHL scouts from other organizations help answer these questions and more about prospects like Korenar, Gambrell, Jacob Middleton, Alexander True, Francis Perron, Antti Suomela, Maxim Letunov, Nick DeSimone, Jeremy Roy and Antoine Bibeau.
Scout #1, on if any Barracuda prospects project to be a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman in the NHL: I’m not seeing a top-six. Maybe top-nine? Maybe Gambrell. He hasn’t done a whole ton for me though.
On defense, I’m not seeing a top-four.
Scout #2: I would say no top-six forwards or top-four defensemen. Closest to that is Gambrell as a 3C.
Roy Sommer, on which players have grown the most since training camp: Jonathon Martin, look where he was last year. Look how important he is to our team right now. DeSimone has made big strides. Keaton Middleton. Korenar.
Dylan Gambrell and Jacob Middleton
2016 second-round pick Gambrell came over from the University of Denver last year, making a late-season NHL debut. He’s scored 28 points in 31 games in his full-season pro debut.
Middleton has been a pleasant surprise since the Sharks signed him as a free agent, making his NHL debut this season, along with earning an AHL All-Star berth.
Doug Wilson Jr., on Gambrell and Middleton’s progress: What we told Dylan and Jake when we signed or drafted them was that we’re not trying to build them a cup of coffee. We’re trying to build them a career.
They have to get pro games under their belt. They both need experience in all situations.
They’re on a good track right now.
Dylan Gambrell, on what the Sharks coaching staff has told him to improve: Being a little bit grittier in the corners. Winning one-on-one battles. Being harder to play against. [Play] a little more inside.
Wilson Jr., on if Gambrell and Middleton are being held back by the Sharks’ deep line-up: Pete’s pretty open to new guys. Rourke Chartier, Antti Suomela, Lukas Radil, Radim Simek, they’ve all been rotated in. It’s really a meritocracy. I’d say benefit of the doubt goes to Pete for establishing the meritocracy, the best player plays.
Those guys can crack the line-up whenever they want to. It’s just the other guys are playing really well right now. It’s a tough line-up to crack, but there’s still opportunity for them.
Pete DeBoer, on Gambrell’s game: I like his speed. He’s an honest, 200-foot player. Up here, you have to use that speed to attack holes, draw penalties. Can’t be speed on the outside up here.
Playing at lower levels, you can get away with being faster or more skilled than everybody on the ice. Up here, everybody’s fast, everybody’s skilled. They’re heavy and hard. So you have to do all those things.
The 21-year-old Korenar has opened eyes in his first North American campaign, earning an AHL All-Star selection.
Wilson Jr., on if the organization sees Korenar as a future number-one: Oh, absolutely.
We originally had planned on drafting him. But in his draft year, we had a couple later-round picks. When Sasha Chmelevski was dropping in the draft, we ended up moving up to go get Sasha. Where we had pegged to draft Josef, we had moved that pick.
Wilson Jr., on Korenar turning a projected back-up position into a 1A-1B tandem with Bibeau: Yeah, we knew Korenar was going to be a high-end prospect for us. But Bibeau is a great goalie. We see him as an NHL guy too. But Josef has obviously exceeded expectations.
Antoine Bibeau, on Korenar: He works really hard. He takes care of his body. Great teammate, he’s been awesome.
Wilson Jr., on if he sees Korenar advancing to the NHL faster than the typical Sharks goalie prospect: He’s got a lot of ability and potential. And he played against men last year. But at the same time, it’s going to be super competitive. I think both Josef and Antoine are on the proper path in terms of where they need to be.
True leads the Barracuda in scoring with 36 points, putting up 28 in his last 24 games.
Sommer, on what accounts for True’s recent explosion after a slow start: Last year, he was our best player down the stretch. He sputtered a little bit to start the season.
He started playing an inside game, going to the net, heavy on pucks.
He’s gone from a guy, at the start of the year, playing 10 minutes, and now he’s right up there. 17-20 minutes a game, a lot for a forward. He’s deserved everything he’s gotten.
Sommer, on True’s assets: He’s a big body, protects pucks.
Always seems to be around the puck. He’s hard to play against. He’s got a little bite to his game. That’s what the American League is all about, get these guys ready for the next level. He’s getting pretty damn close.
When he gets going through the neutral zone, he’s a pretty big train to stop. He takes the puck wide, does a pretty good job defending it.
Alexander True, on how his length helps him on the forecheck: As F1, I try to blow the puck up. Not try to go for the big hit. So one of my teammates can go and get it. For sure, my long reach helps me on the forecheck.
Wilson Jr., on True: We’ve had a couple guys, when they’ve been put on a line with Truesy, their game gets elevated. You always like to see that.
Sommer, on if the 6-foot-5 True can look to Lukas Radil as a model for his game: Big centerman who can skate, make plays, are heavy, is hard to find.
Big bodies are what wins in the playoffs. [Radil’s] a puck possession-type guy. Truesy is kind of the same way.
Sommer, on how True’s skating has progressed: He was kind of where Letunov is now. Kind of a step behind at times, but now he’s getting on pucks and making plays.
True, on what he needs to improve about his skating: Working on my posture. I’m a bigger guy, so staying low, having good posture. You tend to get bad posture out there once you get tired. Also, moving my feet quicker.
Scout #3, on True’s skating: At the NHL, he’s still a below-average skater for me.
Scout #1, on notion that True is closer to NHL than most people think: I agree. I think True is a hidden guy for me. He can play a fourth-line center role. He’s got all those tools. I don’t know if he can quite play third-line.
After two so-so seasons in the Ottawa system, Perron has been a revelation in San Jose, earning an AHL All-Star selection. Subject to waivers next year, the winger, widely considered to be the most skilled Barracuda prospect, will be given a long look during training camp.
Sommer, on Perron’s NHL case: Our scouts saw him play in juniors. They didn’t really go on his last two years in AHL. I don’t think that was something he was very proud of.
He has a history of scoring. Maybe a change of venue kind of woke him up.
He’s a plus-player. Got NHL skill. Can skate. I think it’s only a matter of time. He’s one guy, I think he deserves it.
Wilson Jr., on Perron’s future: Next year, I think Perron will be a really good guy to watch in training camp.
Scout #1, on Perron’s game: That Perron kid has really good hands and smarts. The problem with him is he doesn’t really play to the inside too much. He’s a really skilled perimeter guy. Until I see him play with more courage on the inside ... but I like him. He’s a smart player.
Wilson Jr., on notion that Perron was just a “throw-in” in Erik Karlsson trade: We targeted him in the Ottawa trade as the extra piece.
There’s no such thing as a throw-in in an NHL trade. From a scouting perspective, front office perspective, there’s no such thing as a throw-in.
He was a 100-point guy with Timo Meier [in the QMJHL] that we thought would excel in a different spot. It’s a credit to the scouts.
When people say it’s a throw-in, I see it as a disservice to our scouts. They put in a ton of work to go find a guy, a diamond in the rough-type guy.
Suomela got off to a slow start with the Barracuda after his demotion, but he appears to be finding his game.
Sommer, on Suomela’s struggles in with Barracuda: His play’s been a lot better. He’s hanging onto pucks. He’s just making more plays. It takes a while. Sorensen wasn’t great when he came over either.
Wilson Jr., on what Suomela has to improve: He’s on the same plan we put together for Marcus Sorensen when he came over. Exposure to NHL/AHL and use time in AHL to be dominant offensively and learn nuances of North American game. That’s less time and space, harder puck possession. His last five games have been very good.
Scout #2, on Suomela’s ceiling: I can see Suomela as a third-line center for the Sharks.
Wilson Jr., on if we should expect RFA Suomela back in the San Jose organization next year: Yes, when we signed him, we signed him for now and the future.
Letunov was drafted in the second round by St. Louis in 2014, but was dealt to Arizona in a Trade Deadline deal. The Coyotes eventually sent him to the Sharks, along with a 2017 sixth-round pick, for a 2016 fourth and 2017 third. Now in the last year of his entry-level contract, Letunov has yet to show enough of the game that has made him so tantalizing to so many different organizations.
Sommer, on Letunov’s year: Started off real good. Dropped down. You start questioning yourself. But it’s getting used to the pro game. It’s how you come out of it, that’s kind of what we’re seeing right now.
Letunov, on being in last year of entry-level contract and what has to improve for him to finish season strong: I try not to think about the contract. Work on the defensive side of my game. Getting stronger overall. There’s definitely more to give.
Sommer, on what he wants to see out of Letunov to close year: Harder on pucks. More of a second effort. Just more of an inside game from him.
In the last year of his entry-level contract, NCAA free agent signing DeSimone has ascended to becoming a fixture on the Barracuda power play.
Sommer, on DeSimone’s evolution: He used to be really antsy. But now, he’s calmed his game down a lot. He used to have a bunch of moving parts all over the place. Now, he’s a lot more simple. He’s not trying to force pucks.
A lot [of his growth] has been confidence. He’s carrying the puck with authority. He’s making pretty good decisions.
DeSimone, on what he still has to work on: Consistency, bringing it every night. Playing a hard game every night. Working on my d-zone.
Sommer, on DeSimone’s NHL-readiness: He’s heading that way. It’s just a matter of time. There’s games, he’s been over 30 minutes for us.
Scout #3, on DeSimone’s game: He’s got good feet, he can skate. Gets beat too much though.
2015 second-round draft pick Roy has suffered season-ending ACL tears in back-to-back seasons. This is his first full hockey season since 2015-16.
Wilson Jr., on Roy’s recovery from injuries: This has been a great year for Jeremy. We’re trying to ease him back to playing every game. He’s completely over [his injuries]. All his medicals came back great and he’s in great shape. Once in a while, we’ll sit him out, to keep his body in good shape.
It’s a plan we had talked to him about going into the year. Just wanted to plan going forward with Jeremy, he’d be playing 80-90 percent of the games. We could work with him off the ice, make sure he’s got the strength and everything.
We kind of look at this as Jeremy’s rookie year. He’s exceeded our expectations.
Roy, on finding his game: Still getting timing back. The injury is fully recovered. Just a matter of decision-making.
Sommer, on Roy’s consistency: There’s been games where he’s been really good. There’s other games where he looks tired, a step behind. Just hasn’t played a lot of hockey in two years. Still got a ways to go. He’s trending the right way.
Scout #3: Some nights, he looks great. Other nights, just okay. Other nights, a bit worse.
Roy, on what’s between him and NHL: [Doing] everything quicker, that’s the big thing.