Sep 21, 2017

Hey Barracuda fans! Nick Nollenberger here. It’s another week, which means it’s time for another blog. The wait is over, hockey is officially back. If you followed the Barracuda last year, you noticed a very familiar tone to the Sharks roster during Tuesday nights, 5-0, preseason win over the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center.

Danny O’Regan, the AHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2016-17, lit the lamp and added an assist, and Kevin Labanc also found the back of the net for the Sharks. Barclay Goodrow and Tim Heed each collected two assists, and Jacob Middleton, Ryan Carpenter, and Nick DeSimone reached the scoresheet with an apple.

Sure, the Ducks roster was a shell of itself, but what an intriguing sign to see that type of offensive production from a handful of guys who spent a majority of last season in the AHL.

If this balanced attack continues, it’s going to make for some tough decisions over the next week. A problem, I’m sure the Sharks front office is happy to have.

Competition and past performances often sort out who is the most deserving to make the team. For the Sharks, positional battles can be found at every level, including between the pipes.

If I’m thinking from a fans perspective, I’d love to see Troy Grosenick get a shot in the NHL after his breakout year with the Barracuda last season, culminating in the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s best netminder.  But after Aaron Dell’s stellar 24-save shutout against the Ducks in the exhibition opener on Tuesday, Grosenick’s chances of leapfrogging his 2015-16 teammate with the 'Cuda looks less and less likely. Dell continues to prove his ability, and I think Grosenick would be the first to admit Dell deserves everything he’s getting.

An organizational logjam at the goaltending position is the ultimate advantage, just ask the Dallas Stars who have continued to search for an answer at that position for years. Grosenick had a chance to join another franchise this offseason, but he instead re-upped for two more seasons in teal, fully knowing he may be back in the AHL. We may look back halfway through the season and say that Grosenick's signing this summer was the most important of them all.

Lucky for Barracuda fans, they’re probably going to get the best goalie in the league back for another year.

Shifting gears....

There was not a single player I saw in the AHL with a heavier shot than Tim Heed last season. His knack for getting his clappers off and through traffic at a maximum velocity was unmatched and the reason he scored 14 goals and added 42 assists for the Barracuda a year ago, his first in North America. There’s no question that Heed’s offensive skillset from the backend is extremely coveted especially in this day and age of the NHL. His two-assist performance on Tuesday and continued offensive display during training camp has only cemented his chances of cracking the Sharks lineup.

Another Barracuda blueliner who’s got a real chance of stealing that sixth defensive spot with the Sharks is Joakim Ryan, Heed’s defensive partner with the Barracuda last year. Ryan is as smooth and as polished an American League defender as you’re going to see. Not overly big, Ryan’s sound defensive game and underrated shot opened plenty of eyes throughout the organization as season ago and propelled him into the conversation after David Schlemko left in the expansion draft.

Both players deserve to be up with the Sharks, but more than likely one will be sent back down to the Barracuda, which means another major piece from last seasons Conference Finals team will return.

Maybe the most intriguing battle of this training camp, from my perspective, is up front at the forward position. Five players who spent time in both the NHL and AHL last year have a legit chance to make the Sharks on a full-time basis in 2017-18. Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Ryan Carpenter, Barclay Goodrow, and Danny O’Regan. Now, not all five will make the team so the Barracuda will be getting at least a couple back for the beginning of the season.

Thursday’s game against the Golden Knights will likely provide more clarity on what the Barracuda roster will look like on opening night. We all know these rosters are very fluid so just because a player doesn't make the Sharks out of training camp doesn't mean he's not going to get several chances up there throughout the season.

Aside from camp competition, I'm pumped to see an expansion franchise enter the tank for the first time since 2000 (Columbus/Minnesota).

Life is good, hockey is back. Enjoy your week, and we’ll talk to you all next Thursday before the Barracuda take on the Bakersfield Condors at Rabobank Arena for preseason game number one.

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