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For Rourke Chartier, There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Rourke Chartier, San Jose Sharks, San Jose Barracuda
Credit: San Jose Barracuda

Rourke Chartier is finally coming out of the haze that he’s been in for the last three years.

It’s been 18 months since Chartier’s last hockey game. 18 months since that last concussion, the one that caused the 24-year-old to miss the entire 2019-20 season.

It’s been 39 months since Chartier’s first concussion in the San Jose Sharks organization. 39 months since that first concussion, the one he’s finally recovered from.

From the first concussion on May 2, 2017 to the last concussion on February 21, 2019, Chartier played, despite headaches. He played, despite never feeling 100 percent. He played, despite another concussion.

And he played, despite passing every concussion protocol test — except the most important test, the one in his own mind.

“I’m finally feeling better now,” the free agent told San Jose Hockey Now from Saskatoon last week. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

May 2, 2017

It was the deciding game of the San Jose Barracuda’s first-round match-up against the Stockton Heat. Chartier was putting the finishing touches on a solid pro debut campaign.

“Got hit by Matt Frattin after a whistle to the head,” Chartier recalled. “My head hit the glass as well.”

Frattin wasn’t penalized.

Three days later, Chartier was in the Barracuda line-up for a Game One loss against the San Diego Gulls. The next night, he added an assist in a Game Two victory.

“It’s the hockey player mentality. You play through all these other injuries. You grow up, everyone’s hurt all the time. You’re playing through playoffs, everyone just wants to play,” the 2014 Sharks fourth-round draft pick said.

“It’s a double-edged sword. The warrior mentality, it’s the mentality that makes you successful in a game of aggression, a contact sport,” Chartier’s agent Timothy Hodgson offered. “It’s also a mentality that can create other dynamics, not necessarily healthy.”

Chartier would go to the trainers after Game Two.

November 22, 2017

The 5-foot-11 center sat out Sharks development camp in July 2017. He sat out training camp in September. San Jose sent him to concussion specialists.

But that wouldn’t prove to be enough, even when he returned in November.

Five games into his comeback, San Antonio Rampage defenseman Mason Geertsen viciously elbowed Chartier’s head.

Geertsen was suspended for three games. Chartier would miss three months.

“I should have never been playing in that game when I got hit in November,” he acknowledged.

According to Chartier, he passed every concussion protocol test before every comeback.

“Those tests — as good as the tests are — I think there’s a long way to go. It’s very easy to pass, even when you’re symptomatic,” he observed. “If you want to pass, you can pass.”

The second-year pro, trying to justify his entry-level contract, rushed back to action again in February 2018.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be your call,” Chartier noted. “At the end of the day, I was the last one, I could have always said no.”

February 21, 2019

At the beginning of the 2018-19 season, however, the pending restricted free agent appeared to be back on track. He broke camp with the big club, making his NHL debut on October 8th. Three weeks later, he collected his first NHL goal.

Looking back, Chartier acknowledged, “I was never actually fully back to normal.”

Since the Geertsen elbow, Chartier had amassed 22 points in 28 regular season and playoff Barracuda games. He was now living out his childhood dream of being an NHL’er.

From a distance, he looked like Rourke Chartier. But inside, he knew there was still something wrong: “You’re not going to see it from the outside. But I just knew in my head, a little bit of hesitation here and there.

“When you’re dealing with headaches and stuff, the last thing you want to do is go head down to the net. When you’re playing with headaches, you’re just not yourself.”

After 13 games, the Sharks sent Chartier back to the AHL. He continued to produce for the Barracuda, notching 18 points in 24 games.

But then came the February back-to-back in Iowa that would end Chartier’s make-or-break season.

It was an innocent-looking play.

In the second period of the opening game in Iowa, Chartier headed toward the high slot, hoping to provide traffic or deflect the incoming Nick DeSimone point shot.

Rourke Chartier (60)

“They weren’t crazy blows by then,” Chartier said of the Hunter Warner slap. “Most guys would have been fine. But I wasn’t right.”

Chartier did not leave the game.

“I just started feeling worse and worse and probably should have said something the next morning,” he remembered.

Chartier stayed silent, no one around him noticed, and he suited up the next night.

“As the game kind of went on, I didn’t feel right,” Chartier revealed. “You’re kind of anxious being what I’ve been through. I never want to sit out again. The last thing you want to say is you got this going on.

“It just got to the point where I knew something was really wrong.”

February 22, 2019 would be Chartier’s last hockey game. But this time, he didn’t hurry back.

“I had to look myself in the mirror after that last game,” Chartier said. “I just said I’m not playing again until I feel 100 percent.”

A Hard Lesson

“He has good days and bad days,” Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer acknowledged a month later. “We’re just waiting for him to have more good days than bad.”

More good days never came, at least in San Jose. On June 25th, the Sharks declined to give Chartier a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Chartier reflected: “I don’t blame the organization. It is what it is now. I won’t be back in San Jose. What’s gone is gone. I try not to look back at what happened.

“Knowing what I’ve been through, I didn’t take the right approach. I’m not going to point fingers at anybody.

“It was my fault. I don’t blame anyone specifically. Just end of the day, it wasn’t done right.”

Chartier set out to get back to how he felt before his first concussion in the Sharks organization, seeing a bevy of private concussion specialists. According to Hodgson, they’re working with the San Jose organization on reimbursement of medical costs.

“Unfortunately,” Chartier said, “I’ve learned everything about concussions and every different person’s point of view on them.”

Meanwhile, other NHL organizations kept tabs on Chartier, reaching out to Hodgson. But Chartier had learned his lesson, resisting the urge to rush back into action too fast again: “It felt like I just kept putting a Band-Aid on an issue. It wasn’t a Band-Aid fix.”

The days turned to months, the months turned to a year away from the game for Chartier.

“It’s a really scary and lonely place. I think it’s worse for athletes. You just take your body for granted,” said Medicine Hat Tigers GM Willie Desjardins, a family friend who’s been advising Chartier. “You grow up, you think it’s going to be there. It’s always there, never let me down, it’s never going to let me down. All of a sudden, when it’s not there, you really don’t know what to do.”

There started being more good days than bad for Chartier. He powered through the bad days.

“Even if I was feeling bad, you have to try to keep everything as normal as possible,” Chartier offered. “The minute you go into the darkroom and you’re sitting there by yourself, that’s where your mental health can take a really bad turn.”

Chartier skated with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. He fished at Clam Lake. He worked out five days a week.

“Feeling how I felt for so long, you forget what normal is,” he acknowledged. “For me, it’s getting to that point where I feel confident this is how I should be feeling.”

Slowly but surely, 18 months after the February 2019 concussion, Chartier has turned the corner. The UFA hopes to get a second chance at the NHL: “I never got to show what I have. I’m feeling better than I have since my first year.

“No one wants to sit out. But if I would have made the choice to sit out longer earlier, I don’t think I would have had to sit out this long this time.”

Despite the “hockey player mentality” that led Chartier down this wayward path, he still believes in playing through injury. That is, most injuries.

“Your brain is your number-one priority,” Chartier stressed. “You can’t do much without it.”

It took some hard lessons for him to learn that. And frankly, the sport is still catching up. In the past year, when Chartier sought out other players to talk to about their concussion experiences, he often discovered a still-pervasive culture of silence.

“I think a lot of guys don’t want to talk about it, which is fair enough,” Chartier said. “It’s one of those things you get, you want to put it behind you.”

Of course, Chartier tried that. But it wasn’t until he admitted the significance of the concussion problem, that he could truly tackle it.

“Hopefully, it makes me a better person and player down the road,” he offered.

And hopefully, hockey learns the same lesson.

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JD Young

Great article Sheng, I really liked Chartier. Hope DW is keeping tabs on him

nitetothemare

From the outside, Rourke seemed to have terrible luck, but in his own words, he takes responsibility for being out there when he shouldn’t. What a terrible position to be in when your dream is on the line.

david barnard

i thought he had the talent to play at the NHL level but those concussions, oof! i think he should really be concerned with his long term health and preserve what marbles he has left. he’s still young and has a lot of life left. it’s unfortunate, the pressure these young guys are under to “stay on track” makes for some poor decision making about their health. there’s always someone else behind you ready to leap over you on the depth chart (look what happened to Jeremy Roy). i wish the league was more serious about CTE and bad hits.… Read more »

[…] career is his concussion history. This was confirmed in an article that Sheng Peng did for San Jose Hockey Now with Chartier. I highly encourage reading it, but I’ll sum some of it up. Chartier details three […]

Analytics

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 6: NHL Regulars?

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Lean Bergmann, San Jose Sharks
Credit: San Jose Barracuda

As we climb the ladder of San Jose Sharks prospects, we inch ever closer to those who stand a reasonable chance of playing for the big-league club. One of these next three prospects has already logged a few NHL games. All three of them offer promise for the same combination of things that help any prospect: Draft capital, scouting profile, production progression, and lack of competitive options in the Sharks pipeline.

It’s not reasonable to expect any of these players to become top-of-the-lineup material. Their trajectories arc toward complementary players at the professional level, but those are roster spots best filled with young players on cheap deals. This group of three players has a good chance to fill exactly that role even if it’s no certain thing. Welcome — to the borderline NHL regulars group!

Before you dig in, check out the rest of this deep dive into the San Jose Sharks prospects — this series began before the 2020 Draft, so it’s focused on non-2020 Draft prospects.

If you’re new to these, you can check out the introductory explainer article here — this will have all the definitions you need to know.

Part 2 looked at prospects — Jeremy Roy, Jeffrey Viel, and Jasper Weatherby — whose time is already up. And indeed, that’s the case for Roy, at least in the San Jose organization. Roy’s entry-level contract expired two weeks ago, and the the Sharks declined to offer him a new contract, making the 2015 second-round pick a UFA.

Part 3 examined players — Jonathan Dahlen, Thomas Gregoire, Jayden Halbgewachs, Nikolai Knyzhov, Maxim Letunov, Scott Reedy, and Danil Yurtaykin — who likely have just one more year left to prove themselves. Halbgewachs was recently signed to a two-year contract, which Letunov got one year.

Part 4 analyzed prospects — Zachary Gallant, Vladislav Kotkov, Jake McGrew, and Kyle Topping — who still have time left but are otherwise unlikely to become NHLers.

Part 5 focused on some of the more intriguing youngsters in the San Jose Sharks system: Zachary Emond, Joseph Garreffa, Santeri Hatakka, Krystof Hrabik, Timur Ibragimov, Zach Sawchenko, and Yegor Spiridonov.

So who are the Sharks prospects that I project to be borderline NHL regulars?

Lean Bergmann – W

Lean Bergmann played 12 games with the Sharks during the 2019-20 season. He finished the season with the big club, playing four of the team’s last seven games. In those four games he averaged just 7:54 of ice time and took just two shots on goal. 

Advanced metrics that adjust for a player’s context don’t show Bergmann in a very bright light, either. It’s too hard to take much away from a sample size of just 96 minutes of ice time, but his impact on even-strength expected goals for & against and shots for & against were all one standard deviation or more worse than average. That’s a difficult feat to accomplish given that the model in question pulls everything back toward average to begin with. 

It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Bergmann struggled in the NHL. He was forced into a situation few 21-year-olds would envy: A team that had lost its high-end forward depth and would struggle immensely to begin a season that ended with a new head coach behind the bench. 

Lean Bergmann San Jose Sharks

Even without that context, it’s difficult to expect much from a prospect who never really got going until his age-20/21 season. As a 17- and 18-year-old in the USHL, Bergmann failed to crack the half-point-per-game mark before returning to Germany. There, he impressed, with a 0.58 point-per-game campaign. 

According to Elite Prospects, Bergmann’s scoring rate ranks ninth among 222 DEL forwards to play at least 20 games during a U21 season since 2000-01. We should note, however, that of the eight forwards ranked above him, most either scored at a higher rate at the same age or even earlier. The closest trajectory to Bergmann’s own was that of Marcel Müller. Müller played one game for the Maple Leafs but otherwise spent the better part of two North American seasons with the AHL Marlies. 

So why is Bergmann exciting? Not much exists in the way of scouting reports for the undrafted free agent. Those that are floating in the internet ether describe a combination of size, toughness, and shooting ability. 

Chris Legg of Dobber Prospects writes of someone who, for his size, “can really dangle and shoots the puck with authority.”

In an interview with The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz, Barracuda General Manager Joe Will spoke of a forward who “showed character, skating, and good physio” despite a lack of production. 

A more in-depth scouting report at McKeen’s Hockey describes a player who, “has very quick hands for someone his size, and…can effectively utilize his size and strength to create offensive chances for himself.”

Usually, scouting reports that focus on size and strength aren’t incredibly encouraging. Bergmann, however, has already logged NHL time with the Sharks’ current head coach, however brief. He has skill to go along with his frame, and another year in North America should help him further acclimate to the smaller rink. According to Elite Prospects, Bergmann did score in the top one-third of 20- and 21-year-old forward seasons in the AHL since 2000-01. 

Right now, there are probably two or more spots in the San Jose Sharks’ bottom-six up for grabs. Bergmann may not necessarily have an inside track to one of them, but he has the profile and existing NHL experience to earn himself another stint with the big club whenever the 2020-21 season begins. 

Dillon Hamaliuk – W

The best thing going for Dillon Hamaliuk is his second-round draft capital. Nearly three-quarters of skaters drafted in the second round play at least one NHL game. A majority of them make it to 10 games. Part of that statistic has nothing to do with the player. NHL teams try their darndest to make expensive investments pan out: Just look at the opportunities the Sharks have given Dylan Gambrell relative to Noah Gregor. 

That something out of a player’s hands is the core reason he might make the big leagues isn’t a glowing endorsement. There’s more to the big forward’s chances than draft position, though. Byron Bader’s prospect model compares players’ scoring rates to those of thousands of other drafted players. After his draft season, Hamaliuk had a 45 percent chance to become a regular NHLer. 

Dillon Hamaliuk San Jose Sharks NHLe

Only about 40 percent of second-round skaters go on to play 80 NHL games, which we’ll consider makes them “regular.” If we knew nothing but the winger’s scoring rates at the time of the draft, we could safely assume he was following the trajectory of so many other second-round picks before him to the NHL. 

Jeremy Davis, formerly of Canucks Army, also built a prospect evaluation model. Davis ranked Hamaliuk as the 2019 draft’s 30th-best prospect. He was involved in more than 21 percent of his team’s 5-on-5 goals but had just a 19 percent chance of making the NHL. This discrepancy hints at Hamaliuk’s play behind the raw scoring totals. 

The season before his draft year, Hamaliuk’s impact on his team’s scoring network was poor. In other words, he was overly reliant on strong teammates for his scoring. We can excuse him for that as a young rookie playing in a tough WHL. The concern is that his inability to score without strong teammates has stayed with him.

Highlight reels, which are supposed to highlight a player’s ceiling, quickly become repetitive. Hamaliuk is scoring goals, often from up close and after rebounds and around the blue paint. He is rarely making a pass or creating a play. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Every team needs finishers. His brand of scoring probably just means he’ll need a sharp center to play with if we are to expect exciting goal totals moving forward. 

He makes the most of his teammates’ playmaking, however. InStat has tracked shot and expected goal differential since September 2018. Hamaliuk has been on the wrong side of the shot share ledger more often than not. Where he thrives is being on the ice for a high volume of expected goals. 

That isn’t a surprise. To quickly peruse a handful of scouting reports, I fed them to a word cloud generator. 

Dillon Hamaliuk San Jose Sharks Scouting Report

(Word cloud algorithm and image from Jason Davies)

You can see that some of the most prominent words in his reports have to do with strength, power, and the net front. There are also adjectives, including “decent,” “effective,” “solid,” and “good.” Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but they aren’t effusive reviews, either.  

The 2019-20 season was a challenge for Hamaliuk. Per Sheng Peng, he came down with mono in November and his scoring rates understandably fell. Per Elite Prospects, the power forward scored 0.7 points per game in September and October. In November and December, he scored just five points in 14 games. 

In Peng’s interview, Doug Wilson Jr. mentions that Hamaliuk was finally back and healthy three weeks before the interview, which would have been about the beginning of February. During the 15 games between February 2 and the end of the season, Hamaliuk scored 11 points, back at his 0.7 point-per-game rate from earlier. It’s good to see him rebound. It’s hard to get excited about a 19-year-old not cracking the point-per-game threshold in junior hockey. 

Hamaliuk’s statistical and scouting profiles point to someone who is good once the puck is in the offensive zone but who may not be helpful getting it there. His calling cards are his size and strength, which aren’t scouting terms that typically portend high-level success. His second-round draft position and the Sharks’ love of power forwards should provide Hamaliuk ample opportunity. Realistically, his NHL career arc is one of an effective bottom-six player.

Alexei Melnichuk – G

San Jose signed Alexei Melnichuk to a two-year entry-level deal in May this year. The Russian goaltender turned 22 one month later and is poised to play spoiler to the other goaltending prospects in the pipeline. 

It’s difficult to get a good read on goalies because there is so little information available about those who do not play in the NHL already. The best approach for Melnichuk might be to compare him to another goaltender whom he followed up the ladder in the St. Petersburg program: Igor Shestyorkin (Shesterkin).

Shestyorkin made his triumphant arrival at the NHL level this season for the New York Rangers as a 24-year-old. Melnichuk served as Shestyorkin’s understudy in the MHL, VHL, and KHL, tracking about two seasons behind Shestyorkin.

For example, Shestyorkin played his first KHL games during his age-17/18 season. Melnichuk didn’t see KHL time until he was 19. Here’s a comparison of the two goalies save percentages in the leagues in which they played the most games in a given season. 

Shestyorkin’s save percentages are much stronger than the Sharks’ free agent signing up until this past season.

This year, Melnichuk’s 0.930 in the KHL was very similar to Shestyorkin’s 0.933 during his age-20/21 season. The major difference? Shestyorkin accomplished this while playing nearly twice as many games. 

If the Rangers’ new No. 1 didn’t make the leap to the NHL until his age-23/24 season, it’s hard to believe Melnichuk will arrive much sooner. This is a very rough estimate, of course, but if Melnichuk is tracking about two seasons behind his older compatriot, then the earliest we should expect him in a San Jose Sharks uniform is the 2023-24 season. 

It’s exciting to have a young goalie with a track record of professional success. If Shestyorkin can be a star in the NHL, maybe Melnichuk can be an average goalie? That’s an ideal situation for an undrafted addition at a position of need.

Looking Ahead

This series covers 33 San Jose Sharks prospects in total, and doesn’t include 2020 Draft picks.

After this installment, eight skaters — about 25 percent of the total prospect pool — remain. Byron Bader’s database of historical draft picks says about 25 percent of all skaters (no goaltenders included) chosen in the Draft become NHL regulars. That places Bergmann and Hamaliuk right on the cusp of future NHL regular material. Melnichuk is in a different category, but his relatively promising track record and immediate access to the San Jose Barracuda’s crease give him a strong chance, as of this writing, of becoming an NHL regular.

There’s nothing certain about this group of players, but it feels safe to call them future borderline NHL regulars.

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San Jose Barracuda

BREAKING: Ivan Chekhovich Will Play in KHL for ENTIRE Season

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Credit: San Jose Barracuda

San Jose Hockey Now has learned that Ivan Chekhovich will skate for HC Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod for the entirety of the 2020-21 KHL season.

Chekhovich will not be returning to North America when 2020-21 San Jose Sharks training camp opens.

The Sharks retain Chekhovich’s rights; this is a full-season loan.

The prospect will attempt to find his game in his native Russia after a difficult 2019-20 with the San Jose Barracuda.

Coming off a 105-point QMJHL campaign in 2018-19, Chekhovich was expected to adjust quickly to professional play. Instead, his production and time on ice sagged in his first full professional season. The 2017 San Jose Sharks seventh-round pick scored just four goals and 12 points in 42 games, and according to InStat Hockey, was San Jose’s least-used forward, averaging under 12 minutes per night.

Exclusive: San Jose Barracuda Time on Ice Revealed

He was also healthy scratched on multiple occasions, as recently as two games before the pause.

Co-head coach Mike Chiasson revealed on March 7th: “I think it’s a compete thing for him right now.”

It was truly an up-and-down season for the offensive winger. Despite his general lack of productivity, Chiasson and co-head coach Jimmy Bonneau had praised Chekhovich’s coachability and work ethic in February and January:

“I can’t find my game, honestly. It’s not the game I want to see,” Chekovich said candidly in January. “Everybody expects way more from me. It’s kind of pressure.”

So now Chekhovich, like fellow San Jose Sharks prospect Jonathan Dahlen, will get a chance to find his scoring touch at home. Dahlen struggled too in the AHL in 2018-19 before returning home to Sweden to play for Timra IK. After leading Allsvenskan in scoring in 2019-20, Dahlen is on fire once again, putting up 12 points in just 5 games so far this year.

“The idea is to play rather than sit around,” Chekhovich’s agent Mark Gandler told San Jose Hockey Now.

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Emond on Returning to QMJHL, What Nabokov Wants Him to Improve

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Zachary Emond, San Jose Sharks
Credit: NHL

Zachary Emond is returning to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies for his overage season.

“When I heard the news that the QMJHL would restart here, I talked with my agent and the Sharks,” the 2018 San Jose Sharks sixth-rounder said of last week’s news. “The right decision for me was to come back here and be able to play as soon as possible.”

San Jose Hockey Now caught up with the 20-year-old goaltender yesterday. Emond spoke on whether or not he’s staying in the QMJHL for the entire season, what he learned from new San Jose Sharks goaltending development coach Dany Sabourin in Rouyn-Noranda, what Evgeni Nabokov wants him to improve, and the sport he almost chose to play over hockey.

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