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San Jose Barracuda

Cardwell Opening Eyes in Pro Debut

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

“It stung,” Ethan Cardwell recalled.

Last year, Cardwell, then 20, remained with the San Jose Barracuda through the entirety of training camp and even skated in an AHL preseason game. Yet, he was still sent back to the OHL’s Barrie Colts for his overage season.

“You want to be able to say you’re playing professional hockey,” Cardwell said. “But, hindsight is 20/20 and things worked out just fine.”

That “just fine” campaign saw him named the organization’s “Prospect of the Year” as result of his 43-goal and 90-point season in just 63 games. That year, Cardwell believes, was product of the coaching, learning, and growing he earned during last year’s NHL and AHL training camps.

“I spent a month at camps with the Sharks and Barracuda and played some preseason games,” he said. “To get my feet wet at that level gave me a lot of confidence going into the junior season, playing against younger, less experienced players than you are at the pro level.”

Cardwell also believes the extra season in junior hockey prepared him for what’s shaping up to be a standout professional debut season.

“In junior, the year before last year, I didn’t have my greatest year,” Cardwell reflected. “There was a lot of ups and downs, I had a lengthy suspension broke up the year a little bit, had a slow start.”

The 5-foot-11 winger, selected in the fourth round by the San Jose Sharks in the 2021 Draft, had 23 goals and 58 points in 49 games in 2021-22.

“I think being able to go back and piece together a full year of really good hockey for myself, and be a leader on a really good team, helped me have confidence going into the summer,” Cardwell said of the 2022-23 Colts, who finished second in the Central Division. “Knowing that I’m a capable player and I can step into the AHL and contribute right away.”

Cardwell, the youngest regular on the Barracuda, is certainly contributing right away. The 21-year-old has tallied 12 goals and 23 points, good for sixth in scoring on the team.

“I’ve certainly noticed him,” an NHL scout from outside the San Jose Sharks organization said. “He was good, for sure.”

“I like him. Can skate and competes,” another scout said. “Middle-six ceiling.”

The speedster is also showing a mature approach in his pro debut.

“You’re gonna have ups and downs as a rookie in this league, and you’ve got to find that consistency in your game to be able to show up every night,” he said. “Because, you’ve got so many guys fighting for the same jobs, you don’t really have any time to take nights off, or you’re gonna find yourself caught in the dust and passed along.”

That mindset has helped him dress in 38 of 39 Barracuda games. He’s one of just four Cuda players to miss just one game or less this season. That consistency, Cardwell says, comes in part from the wealth of NHL experience around him.

“A guy like [Radim Simek] on the backend for us,” the rookie pointed out. “He spent a lot of time in the NHL in his career here, and to be sent down to us, for him, he could easily just not try as hard, coast through the games, and look great.

“But he puts in a really good effort everyday. Leads by example on the ice, is a stellar player out there, and shows us all why he is the player that he is. Shows up with a hard-nose good compete every day.”

When you combine that NHL experience with the pedigree of the retired stars in and around the organization, there’s lots of good advice to go around.

“[Mike] Ricci and [Patrick Marleau] are unbelievable, and [Joe Thornton] is out there too,” Cardwell said. “You grow up watching these guys be NHL superstars and now to be able to talk to them person-to-person…it gives you a boost of confidence just talking and hanging out with them.

“Then, they give you these little tips that not many people would know about [that] led to so much of their success. It’s truly a blessing that we have them around and they’re able to share some of their knowledge with us.”

“I’m only 21-years-old and I barely have it figured out. So, I’ve got to take it from all the legends we have in the organization and all the wise words of wisdom they’ve got for us.”

What Cardwell is still figuring out?

“With any young player, it’s [about] rounding out their game, playing a complete game,” Barracuda head coach John McCarthy said. “We know they have the ability to create offense. It’s about taking care of your own end, playing along the walls, playing against bigger, stronger guys as opposed to coming out of junior.”

Cardwell’s commitment to a complete game has come at the expense of his podcast: Showbound. His show, co-hosted with Michael Raskin, gives fans an in-depth description of the hockey life and has welcomed guests like Mario Ferraro, William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, and others outside San Jose.

Unfortunately, his show has only had one episode since the season began.

“I know that we’re gonna have a big summer, a big summer of guests,” Cardwell announced. “Because I haven’t been able to get out a ton of videos or podcasts lately, I want to hammer it come summertime. For now, [I’m] just focused on hockey. When I can, I’ll get an episode out.”

Are any of those guests going to be from the Sharks’ organization?

“I haven’t made any decisions yet. I’ve talked to a bunch of the boys, and a few of them were asking me about it,” he said. “So, we’ll keep my options open and time will tell.”

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