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San Jose Sharks

Wrong About Meloche? And a Labanc Note



Credit: San Jose Barracuda

What do I know?

If you had asked me, at the beginning of training camp, who was the least likely player to make the team, I would’ve volunteered Nicolas Meloche.

Yes, he was a 2015 Colorado second-round pick. But that was six years ago. When the San Jose Sharks acquired him in September 2019 — for journeyman goalie Antoine Bibeau — it screamed reclamation project.

The 6-foot-3 rearguard didn’t necessarily take a huge step forward with the San Jose Barracuda either. According to InStat Hockey, Meloche was fifth among Barracuda defensemen in average time on ice. This was a last-place San Jose squad.

Not one, not two, but three NHL scouts had nothing nice to say about Meloche in February:

He didn’t distinguish himself in my viewings of him either.

The 23-year-old looked on track to be an AHL lifer — nothing wrong with that, but the kind of guy who doesn’t make it until the end of training camp.

Until he does.

Perhaps the first public indication that he was moving up the depth chart was during the Sharks’ final scrimmage, when he was paired with more celebrated prospect Brinson Pasichnuk.

Meanwhile, Ryan Merkley was paired with the lone player at camp not signed to a San Jose Sharks contract — Jaycob Megna is signed to the Barracuda — while Trevor Carrick and Nick DeSimone looked destined for the taxi squad or the AHL.

Regardless, two days ago, when the San Jose Sharks waived Meloche with Carrick, DeSimone, Antti Suomela, Kurtis Gabriel, and Fredrik Claesson, it wasn’t any surprise.

So imagine my surprise when I walked into the Ice Den for my second training camp practice, the day after waivers — Meloche, predictably, wasn’t claimed — to see Meloche:

San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner added:

To even make the taxi squad would be an achievement for the forgotten second-rounder. But now, with Radim Simek’s knee holding him out for the first two games of the regular season, Meloche looks ticketed to start opening night on the 23-man roster.

So what’s changed for Meloche?

“His feet have gotten way better. He’s leaned out a little bit. He’s come in, in great shape,” Boughner offered. “He’s faster than I ever remember. That’s one of the things that I notice.”

So Meloche is one of the rare Sharks that didn’t come to camp bigger, like fellow surprise rookie Nikolai Knyzhov.

Boughner wasn’t done: “Two, a little more confidence with the puck. He makes simple plays. He does defend hard.”

And then, the San Jose Sharks bench boss talked about something that he himself could relate to.

“He’s a guy who’s going to find a way. He’s got everything you need. His feet, his size, his reach. Some guys take a couple of years, a couple of years of pro to figure it out, especially more defensemen than forwards,” Boughner said. “I think he’s one of those guys. I like his upside.”

Boughner knows about late-blooming defensemen. Not to say he’s playing favorites, but Boughner himself was a second-round pick in 1989, who didn’t establish himself as an NHL regular until he was 25.

So maybe the scouts weren’t wrong…last year. And herein lies the advantage of a mostly-closed training camp.

Yes, the Sharks still waived Meloche. Based on those scouting reports, who was going to claim him?

But San Jose has had about a week and a half to see Meloche’s possible off-season leap without prying eyes, and clearly, they’ve liked what they’ve seen.

A Labanc Note

There’s been a lot of attention paid toward Timo Meier at training camp, and justifiably so.

For the San Jose Sharks to bounce back, the uber-talented 24-year-old winger probably needs to have a breakout campaign.

The same, however, could be said about Kevin Labanc. After a 56-point campaign in 2018-19, he slumped to 33 last year.

Bob Boughner agreed: “I had a conversation with him yesterday. I said the same thing, we gotta take your game to the next level now.”

Joe Pavelski is in Dallas. Joe Thornton is in Toronto. Patrick Marleau is on the fourth line. Meier and Labanc are the future of the Sharks — Doug Wilson said as much when he signed the 25-year-old winger to a much-panned four-year, $18.9 million dollar contract in October.

“I know he’s got his contract. But with that becomes more expectations and pressure,” Boughner indicated. “I look at our older leadership group — not that they’re old — but you got Cooch, Hertl, Burns, and Karlsson. But [I’m looking at] that second tier of guys — Timo, Banker is in there — to start taking some ownership of this team. Be a guy we rely on night after night.”

Boughner is happy with the early returns.

“His game looks really good in camp,” Boughner said. “Early on, you could tell he was taking authority with the puck. He’s so good with the puck.”

Practice Notes


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