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Preseason Preview/Lines #3: Who’s Leading Positional Battles?

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“I don’t want to call it a last chance opportunity. But for some guys, that will be their last time to make an impression.”

That’s what San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said about tonight’s preseason tilt against the Anaheim Ducks.

That could mean opening night longshots like Adam Raska and Joel Kellman.

It could also mean guys you wouldn’t expect to get cut this weekend, but who may not be leading their respective positional races: Center Lane Pederson, winger John Leonard, and defensemen Ryan Merkley and Artemi Kniazev.

Right now, I’d project incumbent Dylan Gambrell or rookie Jasper Weatherby ahead of Pederson, 2021 first-round pick William Eklund slightly ahead of Leonard, and Santeri Hatakka ahead of Merkley and Kniazev.

But a lot could change tonight.

Boughner has been unreserved in his praise of Weatherby throughout training camp. That continued yesterday, when I asked him about using Weatherby as a drop pass option on the San Jose Sharks’ power play breakout. That’s a role usually filled on the Sharks by a powerful skating, puck-savvy forward a la Tomas Hertl.

The bench boss thinks Weatherby’s skating and puck savvy aren’t appreciated enough: “Very underrated. I think for a big man, he skates really, really well. You might not see it in his first two steps. When he gets going, he’s got great separation speed, acceleration.”

He added: “He just keeps getting better. His faceoffs are strong. There’s situations when I re-watch the game where there’s a missed coverage or someone’s making a mistake and you can see he’s thinking that and he’s covering up for somebody. He’s got great hockey sense.”

At this rate, Weatherby is breaking camp with the San Jose Sharks.

How about Eklund? The slight 18-year-old isn’t close to the physical specimen that the 6-foot-3, 23-year-old Weatherby is, but he’s been terrific so far against lesser preseason competition.

“His confidence is growing,” Boughner noted. “He’s making a good case for himself. If he keeps progressing like this, he may force our hand into making this team.”

What about Merkley and Kniazev?

Hatakka seems to have shone just a little bit more, but with injuries to Nikolai Knyzhov and Nicolas Meloche – Knzyhov is now considered week to week and Meloche stepped on the ice for the first time since Sept. 26 – the door is open for one of these offensively-inclined blueliners to start the season with the San Jose Sharks.

“Merks has come a long way since last year at this time. His compete the other night was better. Tonight without Karlsson and Burns, he’s obviously going to be running the power play,” Boughner offered. “I have to give him some credit. He’s definitely proved his game and there’s seems to be more of a sense of urgency to his game.”

The coaching staff appears to be looking for the details from these younger defenders. There isn’t much doubt that they’ve got the offensive component, but do they have more layers to their game?

“More than anything, it’s just that intensity of winning his battles, jumping the check, keeping things in front of him,” Boughner shared. “Being first on pucks if he has a chance to go back and be the first on pucks. Those are little things that we’re looking at.”

Tonight isn’t just any meaningless exhibition game. At least for the likes of Eklund, Weatherby, Kniazev, and Merkley.

Boughner noted: “I’ve asked all those guys to sort of kick the door down.”

San Jose Sharks

Per Boughner, James Reimer is scheduled to play the full 60. Ozzy Wiesblatt and Montana Onyebuchi are also on the roster; it was a surprise to see 2020 first-rounder Wiesblatt not skate on a line this morning.

Anaheim Ducks

Per the Anaheim Ducks, this is their projected line-up tonight:

Where to Watch

Puck drop against Anaheim is 7:00 PM PT at Honda Center. Watch it live on ESPN+. Watch the replay on NHL Network at 11:30 PM PT. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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