The Sharks have a strong history of finding free agents overseas. Take a look at their current roster, it’s littered with them. They’ve also had a history of finding NHLers out of Germany. I.e. Thomas Greiss, Christian Ehrhoff, Marco Sturm, etc.
When the Sharks signed Lean Bergmann on May 28, 2019, to a three-year entry-level contract, they hoped they had another one on their hands. The 20-year-old at the time was coming off an impressive rookie season with the Iserlohn Roosters of the German League (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) where he was the youngest player to score 20 or more goals.
With youthful depth at the forward position, one would assume that Bergmann would begin his first North American pro season in the AHL. And he thought the same thing.
“Coming in my goal was to make the American League team,” said Bergmann. “They didn’t tell me much, they just said they wanted to see how I performed in training camp.”
But the six-foot-two, 205-pounder impressed right away and opened the eyes of the Sharks brass, coaching staff and even players.
“After the first week or two, I saw how the big guys were and maybe I started to think if things go well, I have a chance to actually make it.”
In a Mercury News article in September, Sharks Captain Logan Couture said of Bergman, “(he) plays with energy, (he) plays the right way. He’s still learning the systems, but to me, he looked like a guy that can play at the NHL level.”
In the same article, Pete DeBoer said, “He’s one of the guys that’s jumped out as (someone) really trying to make an impression.”
In preseason action, Bergmann skated in four NHL games, scoring a goal and was a plus-one. His physical style of play and offensive skill set was hard to ignore. So much so that Bergmann made the Sharks opening night roster and skated in the club’s first six games this year, collecting his first NHL assist on October 8 at Nashville.
“If you play good games it is always a confidence booster but it’s also how the teammates treat you,” said Bergmann. “Everyone was really nice, I felt like they liked me, and that was a big thing too.”
But on October 20, the Sharks elected to reassign the 21-year-old to the Barracuda, hoping to give the young player more minutes in bigger situations while also allowing him to continue to gain a grasp of the team’s systems.
“When they sent me down, they told me they wanted me to play a little bit more ice time and get more comfortable with the system.”
So far, it’s been a good transition for left-winger who has goals in three-straight and points in all four games (three goals, three assists) in the AHL thus far.
“It’s been great so far. I’ve played a lot of ice time, I’ve got better, and my teammates have been great.”
So, how’d Bergmann slip under the radar of NHL scouts prior to last season and why didn’t he get drafted?
Well, for one, in three seasons in the United States Hockey League (USHL) where he played from 2015-to-2018 with the Sioux Falls Stampede and Green Bay Gamblers, Bergmann totaled just 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 125 games. It was good enough to get a scholarship to Western Michigan but it wasn’t the eye-popping numbers needed to get the attention of NHL scouts.
“The way it went in the USHL was horrible, to be fair,” said Bergmann. “I just felt in the USHL I was never able to play. It was just dump-and-chase and run over guys. I felt like I wasn’t getting any better, and I felt if I went to college, it’d be more of the same.”
Despite committing to play for the Broncos, he instead elected to go back to Germany and test the waters of pro hockey.
“I thought the only chance I had to make it a little bigger was to go back home and have a big year.”
Bergmann did have a big year and scouts began to come to more and more of his games.
“Towards the end of the year, I started talking to some teams. The Sharks were almost the first to talk to me or the second. I think it’s a big thing to be in the right spot, and San Jose being known for signing free agents and bringing them up through their system, that was a really big thing.”
So far, it seems like Bergmann made the right decision in signing with San Jose and it would seem like only a matter of time before he’s back up in the Show.
“The biggest thing with (Lean) is he’s got a big engine, he plays a heavy game,” said Roy Sommer. “When (the Sharks) sent him down, it was really just about him learning the systems and playing without having to think because if you hesitate in the NHL it’s too late.”