Sep 20, 2018

What’s going on ‘Cuda country? Holy cow! What a week it has been. There’s a lot to catch up on since we last talked.

Let’s begin with the biggest fish of them all (pun intended), the acquisition of two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson last Thursday has been the talk of the hockey world since it went down and deservingly so. A move that no one saw coming when they went to bed Wednesday night. There were rumors last spring that San Jose kicked the tires on a Karlsson trade at the deadline, but nothing got done, and Swedish d-man remained a Senator’ throughout the summer.

From all accounts, the buzz within the building was electric on Thursday as the events began to unfold. I stopped by at Solar4America Ice around 9 a.m. but had to leave because of a radio meeting I had at KDOW, so unfortunately I didn't get to experience it in person, but as I was rolling into the parking lot at KDOW, my phone began buzzing uncontrollably. A came to a halt, looked down and read, “Sharks acquire two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators.”

The argument can be made that it’s the second most significant trade in franchise history, only behind Joe Thornton in 2005.

The timing of the deal only enhanced the excitement and emotional roller coaster within the building. Why, you ask? Well, Thursday was the Sharks annual media day, which means the entire organization, players included, were at Solar4America Ice conducting headshots, video board content, social media Q and A, etc. In the morning, NHL insiders throughout the league began tweeting about the Sharks making a serious push for the d-man. When the deal became official the real questions began, who did the Sharks have to give up to obtain the generational talent? Everyone had their own take on the package going the other way, but in the end, it turned out to be Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, Rudolfs Balcers, Josh Norris, and a pair of conditional draft picks.

Now, this is a Barracuda centric blog, so I want to talk about Balcers who was without a doubt the Barracuda’s most dynamic player a season ago as a 21-year-old rookie in the AHL. The rumor mill mentioned Balcers' name during the trade deadline last season, and whether it’s true or not, it was said that San Jose was unwilling to part ways with one of their top prospects. Balcers being included in the trade with Karlsson says two things. First, the skills that the Latvian displayed as an AHL All-Star in his rookie season and the way he dazzled at the World Championships made him a big piece of the deal on Thursday, a testament to his development and work ethic over the last couple of years. Second, the trade displayed how incredible the Sharks scouting staff truly is. Balcers was a fifth-round pick in 2015. DeMelo was a sixth rounder in 2011. The argument can be made that San Jose has had as much success drafting quality players after the fourth round as any organization in the NHL over Doug Wilson’s tenure.

With San Jose's core already in place, plus Karlsson, it is clear as day the Sharks want to win now, and many have pinned them favorites in the West after the deal. As far as the Barracuda go, there’s still a plethora of young talent expected to be in the AHL this season that fans should be excited about. So despite losing their top scorer, the ‘Cuda should be a far more improved offensive team than they were a season ago.

Tierney’s departure will also impact the ‘Cuda because it opens up a center-ice man spot with the Sharks, which may bode well for Dylan Gambrell’s hopes to make the big club. Even without Gambrell or Balcers, I believe there’s plenty left in the prospect cupboard to produce a strong AHL club.

- Projected 2018-19 Barracuda roster -

Forwards: Rourke Chartier, Tim Clifton, Matt Fonteyne, Noah Gregor, Jayden Halbgewachs, Max Letunov, Jon Martin, Colby McAuley, John McCarthy, Francis Perron, Vincent Praplan, Lukas Radil, Filip Sandberg, Alex Schoenborn, Jeffrey Viel, Alex True, Evan Weinger, Manuel Wiederer

Defensemen: Michael Brodzinski, Nick DeSimone, Cody Donaghey, Cavan Fitzgerald, Zach Frye, Thomas Gregoire, Jacob Middleton, Jeremy Roy, Kyle Wood

Goaltenders: Antoine Bibeau, Josef Korenar

Prior to Thursday’s whirlwind, I was planning on previewing training camp and touching on the 2018 Vegas Rookie Faceoff in this week’s blog, but obviously when there’s breaking news you’ve got to be ready to adjust.

As a fan, I’m ecstatic about the trade. The Sharks just became exponentially better and on paper have a historically good defensive unit.

On Wednesday, Karlsson skated with the Sharks for the first time and addressed the media at a press conference held at the Hilton downtown. It’ll be interesting when Pete DeBoer decides to give 65 his first start in teal. It could be as early as Tuesday in Calgary. Karlsson’s addition and DeMelo’s departure opens another d-man roster spot that could be claimed by a handful of worthy players including ‘Cuda defensers Tim Heed, Radim Simek and Jake Middleton.

Let’s move on to the Vegas Rookie Faceoff. One huge piece that Doug Wilson did not have to part with when he traded for Karlsson was his 2018 first-round pick, Ryan Merkley. And boy am I happy that’s the case because this kid is going to be a handful for opposing teams for years to come. The best word to describe the 18-year-old is slick. He’s not big (5-foot-11, 170-pounds), but he’s tough. He took three or four big hits in San Jose’s 5-4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, but he kept getting up and asking for more. I get it, he wasn’t playing against men, but he showed off his toughness. Aside from a willingness to mix it up, what stuck out the most about Merkley was his vision and hockey smarts. While the game seemed to be flying by others, Merkley was smooth, confident and precise. He’ll be back with the OHL’s Guelph Storm this upcoming season or two, but he’ll be in teal in no time, and it’ll be a treat for all who get to witness his skill set. Merkley skated for the Sharks in their 4-1 preseason win over the Ducks on Tuesday and could be back in the lineup for San Jose tonight (Thursday) in Anaheim. Merkley stuck out the most during the four days in Vegas, but others impressed me too. The top line of Jayden Halbgewachs, Max Letunov, and Jacob McGrew were stellar. All three scored at least one goal in the two games they played. Halbgewachs and Letunov are projected to be with the ‘Cuda this year, and they’ll be heavily relied upon by head coach Roy Sommer. Halbgewachs became the first player in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) to score 70 goals since John Tavares in 2006-07, so he’s got a scoring touch that will hopefully translate to the pro game. Letunov is long and can skate tremendously for his frame (six-foot-four, 180-pounds).

If you weren’t already pumped for the upcoming season, last Thursday certainly did the trick. The Sharks kicked off training camp on Friday and began preseason play on Tuesday.

In other notes, the Barracuda will begin their own training camp on Monday and received 12 players from the Sharks this morning. More are expected to join over the coming days. The ‘Cuda play their only two preseason games in Colorado on September 28th and 29th before opening the 68-game regular season on Friday, October 5 against the Ontario Reign.

Have a wonderful weekend/week, and I’ll talk to you all next Thursday.


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