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Quick Thoughts: Where Would Sharks Be Without Balcers & Gambrell?



Credit: NHL

It was opening night for the San Jose Sharks.

Rookie John Leonard flanked Tomas Hertl on the second line. Sophomore Noah Gregor was the third line’s center.

Meanwhile, Rudolfs Balcers, claimed the day before off waivers by the Sharks, was awaiting his visa to travel from Ottawa to Arizona. And speaking of waivers, 24-year-old Dylan Gambrell, who wasn’t waiver-exempt anymore, had just been beaten out by Gregor for a job and was healthy scratched on opening night.

Balcers and Gambrell sure didn’t look like popular candidates to play key roles on the San Jose Sharks this season.

But over the last three months, both have changed the course of their NHL careers.

Balcers has taken Leonard’s place alongside Hertl and Timo Meier on San Jose’s second line, notching six goals and seven assists in 24 games. That’s an 82-game pace of 21 goals and 24 assists.

That’s not bad for a waiver claim. But more important than empty calorie points are the 23-year-old’s contributions on both sides of the ice.

“That goal that Rudy scored is a typical Rudy goal. He goes to the net hard, he stops in the hard areas,” Bob Boughner said of the Balcers goal that would prove to be the game-winner last night. “If you go back and you watch the tape, you see who’s finishing every hit on his line. He does a lot of the grunt work on that line, blocking shots, things like that.”

Bob don’t lie. Per Natural Stat Trick, Balcers leads all Sharks forwards with 5.24 High-Danger Shot Attempts Per 60 and 6.79 Hits Per 60 (300+ 5-on-5 minutes). He’s second with 3.88 Blocks Per 60.

“He’s been for me anyway, not knowing the player before he came over, one of my best surprises,” Boughner said. “I think he’s going to be a good player for us for a long time.”

Gambrell hasn’t been as dynamic as Balcers, but he’s provided much-needed stability up the middle.

To start the season, there was a clear disparity between Logan Couture/Hertl and the rest of the San Jose Sharks’ centermen. Boughner hoped that Gregor’s speed, physicality, and skill would close the gap.

Instead, Gambrell took Gregor’s job in the fourth game of the season and hasn’t relinquished it.

“He’s worked in all the small areas,” Boughner offered. “We’ve asked him to be better in the faceoff circle, we’ve asked him to kill penalties, play a responsible role for us. He really has, he’s provided that third-line center role for us all year.”

Gambrell is San Jose’s sixth most-used forward this season at 15:54 ATOI Per Game. He’s the second most-used penalty killer at 2:16 Per Game, trailing only Matt Nieto. Gambrell, along with Logan Couture, are also charged with the majority of the team’s Defensive Zone Faceoffs at 5-on-5.

The 43.0 Faceoff % needs work, but considering where Gambrell started the season, as an extra forward who averaged under 12 minutes a game last season, he’s also been a pleasant surprise for Boughner.

Gambrell has also found more offense recently. All of his four goals this season have been scored in the last month.

“He’s become a pretty complete player for us,” Boughner said.

Both Balcers and Gambrell are also impending RFAs. Have they done enough to play themselves into the San Jose Sharks’ future plans?

I think so. As shallow as the Sharks were up front, after their top-five, coming into this season, where would they be without Balcers and Gambrell?

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