It’s not every day that a first-round pick is sent to the ECHL.
However, that became a reality for San Jose Sharks’ 2020 first-rounder Ozzy Wiesblatt. The 31st-overall selection was re-assigned to the Wichita Thunder on Wednesday, the San Jose Sharks and Barracuda ECHL-affiliate.
The winger is coming off an underwhelming final junior season where he scored slightly below a Point Per Game as the main offensive driver for the Prince Albert Raiders. He finished above that mark in his two previous junior seasons.
“It’s a very competitive group here. We want to make sure he’s getting the games that he needs,” said Barracuda head coach John McCarthy on Wednesday night. “So that’s what the [ECHL] is for.”
The Barracuda line-up is much improved from last season, making it tough for other notable youngsters such as Danil Gushchin and Adam Raska to dress full-time. The San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate has also brought in several veteran players to complement top prospects such as William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau. This has created plenty of competition for playing time, and Wiesblatt has been a healthy scratch to start the AHL season.
McCarthy even went as far as stating expectations for Wiesblatt in Wichita: “You have to be the best player in every game that you play in. That’s what we sent him down [for]. I think he’s going to take it to heart, and hopefully, he competes.”
The Barracuda bench boss stressed patience with the Wiesblatt.
“A lot of people are in a rush to get to the NHL, and some people get there quicker than others. And it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get there. It means that maybe the timeframe is just longer than what you originally thought,” he noted.
With all that said on Wednesday, the Barracuda actually recalled Wiesblatt on Thursday. It was no paper transaction: It’s San Jose Hockey Now’s understanding that Wiesblatt actually practiced with Wichita yesterday. The Cuda, apparently, are contending with some injuries, so maybe Wiesblatt will get a look with the big (minor league) club.
If so, this is what McCarthy and staff want from Wiesblatt.
“Protecting pucks a little more. Getting off the wall…penetrating the scoring areas,” said McCarthy. “Re-loading above pucks. He’s been counted on [by] his junior team to produce a lot of offense. So, the off-puck play [needs improvement].”
The 4-1-0 Barracuda have back-to-back games against the Tucson Roadrunners this weekend before an eight-day break. They next play Nov. 6 in Wiesblatt’s native Calgary.
We’ll see if Ozzy is at home or Wichita.
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