Noah Gregor, Alexander True, and Joachim Blichfeld were all premier players with the Barracuda this season who are now looking to make an impact at the NHL level. Barracuda assistant coach Jimmy Bonneau spoke recently with San Jose Hockey Now about the development of these three forwards, who are all up with the San Jose Sharks right now.
On Noah Gregor’s AHL March
Gregor’s journey has shown how development is not always a straight-forward path.
While the 22-year-old began the 2020-21 season with the San Jose Sharks, he was sent back to the Barracuda for the entirety of March for fine-tuning.
“When he comes here, he’s a go-to guy for us,” Bonneau said. “He’s expected to be relied on heavily offensively with 17 to 19 minutes.”
In 10 games, Gregor amassed nine points. Bonneau said Gregor could play with “a little bit more ease” at the AHL level.
“He was getting some prime power play time with us,” Bonneau said. “So that gives him touches that are not necessarily always there in the NHL. He also got to round out his game.”
Similar to Sasha Chmelevski’s recent development, Gregor, another natural center, spent more time on the wing with the Barracuda. Bonneau said this was to see what the Barracuda coaches and the San Jose Sharks management preferred.
Noah Gregor scores really early pic.twitter.com/n6dXhFDHFL
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 10, 2021
Gregor has played in the Sharks’ last 12 games, recording two goals and an assist while averaging 12 minutes a game. Bonneau said another benefit of Gregor’s time with the Barracuda was the opportunity for him to learn from his mistakes.
“We’re able to take the mistake, analyze it, put him back in a situation to succeed, and eliminate that mistake right away,” Bonneau said. “In the NHL, we know if you’re a young guy trying to make your place and you make some mistake, maybe you’ll have to wait your turn to get back in. It’s just how it is.”
Alex True’s “Phenomenal” Play
Now in his fourth professional season, Bonneau described True’s play as “phenomenal.”
“He’s an absolute pleasure for us to have here,” Bonneau said.
True played in all situations through 27 Barracuda games this season. The 23-year-old became the team’s go-to center, started both special teams units, and played during “momentum shifts.” Named an alternate captain this year, Bonneau said True was a leader both on and off the ice.
“Sometimes, young guys are not at the point when they can handle 22-23 minutes of ice time right away in all situations,” Bonneau said. “Alex has definitely proven that it’s something he can do here.”
Bonneau said he’d like to see True improve in faceoffs and offensive play around the opponent’s net.
“Even though he’s a pretty high point producer with us, there’s still a step that can be taken to be a guy who can contribute offensively in the NHL,” Bonneau said.
True was brought up to the San Jose Sharks for two games Mar. 1, then returned to the Barracuda. In his most recent stint with the Sharks, True has averaged 11 minutes in five games since Apr. 28.
“There’s always a plan, but ultimately the player needs to do what he can to hold onto that plan,” Bonneau said. “We can’t just hand them everything on a silver platter. So I’d say that everything that he’s getting this year, he’s earned.”
Straight-Shooting Joachim Blichfeld
Despite a seven-game absence, Blichfeld still leads the Barracuda with 22 points.
And even though he hadn’t played for the Barracuda since Apr. 21, Blichfeld was the AHL’s overall shots leader until May 9. Blichfeld’s 118 shots on goal in 25 games is the highest volume of shots per game in the AHL this season.
The 22-year-old has proven he is a huge scoring threat at the AHL level, with a team-high 12 goals this season. But to make an offensive impact in the NHL, Bonneau said Blichfeld has had to get other areas of his game up to speed.
“The thing is now, are you going to get seven, nine shot opportunities in the NHL at the start? Maybe not,” Bonneau said. “That’s why you need to make yourself valuable in other facets of the game. He’s tightened up his defensive play, his battle play. He’s still figuring out play through the neutral zone and through the defensive zone coverage, making sure he’s finding the proper man or proper area to protect. Those are system details.”
Blichfeld scored his first NHL goal Apr. 24, but was otherwise held off the scoresheet in five total appearances with the San Jose Sharks. Bonneau expects the point production to come with time.
“More touches, more opportunity, but some of it needs to come from him,” Bonneau said. “It’s not just to wait for everything to come to him, which I think he’s been doing a good job … He’s been much more involved in different aspects of the game, instead of just going into the good ice area and waiting for pucks to come to him.”
Blichfeld has been out due to a concussion after being cross-checked head-first into the boards Apr. 28.
— TEAL TOWN USA – A San Jose Sharks Podcast (@TEALTOWNUSA) April 29, 2021
Blichfeld has been “doing better,” according to head coach Bob Boughner, but he is not likely to appear in the Sharks’ final game of the season due to concussion protocol. However, this is a good sign that the Dane could return to the Barracuda for the Pacific Division playoffs next week.
Boughner says Leonard is here in building, getting better, but his season is over because of concussion protocol; Blichfeld is also still in protocol, but getting better; Viel will see an eye specialist on Thursday
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) May 11, 2021
Cuda Quiet in Loss to End Regular Season
Despite leading in shots for most of the game, the San Jose Barracuda lost their final game of the regular season 3-1 to the Henderson Silver Knights Tuesday night.
Evan Weinger scored San Jose’s (15-15-4-2) lone goal, but the Barracuda could not recover from Henderson’s (24-12-0-0) 2-0 lead.
The Silver Knights opened the scoring in the first period, then added a power play goal on their first shot of the second period for the 2-0 lead.
The Barracuda finally broke through late in the second period, when Maxim Letunov swept a centering pass from the boards to Weinger, who scored off a back-door one-time shot. Brandon Coe also earned an assist for his fifth point in his first AHL season.
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) May 12, 2021
Goaltender Zach Sawchenko kept San Jose in the game by making 12 saves in the third period, but the Barracuda only mustered three shots on goal. The Silver Knights added an empty-netter for the 3-1 win.
Sawchenko made 27 saves in his second straight start since rejoining the Barracuda May 8.
Pacific Division Playoffs
Next week, the Barracuda will participate in the AHL’s only postseason tournament this year. While seeding is not solidified since Pacific Division games continue until Sunday, May 16, San Jose cannot finish higher than fourth in the division. The Barracuda will play in a two-day play-in series starting May 18 at FivePoint Arena in Irvine.
The winner of the play-in series will face the No. 1 seed in a best-of-three semifinal series.
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