10 Barracuda Alum make Sharks Roster and Taxi Squad


Jan 14, 2021

by Nick Nollenberger @NickNollen / sjbarracuda.com


It’s finally game-day for the Sharks and the 56-game NHL sprint has officially begun! The Sharks announced its opening night roster and taxi squad on Wednesday. That list includes 10 skaters who have spent time with the Barracuda over the last handful of years. 

Moving the Sharks AHL affiliate to San Jose prior to the 2015-16 season has been a smashing success. It has allowed for prospects to be immersed in an NHL environment, that includes NHL facilities, treatment, and coaching. In my opinion, it has help lessened the development curve for many players. Don’t forget, the opportunity for the organization's brass to keep a close eye on its most valuable assets. Which creates trust and internal competition for the entire organization. Every player I’ve spoken to over my five years with the organization notes how big of a deal that truly is. No one wants to feel like they’re forgotten about. It doesn't happen anymore with the AHL team so close.

According to the Sharks 2020 Draft Guide, since Doug Wilson was named Sharks General Manager in 2003, San Jose has made the playoffs an NHL-high 14 times in 16 seasons. However, consistent regular-season success and appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has led to low draft positions. Since 2003, the Sharks own the lowest average draft position of all 31 NHL franchises (128.3 overall). Vancouver, who ranked 30th, has the next lowest average at 124.0, four positions higher than San Jose.

Those stats amplify the importance of nurturing and culturing your prospects. 

If you’re picking in the top-10 every year or usually have a bevy of draft capital, development may not be as important. For the Sharks, who believe they’re in a reload not a rebuild, it’s crucial. 

Although this year might be condensed, we all know a lot can change from opening night to the end of the season. That being said, there’s something extremely encouraging about the list of names that have made their way on to the Sharks opening night roster and taxi squad.


Barracuda Alum on the Opening Night Roster:

Dylan Gambrell – F

Joel Kellman – F

Marcus Sorensen – F

Timo Meier – F

Kevin Labanc – F

Jake Middleton – D

Radim Simek – D

Nikolai Knyshov – D


Barracuda Alum on the Taxi Squad Taxi Squad:

Noah Gregor - F

Nicolas Meloche - D


I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of the names on the list above. Barracuda fans are well aware of Jake Middleton, and how he is a fabulous example of the Sharks development model. Middleton was the final pick in the 2014 draft by the Kings, but he never signed with the team that selected him. The Sharks kicked the tires on the six-foot-three defenseman, initially inking him to an AHL deal in 2016-17. A healthy scratch for a majority of the team’s first 15 or so games, he would become a staple on the blueline for the Barracuda. Although Middleton wasn’t a high draft pick, he fits the Sharks model. He was a captain in junior with the Ottawa 67’s and he’s a high-character individual. Midds has played 13 games in the NHL over the last couple of seasons, not a huge sample size, but enough to get his feet wet. He’s competed admirably, using his size, physicality, and hockey smarts to slow the game down. Making the opening night roster is a massive testament to the work Middleton has put into his game over the long NHL offseason. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle as new prospects trickle in every year, but Middleton’s steady game and unflappable approach have carried him through and now he has a tremendous opportunity to stick with the Sharks.

Nikolai Knyzhov has the physical tools to play in the NHL. He’s got a solid six-foot-two, 205-pound frame, and he skates plenty well to compete at the highest level. Another undrafted free-agent signee by the Sharks, Knyzhov was an unknown of sorts last season with the Barracuda, after signing an entry-level contract out of development camp. His game continued to evolve as the year went along. It seemed to slow down for him and his confidence expanded. With that, the trust from the Barracuda’s coaching staff increased as well. That growth earned him an NHL call up at the end of the year. He would go on to play in three games with the big club, a tremendous accomplishment from where he was at the beginning of the year. But, as they say, last year is in the past, it’s what Knyzhov did at training camp that has earned him a spot on the team’s opening night roster. All accounts from Arizona were that Knyzhov had a fabulous training camp, even scoring during one of the team’s scrimmages. A welcomed sight for a player who possesses offensive ability but didn’t have a chance to put it on display during his first year of pro. Knyzhov is a rink rat, he loves the game and he’s driven. After moving to the states and playing within the Arizona Coyotes youth system from 2013-thru-2015, he would make the WHL’s Regina Pats in 2015-16 after being selected 41st overall in the CHL Import Draft. After 19 games, he was released. He’d stay in North America and played in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with the Springfield Jr. Blues. The following season, now a member of the NAHL’s Austin Bruins, he’d get cut before appearing in a single game, subsequently returning back to home Russia. With hopes of getting back to the states, things really began to take shape for the left-shot defender when he made Russia’s 2018 under-20 World Junior Championships roster. Three years later, he’s on the Sharks opening night roster. An incredible and unlikely journey to the sport's highest level.

Nicolas Meloche is the final player I want to highlight. Although he’s not on the team’s opening night roster, the fact he made the team’s taxi squad is an indication of what the Sharks think of him, and that’s that he's in their plans. Yet to appear in an NHL game, the former second-round pick of the Avalanche was a depth casualty last season and when he was shipped to San Jose for goaltender Antoine Bibeau. Meloche possesses a steady, rugged, and simplistic game. Much like the others above. He too evolved last season as the year went along, slowly getting used to his new surroundings. The Sharks liked his game and growth so much, that they brought him along on one of their East Coast road trips in February. 

The Sharks selected all forwards in the 2020 draft, nine to be exact. It was the first time they had ever done that in franchise history. As general manager Doug Wilson has said, the organization all but replenished that group in one draft. Although 2020 may have had exceptional depth at the forward spot, it also says the Sharks like their young blueliners and goaltenders. The team selected Ryan Merkley in the first round a couple of years back and signed NCAA standout Brinson Pasichnuk this offseason out of Arizona State. Pasichnuk made the Sharks taxi squad, Merkley will begin the season with the Barracuda, but it’s also the players above that have proved they can be valuable assets for the organization.

It should be a fun year. Enjoy the game and Go Sharks!

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