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Quick Thoughts: Who’s Ahead, Weatherby or Reedy? Hatakka or Kniazev?



Credit: San Jose Barracuda

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The San Jose Sharks finished the 2021 Rookie Faceoff tournament with a 6-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

This followed a 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights yesterday and an 8-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

Despite a 1-2 record, a number of San Jose Sharks prospects showed well during this tourney. Here are some of my takeaways from this weekend in Arizona.

Jasper Weatherby vs. Scott Reedy

This tournament was a preview of the upcoming training camp battle for San Jose Sharks fourth-line center between incumbent Dylan Gambrell, AHL veteran Lane Pederson, and prospects Jasper Weatherby and Scott Reedy.

My impression was that Weatherby pulled ahead of Reedy in this tournament — he has slightly more jump in his step and was just a tad better overall.

Head coach Roy Sommer agreed: “He showed his heaviness in front of the net and both his goals were in tight, you had the tip and then the one he put under the bar. He was good on draws.”

I talked to an NHL scout who agreed with my assessment — it’s not that Reedy didn’t show well, but Weatherby was a little better.

Of course, this was a tournament for kids — you expected the 23-year-old Weatherby and the 22-year-old Reedy to stand out. Both showed offensive flair — Weatherby showed good hands on a nice net front power play goal and Reedy uncorked his ballyhooed shot for a goal against Vegas — and both were solid in their defensive detail and boardwork.

But the real competition begins next week when training camp opens in San Jose. Has Gambrell, in just his third full NHL season, taken another step? Will Pederson, who the Sharks liked enough to trade a fourth-round pick for, open eyes? Or will one of these prospects emerge?

Santeri Hatakka vs. Artemi Kniazev

At the moment, there’s an open spot on the San Jose Sharks blueline.

Hatakka and Kniazev, both 2019 draft picks, are sleepers for this role against fellow prospects Brinson Pasichnuk and Ryan Merkley, and vets Nicolas Meloche, Jake Middleton, and Jaycob Megna.

I thought Hatakka and Kniazev were pretty close in this tourney: Kniazev offers more offense, Hatakka more defense, but they both showed more than that here.

Kniazev consistently made small, smart decisions in the defensive zone — Hatakka showed off his straightline speed on the rush a couple times.

Sommer, however, gave Hatakka the edge: “I thought Hatakka’s game, it was really impressive this tournament. Keeps it simple. He can skate himself out of trouble. He hit singles. He doesn’t try to do too much; he kind of stays within his own box.”

An NHL scout also gave Hatakka an edge — he was impressed by both, but also believes that the Finnish defender has a lower bar to be NHL-caliber — he plays a safer, more risk-aversive game than Kniazev. Basically, Hatakka’s growing pains may not hurt you as much as Kniazev’s.

Hatakka has been a find — the 2019 sixth-round pick looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-1 — and he’s blessed with exceptional straight-line speed. He was either a captain or an alternate captain for all three tourney games.

Meanwhile, Kniazev was the best player at the San Jose Sharks Development Camp prospects scrimmage. A source told me: “Artemi Kniazev was the most NHL-ready looking player on the ice. His skating and hockey sense looked excellent. He showed the ability to make plays through the middle and under pressure, which projects to the NHL. Looks like the Sharks hit on him.”

Kniazev wasn’t quite that good this weekend, but didn’t do anything to hurt his stock.

Game Notes

This morning, Ozzy Wiesblatt, Kyle Topping, Wiesblatt, and Timur Ibragimov scored for the San Jose Sharks. It was not a banner effort from Zachary Emond or Ben Gaudreau, who split time between the pipes.

Not surprisingly, Sommer was full of praise for Wiesblatt, saying it was his best game of the tournament. He loves Wiesblatt’s tools, but says the winger is still working on not overhandling pucks and forcing plays. There’s still defensive stuff to work on, which is about right for a 19-year-old.

Wiesblatt was the lead puck carrier on the San Jose Sharks power play in this tourney — a testament to his speed.

Sommer also called Ryan Merkley’s tournament “pretty good”: “Of the three games, I thought this was the one I liked him the least. But I thought the other two games, he made plays, kept it simple. Today, I think it was like, I’m going to try to do more. He started doing some long passes and trying to beat guys where he was moving [the puck] before. That’s where he gets in trouble.”

He also had a positive assessment of the polarizing blueliner’s defensive game: “Yeah, stick was better [than last year]. I thought he broke up more plays. It’s coming.”

What Must Merkley Improve Defensively? | SJHN+

Sommer also shared his thoughts about a couple sleeper San Jose Sharks prospects.

Of Ibragimov: “I thought this was his best game in the tournament. He’s getting it. Strong, big body, heavy on pucks, a north-south kind of guy. He’ll go in and get pucks for a guy like a Tristen [Robins].

“Put him in a corner. Eight out of 10 times, he’s coming out with the puck. He’s got a good engine on him too.”

Of Topping, who’s signed to the San Jose Barracuda: “The guy that nobody’s talking about is [Kyle] Topping. He was one of the forwards that opened some eyes for everybody.

“He was real strong, good on the wall. Good on draws, made some plays. Quietly, he was one of the better forwards in the last two games for us.”

The San Jose Sharks open training camp this Wednesday.

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