Hey Barracuda Fans! Nick Nollenberger here. It’s another week, which means it’s time for another blog. The wait is officially over, it’s game day. The Barracuda kick-off exhibition play in Bakersfield tonight (Thursday). It’s the first time we’ve seen the Barracuda in action since late May when they fell in five games to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Western Conference Finals.
The AHL is the same as the NHL during the preseason, veterans often play sparingly, and lineups are only a shell of what they’ll be for opening night. But it gives everyone a chance to knock off the rust and get back into game shape.
Some Barracuda players like Jacob Middleton, Nick DeSimone, and Adam Helewka got NHL preseason game-action so the transition into AHL play should be accelerated for those players. Middleton and DeSimone were recalled to the Sharks earlier today so they’ll be out of the lineup. For guys who are on tryout contracts or just hoping to make an early impression on the coaching staff, preseason play will be their biggest platform. So I expect a lot of energy from both sides.
The Condors, San Jose’s opponent tonight, have missed the playoffs in each of their first two seasons in the AHL. Bakersfield's roster on Thursday will be very similar to the roster they'll be putting out on opening night at Stockton on Oct. 6.
There are a handful of players I’m excited to see tonight that have opened eyes during development camp, the prospect showcase, and now in training camp. The first guy I want to see is Cavan Fitzgerald. All signs point to Tim Heed making the Sharks, so there's going to be at least two vacancies on the blueline from last seasons squad (the other is the departure of Mirco Mueller). Not saying Fitzgerald can post the offensive numbers Heed did a year ago (14 goals, 42 assists), that culminated in an AHL Second Team All-Star bid, but the Boston native has shown off a booming shot and some serious offensive potential.
Another player I want to see is Rudolfs Balcers. The WHL’s leading rookie goal scorer from a year ago, Balcers has flashed every time he’s been in teal this summer. He was arguably one of the best players during development camp, which included NHL’s Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, and he had five points (three goals, two assists) in two games during the prospect showcase.
Last, Antoine Bibeau. The Barracuda struggled at times at the backup goaltending position last year. Bibeau has great size (6-3, 209) and went 1-1 in two NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016-17. If he can stabilize the backup goaltending spot, and give Troy Grosenick some relief from time to time, he could play a huge role this season.
We'll see how it plays out but it sure is great to have hockey back.
Look forward to next Thursday, we’ll be just two days from opening night. Talk to all then. #HappyHockeySeason