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Preseason Preview/Lines #2: Who Am I Watching Tonight?



Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Second pre-season game, new line-up.

Here’s who I’m watching most closely tonight, as the San Jose Sharks host the Anaheim Ducks.

William Eklund

Eklund added seven pounds of muscle last off-season, and he says this year, he’s acclimated to the extra mass and is faster. He’s been all over the puck throughout Rookie Faceoff and training camp scrimmages, let’s see how it translates tonight.

In Mikael Granlund, Mike Hoffman, Anthony Duclair, Givani Smith, Filip Zadina, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Kevin Labanc, Luke Kunin, Alexander Barabanov, Oskar Lindblom, Nico Sturm, Jacob Peterson, and Fabian Zetterlund, the San Jose Sharks already have 14 experienced forwards battling for jobs.

The waiver-exempt Eklund will have to dislodge one of these vets to break camp with the Sharks.

Leon Gawanke

There’s a big hole at power play quarterback on the Sharks, and Gawanke, who scored 20 goals last season with the Manitoba Moose, is as good a candidate as any to fill it. Of course, he’s also dealing with a numbers game on defense.

San Jose has eight veteran defensemen in camp, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Mario Ferraro, Jan Rutta, Radim Simek, Matt Benning, Nikolai Knyzhov, Kyle Burroughs, and Jacob MacDonald. Meanwhile, prospects Nikita Okhotiuk and the 24-year-old Gawanke are not waiver-exempt. Waiver-exempt Henry Thrun is also a legitimate contender to start the season with the Sharks.

The right-handed Gawanke will be paired with Ferraro tonight, and he should get a look on the second power play unit too.

“His skill-set is what jumps out at you,” head coach David Quinn said, “just got to continue to work on the more well-rounded aspect of his game.”

Kasper Halttunen

This is just a taste of NHL action for the 2023 second-round pick, he’s headed back to the London Knights sooner than later.

But Quinn has liked what he’s seen, and the 18-year-old will line up with top prospect Eklund and top center Granlund on what’s essentially San Jose’s first line tonight. He also looks like he’s going to get a look on the power play.

“This guy’s got an NHL release, NHL shot right now. He’s got a good brain, and he wants to get better,” Quinn said. “He’s very coachable, anything you tell him, he’s trying to do. Intentions are always in the right place. There’s a lot to work with there.”

Nikolai Knyzhov

Knyzhov has had a rough couple seasons with injuries, but now, he’s fully healthy and needs to show the Sharks that he’s an everyday NHL’er. The 25-year-old, notably, is not waiver-exempt, and his roster spot is not assured.

GM Mike Grier thought Knyzhov had a promising summer: “Knyzhov, I think, looks more confident. Having all the injuries he’s had over the last couple of years, I think him having a full summer of training has helped him.”

Grier on When Sharks Will Come Out of Rebuild, Keeping Couture & Hertl, More (+)

Shakir Mukhamadullin

Quinn has loved what he’s seen from Mukhamadullin so far in camp, and it’s worth noting that the 21-year-old Russian defenseman appears to be playing ahead of Gawanke on the power play.

“Mukhamadullin has really impressed me. He’s rangy, he’s fast, he’s agile, there’s a lot of athleticism there. He passes like an NHL’er,” he said.

Quinn, however, struck a note of caution about the still lean 6-foot-4 defender: “He wants to be physical, but when you’re his size and still haven’t fully grown, you’re probably less apt to be as physical as you want to be.

“As we talked about as a group, picture this guy in three years, what he’s gonna look like, and how much more aggressive he’s gonna be able to be to win his battles.”

Mukhamadullin’s time is coming, but maybe not yet. Nonetheless, it will be exciting to watch him tonight, against some NHL-caliber competition.

Jacob Peterson

In a forgettable season for the San Jose Sharks, Peterson emerged as a late-season bright spot, putting up eight points in 11 games.

The 24-year-old could also be caught in the numbers game up front, but like last year, maybe he’ll surprise again?

“He quietly does his job. He’s sneaky good. He’s got real good hockey sense. He can make a play. There’s a lot to like about him as a player,” Quinn said last week. “We’ve got a lot of competition for our forward position. But he’s certainly a guy that I would feel very comfortable with being on this team.”

Sharks Training Camp Buzz: Bordeleau, Hertl, Romanov & More (+)


Brandon Coe, Gannon Laroque, and Mitchell Russell will sit.

Mackenzie Blackwood gets the start.

Where to Watch

Puck drop between the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks is 7 PM PT at SAP Center. Watch it on or the NBC Sports Bay Area app. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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