Mar 23, 2022

Nick Nollenberger is the voice of the San Jose Barracuda, serving as the club’s TV and radio play-by-play broadcaster. Each week during the season he’ll be penning a blog for

Hello, Cuda Country!

The trade deadline is one of the most interesting times of the year. It’s both exciting and unnerving for players, staff, and fans alike. On one side of the token, the fan side, you are excited and anxious to see what deals will go down. But on the other side, the human side, there’s trepidation and nervousness about which players will go.

It’s all part of the business but it doesn’t change the oddity of it. Simply put, the whole thing is strange. It’s like when you graduate from high school and people you saw almost every day are immediately out of your life. You may see them once in a blue moon, but for the most part, they’re gone forever.

As a member of the team’s staff, I spend more time around my co-workers and the players than I do with my own family during the season. You build relationships, friendships, and comradery amongst everyone. It really is a family. So, when players are traded, it can be somber.

The first domino fell for the Sharks when they traded defenseman Jake Middleton to the Minnesota Wild for goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen and a fifth-round pick. Middleton went from probably the organization's eighth d-man during training camp to a legit NHLer with a rugged, simple game that matched perfectly with Erik Karlsson. He is the blueprint for AHL development.

After going unsigned by the LA Kings in 2016, Middleton latched on with the Barracuda before the 2016-17 season. On a loaded team that included current NHLers Barclay Goodrow, Timo Meier, Ryan Carpenter, Colin Blackwell and Kevin Labanc, Middleton appeared in just four games over the team’s first 17. After that, he’d sit out just six times over the next 47 and played an integral part in the Barracuda’s run to the AHL’s Western Conference Finals.

After that season, he’d sign his first entry-level contract with the Sharks, and the long and arduous development path to the NHL would begin. Before this season, he had appeared in just 14 games in the NHL over his first four years. When he was traded, he had already skated in 45 with the Sharks this season.

Middleton is the Barracuda’s all-time leader in penalty minutes (273) and is second in games played (228). He also served as an alternate captain for four seasons and is the only defenseman in franchise history to be named to the AHL All-Star Classic (2019). In just one full season with the Sharks, he became a beloved player in the locker room. Almost from day one with the ‘Cuda he had that same presence, even when he was just 20-years-old. Middleton has intangibles that can’t be taught.

In the trade for Midds, the Sharks picked up goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen and a fifth-round pick. Kahkonen is an extremely intriguing goalie in my opinion. He’s 25 and during his two years in the AHL, he was a two-time All-Star, led the league in shutouts (6) as a rookie in 2018-19, and was the Baz Bastien Memorial Award Winner in 2019-20 as the AHL’s top goaltender. The Barracuda faced Kahkonen six times over two years while he was in Iowa, and I thought he was one of the best goaltenders we saw during that span.

With the acquisition of Kahkonen, the Sharks made another deal including a goaltender as they sent Alexei Melnichuk to the Tampa Bay Lightning for former Ducks’ second-rounder Antoine Morand. For Morand, it’s the second time he has been dealt over the last year but it gives the former teammate of Jeff Viel in the QMJHL another fresh start back on the West Coast.

It's also the second goalie-involved trade in the last year between San Jose and Tampa. The Sharks traded defenseman Fredrick Claesson to the Lightning for goaltender Magnus Chrona last April. Chrona is still at Denver University.

The final trade that had ties to the Barracuda was when the Sharks sent forward Nick Merkley to the New York Rangers for defender Anthony Bitetto. Bitteto, like Middleton, is a left shot. He has almost 200 games of NHL appearance and he’s been playing pro for 10 years after a pair of seasons at Northeastern. So far this season, he’s appeared in 39 games with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, notching 15 points (4+11=15). At the very least, he’ll provide some more leadership in the Barracuda room and automatically becomes the oldest player on the team.

For Merkley, who was pacing the Barracuda in helpers and was second in points before the trade, it's another fresh start and another time being dealt in the last three years. Hopefully, New York will provide a full-time path to the NHL for the former first-rounder of the Coyotes.

The rapid movement on Monday prompted the Sharks to recall Sasha Chmelevski and Ryan Merkley from the Barracuda and assign Zach Sawchenko back to the AHL. Both Chmelevski and Merkley skated in the Sharks 4-3 win in Calgary on Tuesday. For Chmelevski, it was his first NHL action this season and just his sixth game of his career. Before his recall, the Huntington Beach native had notched 13 points (3+10=13) in his last eight games. Chmelevski picked up an assist on Logan Couture’s game-winning goal.

That’ll do it for this edition of Nolly’s Notes. Thanks for reading and so long until next time.

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