The San Jose Sharks organization is confident in Ozzy Wiesblatt’s NHL future, even though the 2020 first-round pick was sent to the ECHL earlier this season.
“It was what it was. When it happened, I was pretty upset about it. At the end of the day it’s about how you come back from those things,” Wiesblatt told San Jose Hockey Now last month. “I try to let that make me a better person on and off the ice. It’s helped during the season to always have a chip on my shoulder, coming to the rink wanting to get better.”
Coming into this year, the former Prince Albert Raiders’ star was ready to learn and grow in any way he could in the AHL.
“I came into the season open-minded, open to learning from veteran guys and real, pro hockey players,” the 5-foot-10 winger shared. “Just wanting to learn from everybody, learn what it takes to take my game to the next level.”
The coaching staff shared a similar expectation. In fact, San Jose Barracuda head coach John McCarthy essentially sees this season as playing with “found money” for young prospects, especially Wiesblatt.
“He’s getting pro experience, so we’re looking at this as a bonus year,” the bench boss indicated. “He’s able to be around a pro team on and off the ice, working with our strength and conditioning coaches.”
McCarthy even went on to say that Wiesblatt is “actually ahead of schedule for a player in his 20-year-old year.” The first-year head coach was also adamant that being sent to ECHL affiliate Wichita Thunder was not a reflection of the now 21-year-old’s ability, but rather just a need for him to play games.
“It was more of a numbers thing than anything else. He hadn’t really gotten an opportunity to play,” shared McCarthy. “He hadn’t played in a while… it’s not good for a 20 or 21 year-old kid to go an extended amount of time without playing games. You can practice all you want but the real learning and real development happens in game action.”
McCarthy continued: “But as it turned out, as soon as we sent him down we got into some injury trouble and he came right back and he didn’t end up playing any games there.”
“I was only there for barely a day. I had one practice and that was pretty much it,” said Wiesblatt about the Wichita experience.
On top of game action, the Sharks organization believes that Wiesblatt will benefit from the the weekend-focused AHL schedule, which leaves plenty of time to work out during the weekdays.
“You’ve got 20-year-old kids playing out there with 34 or 35-year-old men. The physical aspect of it comes into play as well. Game action is an important part of development, but it’s not the only part,” McCarthy noted.
Wiesblatt has noticed similar challenges in adjusting to the AHL: “Whenever you move up another league, guys are bigger, stronger, and the game is a little faster and more crisp.”
These challenges have seen Wiesblatt slot into the lineup just 24 times this season, less than half of the team’s games. Wiesblatt, however, knows what he can control and improve moving forward:
“Work ethic and prove that I can get into the line-up. Be consistent. Off the ice, really work on my fitness and be ready whenever my name is called,” he said. “That’s been my mindset throughout the whole year, being in really good shape and always being ready for my opportunity.”
The San Jose Sharks’ No. 31 pick from the 2020 NHL Draft feels that this period of inconsistent playing time will be a key moment in his development.
“It’s definitely a new experience. I think, in a way, I’m glad it’s happened,” he reflected. “I’ll have the experience of going through it and really learning how to cope with it. The mental side of the game has always been a big part of hockey and I feel this year I’ve really grown a lot in that area. I’m really happy with my attitude on and off the ice. It’s definitely been a weird experience, but one I’m grateful for.”
“He’s shown his upside, so it’s gonna be more about being consistent game to game on those pro details: Stopping on pucks, facing plays, knowing the structure, and reaction accordingly. For me, that’s what he’s gonna need to show more consistently,” McCarthy added.
The Barracuda head coach was also quick to praise this “upside” he’s seen in Wiesblatt’s game. McCarthy mentioned “his competitiveness. It’s more of a personality trait than anything else. He doesn’t back down from anybody. He’s tenacious on pucks. He wants to get better… the thing that will endear him to fans is his competitiveness overall.”
Wiesblatt is still confident that he will improve throughout this season because of his mindset on and off the ice. That is largely due to “the self-belief I have. No one believes in myself more than me. I think it comes from within and maybe has a little to do with the way I was brought up. I’ve never been one to take ‘No’ for an answer.
“It’s been a roller coaster, but this is something that I think I’ll look back on and be grateful that it happened.”
Despite Wiesblatt’s troubles getting in the line-up full-time, he is still having a blast in his first full season of professional hockey: “It’s a great group. It’s a young group, but with the veteran guys we have, they’re doing a really good job of making us feel comfortable every day. It’s different when you’re the old guy in junior and now you’re back down to being the young guy again. It’s really fun and I’ve really enjoyed every moment of it.”
Are there any moments that particularly stand out to the San Jose Sharks prospect?
“There’s been so many fun times. [But] I don’t know if there’s any I can share with the media,” he joked.
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