Brandon Coe, English tutor?
During the summer, Coe and Shakir Mukhamadullin spent most of their time in San Jose.
Besides skating and training together, the Toronto native practiced English with the Russian defenseman.
Mukhamadullin flashed a surprising command of the language before the Rookie Faceoff, talking at some length, for example, about the passing of his friend Rodion Amirov.
Considering that last season, Mukhamadullin wasn’t made available for interviews after coming over from the New Jersey Devils in the Timo Meier trade on Feb. 26 because of his English, it was an impressive debut.
“I thought I was a good teacher for him,” Coe smiled.
Mukhamadullin’s English wasn’t the only thing that Coe worked on this off-season.
The San Jose Sharks’ 2020 fourth-round pick, after pacing the North Bay Battalion with 101 points and winning the organization-voted Sharks Prospect of the Year in 2021-22, couldn’t quite carry over that productivity to the San Jose Barracuda last season with just five goals and 11 assists in 56 games.
That’s the norm, of course, for players transitioning over from juniors to the AHL. No one, including Barracuda head coach John McCarthy, was expecting Coe to score at his OHL rate.
But there are other areas where Coe can give, where McCarthy found him wanting last season.
“We completely understand that offense is somewhat fickle, it’ll come, it’ll go. But those other things? Are you finishing your checks? Are you winning 50-50 battles? Are you getting to the hard areas? You need to be there all the time,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, we felt last season, there were a lot of times we would watch the game from the bench and then watch it after, didn’t see him show up enough. Didn’t factor into the games.”
To help on that end, Coe worked on adding weight and muscle to his rangy 6-foot-4 frame.
“The main focus was to get bigger. I know I have the size and height, but it was just more about putting the pounds on, getting stronger on the puck,” he said. “I finished the season at 195, and now, I’m 215.”
All this, without losing a step.
“I feel just as fast, if not faster,” he said. “Before, I would maybe be a little bit more careful in the corner because I’m going against bigger guys, but now I have that weight and feel more comfortable in the corner. Just getting used to that.”
Coe owns an enviable combination of size and speed, which is why the San Jose Sharks traded up for him three years ago. Off the bus, he doesn’t look that different than the player that he models himself after.
“I’ve been watching a lot of Alex Tuch. Two big guys. We have great size and he can skate with the puck as well,” Coe said of the 6-foot-4 Tuch, who broke out with a 36-goal campaign for the Buffalo Sabres last year. “He’s a skill player, but he also uses his body to take the puck wide and then drives it to the net. I really like watching his game and taking things from there to add to mine.”
But that’s putting the cart before the horse, which Coe might have been guilty of last season.
“For sure. I think that was the biggest learning curve for me last year. I think I just let my skill, the first half of the year, try to let my skill do all my work for me,” he said. “With bigger and stronger guys at this level, you don’t have that time and space to let your skill do all the work all the time. It was a long learning curve for me that I needed to realize, to use my body to my capability and try to round out my game more, not just using the skill-set, but using my body to make space for myself and make plays that way.”
McCarthy saw more of that in the Rookie Faceoff, though it’s a work in progress.
“I felt last game was a step in the right direction. He had the puck on his stick a lot,” McCarthy said of Coe’s three-assist performance in the second game of the Rookie Faceoff, a 5-1 San Jose Sharks’ victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. “He was showing up. He was factoring in the play.”
“I think I still need to do a bit more of it, winning more battles and getting more to the inside ice,” Coe said, “but I think so far, in the two first games, I’ve done a pretty good job at it.”
If the 21-year-old has a long NHL career, that’s probably going to be the foundation of it, to think like a grinder first, then surprise with his skill.
According to McCarthy, that’s “using his size, being hard, and playing that ‘power forward mentality’, where he’s taking pucks to the net, winning battles, people know when he’s on the ice.”
And indeed, it’s an important season for the San Jose Sharks to know when Coe is on the ice. He’s entering the last year of his entry-level contract.
“I want him to take a step forward. It’s his second season. He has a season under his belt. He knows what’s expected of him,” McCarthy said. “I want to see him kind of take the bull by the horns and do it.”
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