It’s hard to say how important the Draft Combine actually is.
Sure, for teams, it’s a one-stop shop to interview prospects and see them work out. But that information isn’t exclusive to the Combine in Buffalo. You can keep tabs on prospects throughout the year with your area scouts and chat with them over Zoom. And you don’t need to be at the Combine to see the results of the Combine drills.
I know some teams have cut down their Combine presence over the years.
But one thing for sure: It’s the epicenter of Draft chatter and rumors, two weeks from now in Nashville.
San Jose Hockey Now wasn’t at the Combine but was able to talk to a number of attendees, and here’s what they had to say about the San Jose Sharks.
Leo or Will?
No, we’re not talking about most bankable box office star of the last two decades.
We’re talking about Leo Carlsson and Will Smith, one of who will likely be available to the San Jose Sharks at No. 4.
“San Jose was pretty busy at the Combine with regard to interviews. They had discussions with the several big names since they possess the No. 4 pick, so Bedard, Fantilli, Carlsson and [Will] Smith were all on the schedule,” Mike Morreale of NHL.com told SJHN. “They had to do their due diligence there, so it made sense despite the fact I believe Bedard and Fantilli could be gone by the time the Sharks make their first pick in the opening round.”
The Athletic reported that the Sharks honed in on Smith and Carlsson by taking each to dinner. Reminder though, from our friends at Montreal Hockey Now: “Last year, the Canadiens took Logan Cooley, Shane Wright and Jonathan Lekkerimaki out for dinner, but not Juraj Slafkovsky.”
The Montreal Canadiens, of course, took Slafkovsky with the first-overall pick.
Carlsson is the betting favorite to go to the Columbus Blue Jackets at No. 3. So does that mean Smith to San Jose?
On Friday, a league source shared a Combine rumor that Will Smith was going to take a tour of San Jose before the Draft, a prelude to the San Jose Sharks selecting him fourth-overall.
The keyword is “rumor”. SJHN has since learned that Smith, if he’s visiting at all, isn’t visiting San Jose this week. I’m still digging in regards to next week.
Is Carlsson visiting?
A source close to Carlsson told SJHN that Carlsson had a “great meeting” with the Sharks. But he won’t be visiting any teams pre-Draft, so to focus on his training back home.
A visit isn’t be-all, end-all, but it’s thought to be meaningful.
“It’s usually really serious,” a league source shared. “Two, three players tops [visit].”
Morreale, however, believes the Sharks can’t pass up the uber-talented Matvei Michkov.
“Michkov, to me, could turn out to be the second-best player of this Draft class when all is said and done,” Morreale said of the Russian winger.
Michkov, like all Russian and Belarussian Draft hopefuls, was not in attendance at the Combine.
Who Else Did Sharks Interview?
According to the Athletic, the Sharks interviewed around 75 prospects.
Morreale mentioned the biggies, Bedard, Fantilli, Carlsson, and Smith.
SJHN has also learned that the Sharks interviewed winger Nico Myatovic, defenseman Tanner Molendyk, and defenseman Theo Lindstein.
Myatovic, a late-blooming 6-foot-3 winger from the Seattle Thunderbirds, was ranked No. 32 by Sportsnet and No. 112 by Elite Prospects.
Molendyk is a 5-foot-11 offensive defenseman from the Saskatoon Blades, appears to be a late-first or second guy. The San Jose Sharks do have the No. 26 and 36 picks.
Lindstein is a 6-foot-0 defender who played 32 games for the SHL’s Brynäs IF as an 18-year-old. Sportsnet has him as their 24th-ranked prospect, but Elite Prospects puts him at No. 74.
Now a Draft interview doesn’t mean anything – plenty of teams pick prospects that they don’t talk to during the Combine. Remember, the Combine is also a time for misdirection.
The Sharks also have the No. 94, 100, 123, 130, 132, 164, 196, 203, and 206 picks of the 2023 Draft.
Who Should Sharks Pick at No. 26?
While the focus is on Carlsson or Smith or Michkov at No. 4 for the San Jose Sharks, their No. 26 pick, acquired from the New Jersey Devils in the Timo Meier trade, might be the more interesting one.
I think it could be indicative of a new Sharks amateur scouting regime’s priorities: Compete? Skating? Skill? Size?
Anyway, I asked Cohen and Morreale for their No. 26 picks.
“At 26, I can see Cam Allen if he’s still there. Solid two-way defenseman. Some offense there. Physical logs big minutes,” Cohen said. “Maxim Strbak, a defensive defenseman, teammates love him, dependable, and may bring a little offense in the future.”
Funny enough, Morreale went all defense too, offering four other blueliners:
“With their second pick in the first round, the Sharks could go defense after taking the big forward at No. 4. There are several defenders who could be available and could play a middle-pair role in the NHL at some point, including Oliver Bonk of London (OHL), Andrew Gibson of Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), Tristan Bertucci of Flint (OHL), and Tom Willander of Rogle (SWE).
“Bonk (6-1, 180) is the son of former NHL forward Radek Bonk. He’s not going to go end-to-end like Cale Makar, but Bonk does the little things well and does them consistently. He’s a solid two-way defenseman, with high hockey IQ, shutdown ability and a good puck mover off the transition. He also doesn’t shy from contact or getting under the skin of opposing players.
“Gibson (6-3, 202) has good size and plays a strong, physical game. He’s good as a shot-blocker and possesses a good shot from the point. He sustained a lower-body injury in January and missed several games, but was able to return late in the season and finished sixth among all OHL rookie defensemen in points (21) this season.
“Bertucci (6-2, 175) is a solid two-way defenseman with good mobility and good at getting shots through to the net. He scored 50 points (11 goals), including 28 over his final 28 regular-season games for Flint. Most of his points come from getting that shot through.
“Willander (6-1, 180) reminded me so much of Gabriel Landeskog when I spoke to him at the Scouting Combine; they both had such a command of the English language despite growing up in Stockholm, Sweden.
“Willander is a right-hand shot with excellent speed and understanding of the game. He’ll join the rush but plays a solid two-way game. He was usually involved on every shift and was trusted by his coaches to play big minutes in key situations.
“It’s interesting to note that he’ll attend the Boston University in Hockey East next season.”
BU, of course, is San Jose Sharks GM Mike Grier and head coach David Quinn’s alma mater.
Willander is also thought to be a lottery pick though. Could the Sharks trade back their No. 4 or package their No. 26 and 36 picks to nab the Swedish defender?
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