Is there a Nikolai Knyzhov in this year’s San Jose Sharks development camp group?
In June 2019, Knyzhov was an unknown, a gangly defender on a development camp tryout contract. After camp, the San Jose Sharks signed the Russian to an entry-level contract. Within two years, he was playing top-four minutes in the NHL.
We’ll get a sense if there’s a Knyzhov to be had tonight, when dev camp culminates in a prospects scrimmage. Watch it tonight at 7 PM online:
IT'S TOMORROW! AND IT'S FREE!
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) August 18, 2021
MacAuley Carson and Tyr Thompson are the development camp invitees up front; Jeremie Biakabutuka, Nick Cicek, Ranvir Gill-Shane, David Gucciardi, Cole Moberg, Montana Onyebuchi, Keaton Pehrson, and Gavin White are the invitees on the back-end; Pierce Charleson is the lone invitee between the pipes.
But before we get to their thoughts, here’s interesting biographical details about some of these invites:
- Tyr Thompson is the son of San Jose Sharks associate coach Rocky Thompson
- Jérémie Biakabutuka is the nephew of NFL’er Tim Biakabutuka
- Keaton Pehrson played with Thomas Bordeleau at Michigan
- Cole Moberg was a 2019 Chicago Blackhawks’ seventh-round pick — the Blackhawks let him walk this past June
- Montana Onyebuchi and Nick Cicek are basically San Jose organization property — the Barracuda signed both to amateur tryouts in May with the intention of inking them to AHL contracts this season
- Gavin White and Ranvir Gill-Shane continue the San Jose Sharks’ theme of taking extra-long looks at OHL prospects who didn’t get any games last year
- David Gucciardi was ranked 69th among NHL Central Scouting’s North American Skaters — that’s the highest 2021 CS ranking for any San Jose Sharks tryout at this year’s development camp
Speaking of Gucciardi, why wasn’t he drafted?
“He had top-three round physical talent,” an NHL scout told San Jose Hockey Now. “He can fly and has skill. He’s a grab-and-go, end-to-end offensive d-man. Just not a smart player at all though and there are character issues.”
This scout also added: “Carson and Gill-Shane are highly regarded by some.”
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) August 19, 2021
Count Brock Otten as one of them — at least in regards to Gill-Shane. The 6-foot-3 defenseman is a bit of a mystery: He didn’t play any OHL games last year and just nine in 2019-20.
“Gill-Shane was drafted [in the OHL] as more of an offensively oriented puck mover — his explosiveness and power in his stride are very impressive. He can carve up the neutral zone when he wants to,” Otten told SJHN. “However, thus far at the higher levels, he has settled into being more of a stay-at-home defender. The mobility and reach are huge assets there.
“His decision-making with the puck leaves something to be desired and I believe it has held him back from being a more confident player with the puck. But the potential is there for him to be a two-way guy.
“Gill-Shane was also at the PBHH Erie showcase, which definitely leads me to believe that the Sharks were represented there — I know about half the NHL teams had people there. He was one of the better players in his own end at the event.”
Otten, however, was not as enthusiastic about Carson. The center completed his OHL career in 2020 and was supposed to play USports hockey last year, before the Canadian college sports season was cancelled.
“Carson is a big, physical, two-way power center. Good on faceoffs. Good on the PK. Battles hard along the wall and near the crease,” Otten said. “However, I don’t think he’s an NHL player…or even an AHL player.
“He’s just not skilled enough or quick enough to be a pro in North America.”
Like Gill-Shane, White also didn’t have any OHL tape but impressed at the PBHH Invitational.
“Honestly, the last time the OHL played…he was not an OHL-caliber player. However, he played at the Erie Showcase and he was one of the best defenders at the event,” Otten said. “His best quality is without question his skating. Really strong mover in all directions. Really confident on his edges in the offensive zone and it helps him to evade pressure at the point and open up those lanes — think Ryan Merkley. He also looked good defensively at the event. Really curious to see how he does this OHL season given what we saw at that event.”
All said, however, Otten doesn’t expect any of these OHL’ers to get a contract from the San Jose Sharks. White and Gill-Shane will also still be Draft-eligible in 2022.
Moving on to the WHL, Justin Froese noted of Onyebuchi, Moberg, and Cicek: “Some good names listed there but more so depth players.”
Froese added about Onyebuchi: “Has built a reputation as one of the toughest players in the WHL the last few seasons and never hesitated to take body over puck or set the tone by taking the role of fun police and beating the tar out of an opponent. Nonetheless, despite not being on my draft list he developed into a reliable defender who played with range and the composure to be trusted with tougher defensive assignments and provide a second layer of offense. The tools he has aren’t outstanding but he is versed at playing a safe and efficient game. To me, this looks like a depth add for the farm for a team looking to add size and snarl on the right side.”
On Cicek: “Sizeable LHD who came from under the radar to be a really solid two-way player and captained Portland this past season. Like Onyebuchi, he has that physical bite to his game and likes to step up on his man if he takes the right angle — but I find him to be far more diplomatic. Cicek shows cognizant defensive awareness but developed the sense of when and where to move pucks effectively and could present himself as an option by sneaking into space, using his big shot off the weak side. Solid player who is effective and under the radar. Will need to see if he can build off and make high IQ choices with more regularity.”
On Moberg: “Former PG Cougar was an impact offensive player in junior but as an older player he seemed to hit a ceiling and went unsigned in Chicago. He’s definitely the most curious and versed offensively out of the three WHL alumni [here in dev camp] but also the one who may need to alter his junior identity to transfer his game play. He’s got enticing tools, is a passable skater and isn’t afraid to get off the line or take ice, but the processing speed and signature skills still hold him back to a degree. A year of AHL under his belt already will no doubt have helped but I think he projects as more of a steady pass-first, secondary contributor rather than the offensive driver he was as a junior.”
In short, it seems like it would be a surprise if the San Jose Sharks signed any of these WHL’ers.
As for the other San Jose Sharks’ development camp tryouts, here are some thoughts from other sources.
“Biakabutuka loves to join the rush and it’s something he could continue doing with the pros due to his superior skating,” Elite Prospects said about the QMJHL blueliner in 2020. “He’s athletic, but his hands hold him back. Unless his defensive game largely develops to make him one of the better shutdown defenseman in the world, I don’t see him making the NHL.”
Meanwhile, there aren’t a lot of recent reports about Charleson, Pehrson, or Thompson.
Charleson emerged late in the Michigan State season and supplanted starter Drew DeRidder. The freshman played in five of MSU’s last six contests, and while he didn’t win any of them, he posted a .938 Save % for the season.
Defenseman Pehrson is more defensively-oriented, as a zero goals and five assists in 26 games campaign would suggest. “Pehrson has never been pegged as an offensive-minded defenseman. He’s stout defensively and plays fundamentally,” the Michigan Daily noted in 2020.
Anyway, check out the prospects scrimmage tonight at 7 PM! It’s going to be a showcase for the organization’s forwards — 25 of the 27 forwards at development camp are officially part of the San Jose Sharks or Barracuda systems — and a good test for the eight aforementioned blueline tryouts.
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