Gannon Laroque has leveled up.
Following a strong year with the WHL’s Victoria Royals, Laroque joined the San Jose Barracuda for three games to finish out the AHL season. And on Jun. 1, the 18-year-old became the San Jose Sharks’ first 2021 draft pick, outside of seventh-overall selection William Eklund, to earn an NHL contract.
That’s a big deal, and well deserved for the 6-foot-2 defenseman, selected in the fourth round.
So what’s the newest Shark planning on spending that NHL contract money on? Laroque says he’s still undecided on that. Most, if not all of it is going to stay in the bank. There’s good reason for his caution.
“I’m too scared to even spend $20 on a dinner, for example,” he told San Jose Hockey Now. “Both of my parents are in the banking industry, so they also help me out with that.”
Laroque picked up 10 goals and 42 assists in 62 games with the Royals this season. Having put up just seven points in his 21 games with the Royals the previous season, Laroque credits his outburst of production this season to an improvement in his playmaking and vision.
“That was one of the goals last summer, continuing into this summer, just to continue to work on my offensive game. Being able to find the new lanes and look at whether I’m diving in and taking a shot on net, to be able to see that player I’m finding, or, for example, a backdoor option. Little things like that,” he said. “It’s just become a really big thing for me, my vision. I’m just trying to take it to the next level.”
Following the end of his WHL season, Laroque was signed to an ATO with the Barracuda to finish the year. He didn’t seem to miss a beat in his short stint with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate. San Jose Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. said as much to the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast last month.
“You couldn’t tell the difference between when he played in Victoria and when he played with the Barracuda, how he held the d-zone blue,” Wilson Jr. said. “And he’s only 18.”
Laroque, in fact, shared that his preseason game with the Sharks against the Vegas Golden Knights at the end of September made him more nervous than his Barracuda debut.
“I had a really good talk with my mental performance coach before that [preseason game], and that really settled me down and got me into that flow state. But yeah, just seeing that the line of [Max] Pacioretty, [Chandler] Stephenson, and [Mark] Stone was playing? I think there were one or two shifts where I was out there,” he said. “Definitely, a really good experience to be able to see what kind of level they’re at, but yeah I was a little bit more nervous for that one for sure.”
However, Laroque did have a “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moment in his AHL debut: “[Daniil] Gushchin and I did that rookie lap [in Bakersfield], and I kind of just remember blinking when I took my first shot in warm-up. I was just like a holy crap, I’m actually here kind of thing.”
As for his short time learning from head coach Roy Sommer and assistant coach Michael Chiasson — Sommer has been kicked upstairs, while Chiasson has joined CAA to become an agent — Laroque had nothing but positive things to say about the former Barracuda coaches.
“Chaser, he’s a really good coach on the back end. He’d give me some pointers, when he could. Obviously, when in the game, it’s pretty hard, but we had a few practices where we were able to just talk about a few things. Just keeping it simple and stuff like that,” he said. “Everybody knows how good of a coach Roy has been, and I can’t thank him enough for what he did when I was there.”
Sommer and Chiasson might not be as involved with Laroque anymore, but Wilson Jr. will still be a constant presence. In fact, Laroque revealed that he had one interview with a member of the San Jose Sharks organization during his pre-Draft process, and it was with Wilson Jr..
Wilson Jr. must have been impressed, because he compared Laroque’s off-the-ice professionalism to Sharks alternate captain Mario Ferraro’s on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast. As for on the ice?
“I know I’ve talked to Doug Wilson Jr. a little bit about some comparables and stuff. The name Justin Braun has come up a few times, just being able to defend the blue line and stuff like that,” Laroque said. “It’s an honor to be able to be seen kind of like that.”
However, the just-anointed Victoria Royals captain isn’t content to simply be compared to someone else: “Obviously, you want to create a name for yourself, but it’s definitely a good starting block for me to be able to continue my development and show what I can do.”
On the podcast, Wilson also discussed the “Pebble” nickname — i.e. that I created — that has been floating around Gannon Laroque. The Sharks’ director of scouting hinted that he couldn’t see anyone on the bench using the nickname, but as it turns out, the guys in San Jose already had one ready for him.
“I’ve got a different nickname there, it’s Rocky. So, whenever my name is being called or when they’re yelling my name out there, it’s Rocky.
“I’ve seen it kind of blown up over on Twitter a little bit with Pebble, but it’s pretty funny.”
Does he think the nickname could change in the future?
“I don’t know. Once one nickname sticks, it’s pretty hard to get it out of the hockey world, so it might be a hard adjustment, but I guess we’ll see.”
From the other side of the glass…
Speaking of an adjustment, the Edmonton native attended the Apr. 28 tilt between the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers as just another face in the crowd:
“It’s kind of weird seeing it from a different point of view, you know? Usually you’re playing on that ice surface, instead of watching in the stands. The game actually kind of slows down. You listen to interviews of guys that are in the stands for injuries or scratched for some reason, and the game has kind of slowed down. You see little things, so it’s a good opportunity that presented itself to me.”
Laroque had just arrived home in Edmonton that night when a friend asked if he wanted to attend the game:
“I think I might have been the the one person in the whole 17,000 that wasn’t cheering when the Oilers scored. I was clapping pretty well when the Sharks scored. I remember Gregor had two quick goals there in the first. I was pretty happy at that point. [The Sharks] lost in overtime, but it was a good game.”
Get to know Laroque…
Heading into this summer’s camps and a new season, this is what Gannon Laroque says Sharks fans can expect to see from him:
“I play with a lot of energy. I don’t like to sit back, I like to play the full 200 feet, take care of my zone first, and then when I see the opportunity in the offensive zone, I’m trying to take that. I continue to work on my skating, my offensive play, and all aspects of my game.”
Oh, and if he had to choose three 2021-22 Barracuda teammates to face a zombie apocalypse with, his first pick was Alex Stalock for his leadership and how fun he was to be around. He followed up with Nick Cicek (because he’s really funny) and Montana Onyebuchi (because they connected really well and is a good guy).
“We’ll be having fun. [Stalock] would keep us intact there.”
Laroque says he believes the group would survive, but if he had to choose between his WHL squad and this group, his juniors teammates might have the edge. It would be close.
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