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Mukhamadullin & Gawanke Providing Lots of Offense for Cuda, Working on Defense

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Credit: San Jose Barracuda

Shakir Mukhamadullin and Leon Gawanke have been on fire recently.

The two defensemen, both acquired in trades by San Jose Sharks GM Mike Grier, are producing at point-per-game paces through their last 10 games with the San Jose Barracuda. While head coach John McCarthy still believes that the youngsters have improvements to make, he acknowledges they’ve made significant strides with the 8-12-4 Barracuda.

For Mukhamadullin, 21, playing in his first full season in the AHL, it’s been a steeper learning curve. “I think for him, it was just getting some experience in North America,” McCarthy said. “He was playing over there (Russia) last year, so to get him over here… he’s doing a nice job.”

“I think his breakout skills have improved,” McCarthy pointed out of the 6-foot-4 blueliner. “He’s using his net. Scanning before collecting retrievals. He’s been able to beat forecheckers, which is something that we’ve been working on with him and starting to show up in his game.”

On the defending side, Mukhamadullin told San Jose Hockey Now’s Nikita Sokolov, “My focus right now is on improving such defensive components as corner and net-front play.”

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Mukhamadullin was a primary piece for the San Jose Sharks in the deal that sent Timo Meier to the New Jersey Devils last Trade Deadline. With four goals and 13 assists in 24 contests this season, including 10 points in his last seven, the 2020 first-round pick is looking more and more comfortable with the North American game. However, he’s still far away from a consistent NHL spot.

“He just needs time,” noted McCarthy. “He’s still young and he’s making strides. He just needs some experience. We’re putting him in every situation and he’s responding to everything very well.”

24-year-old Gawanke, in his fifth AHL campaign, is producing at a career-best pace with 20 points in 24 games this season. His previous high was 45 points last year. He potted 20 goals last season with the Manitoba Moose before the Winnipeg Jets flipped him to the San Jose Sharks for Artemi Knizaev during the summer.

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As McCarthy noted, that offensive prowess comes from “his shot, especially his one-timer. He’s a threat to score, so you’ve got to respect that. Then passing lanes open up off of that. So, it’s all based around his shot.”

But, Gawanke’s NHL future is dependent on him becoming steadier outside the offensive zone.

“He’s made some strides,” McCarthy said. “We’ve talked to him about rounding out his game that way. He’s working on his skating and all those defensive tools that he needs. I’ve seen some improvement there.”

The goal, the head coach said, for Gawanke is “being someone you can count on defensively, then adding the offense on top of that.”

Between Mukhamadullin and Gawanke, the Barracuda are the only team besides the San Diego Gulls to have two blueliners in the top-15 of defensemen scoring in the AHL.

But it might be their defensive improvements, and not their clear offensive skills, that gets them their NHL debuts this season.

Special thanks to Marko Ukalovic for his help with this article.

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