SHARKS PROSPECT CHMELEVSKI CHECKING OFF BOXES, GAINING CONFIDENCEJan 29, 2019
By Nick Nollenberger (@NickNollen)
A lot has happened for Sasha Chmelevski since the Sharks drafted the 19-year-old Huntington Beach native in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Draft.
He's played in the AHL, he played an NHL preseason game, he's won a World Juniors silver medal with Team USA and now he's trying to capture an OHL Championship and Memorial Cup with the Ottawa 67's.
After wrapping up his second season with Ottawa last spring, the Sharks assigned the center-ice man to the San Jose Barracuda, its American Hockey League affiliate.
With just six games remaining in the Barracuda’s 68-game regular season schedule, San Jose had less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs on April 1, so head coach Roy Sommer decided to allow the young forward to get his feet wet at the pro level with a few “meaningless regular season games.”
What would transpire over the final two weeks of the season was nothing less than a minor miracle as the Barracuda would win-out and leapfroging four teams to secure the final playoff spot in the division.
The 6-and-0 finish was aided by the stellar start to Chmelevski’s pro career as the 18-year-old, at the time, scored three times and added an assist during the winning streak.
He would carry over that performance into the Calder Cup Playoffs, scoring once and adding an assist in four playoff games against the Western Conference's best regular season team, the Tucson Roadrunners.
That taste of the pro game would prove immensely important in the development of Chmelevski over the next four months. Beginning in Development Camp and then into Sharks Training Camp, Chmelevski had gained comfort with the city of San Jose, the pro game, his organization, and most notably his teammates.
“When I first got to the Barracuda, I didn’t really know what to expect… I didn’t even know if I would play” said Chmelevski. “It was really special to start my pro career like that. Winning all those games to get into the playoffs and playing games in the postseason. Battling against these grown men when you’re an 18-year-old kid forces you to adjust. That experience got me used to the pace and the physicality. Not only that, but it allowed me to build some strong relationships with the guys that you see at training camp and it made me a lot more comfortable when camp rolled around in September.”
Chmelevski’s comfort was evident in camp as Sharks Head Coach Pete DeBoer gave him his first NHL preseason game. In the game, he scored his first goal.
Too young to join the Barracuda on a full-time basis, the Sharks assigned him back to Ottawa at the end of training camp.
Back in junior, Chmelevski had two major goals, win a Memorial Cup and make Team USA’s World Junior Team.
Through 45 games played, Ottawa sits atop the OHL with a 32-9-3-1 mark and Chmelevski is coming off a stellar World Juniors in which he averaged a point-per-game (four goals, three assists) and won a silver medal.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the World Juniors. You watch it as a kid and it was one of the biggest things on my bucket list. I had tried out the last couple of years but didn’t make the team,” said Chmelevski. “I think as the tournament continued, I gained more confidence and was able to play to my full potential. At the start of the tournament, the team had certain things they wanted to achieve, especially in round-robin play. I thought I had to earn everything I got and I think my play got better as it went on. Being there made me understand that I’m right there with the best of them.”
For a kid from California, the OHL route is considered extra unordinary as most players who play Canadian Juniors from the Golden State often opt for the Western League. The adjustment to a new league and region of the country can come with a sharp learning curve, and Chmelevski admitted that to be the case, but halfway through last season it all seemed to come together. Chmelevski finished first on the 67's in points (76), goals (35) and assists (41).
"The first half of my third season was just going average, things were going well, but there were a lot of things I felt that could go better, and I stuck with it," said Sasha. "I kept working hard and the second half of my third season in the OHL is really when I took off. I found some chemistry with some good linemates, Ty Felhaber and Travis Barron, and we did well together."
"Sasha is a competitive as they come, he wants to win everything he does," said 67's Head Coach André Tourigny. "He's so driven and he's become a great leader for us."
Chmelevski's leadership, versatily, and drive all made him an intriguing piece for Team USA at the 2019 World Junior Championships.
“Growing up you never think about being versatile but as you get older you realize not everyone is going to be cut out for certain spots. I just tried to be good at everything I did and whatever the team needs me for I’m happy to do it because at the end of the day we want to win, I want to win, and I believe I’m a winner,” said Chmelevski.
"Sasha has improved everything in his game since he was drafted," said Tourigny. "His skating, his execution, his support, the way he thinks the game and his leadership."
Although Chmelevski can pinpoint the halfway point of last season as to when he "figured it out," you may be able to track it all the way back to the 2017 NHL draft.
"I got confidence from the Sharks because they believed in me when they drafted me," said Sasha. "When I was at the draft, that fired me up because a lot of people, including my agent, were telling me I would go higher. Some may have soak because of where they were drafted but it lit a fire in my belly to go out there and say, the Sharks believe in me, I believe in me, and the location of my draft selection doesn’t determine where I am as a hockey player, so that really allowed me to have a breakout season."
Whether the Barracuda see the star forward at the end of the year is up to how far the 67's go in the postseason but there is no doubt he'll be making an impact within the Sharks organization in no time.