SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. —The competition for fourth-line center on the San Jose Sharks is heating up.
Last night, Jasper Weatherby centered William Eklund and Ozzy Wiesblatt, the top line in an 8-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in San Jose’s first game of the 2021 Rookie Faceoff Tournament.
Regardless, Weatherby showed well, notching a goal and an assist.
“The score wasn’t what you liked. But I liked Weatherby,” Rookie Faceoff Tournament head coach Roy Sommer said. “Good net front guy. Played pretty heavy. Was good on the kill. Pretty good on draws.”
Tomorrow against the Vegas Golden Knights, Scott Reedy will take Weatherby’s place up top, between Eklund and Wiesblatt. Weatherby will slide between Timur Ibragimov and Adam Raska.
“Reedy, he’s more of a shooter. Weatherby is more of a net front guy,” Sommer offered. “They both got to play heavy to get noticed.”
We’ll see how Reedy looks in a bigger role tomorrow.
Meanwhile, back in San Jose, incumbent Dylan Gambrell and newcomer Lane Pederson are waiting. So it’s four centermen for perhaps one role — Weatherby and Reedy are waiver-exempt, while Gambrell and Pederson aren’t.
Both Weatherby, 23, and Reedy, 22, are big-bodied centers from the NCAA.
The 6-foot-3 Weatherby is considered an excellent faceoff man, winning 57 percent of his draws last year at the University of South Dakota. But it’s worth noting that the transition from NCAA to pro hockey isn’t always smooth.
Look no farther than 6-foot-2 Scott Reedy, who won 54 percent of his faceoffs last season at the University of Minnesota. However, per SPORTLOGiQ, Reedy won only 45.2 percent with the San Jose Barracuda last year.
I’m not saying Weatherby isn’t strong on draws — but it’s not a given that he can step into the NHL immediately in that capacity.
“Guys are so much stronger, guys are harder, right?” Weatherby said of the jump from NCAA to pro at the dot. “It’s truly a pyramid.”
Meanwhile, Gambrell, 25, and Pederson, 24, are both 6-foot-0 with a lot more pro experience to their credit. Weatherby has yet to make his pro debut, while Reedy has just 17 AHL tilts on his ledger. In contrast, Gambrell has played 110 NHL and 55 AHL games, and Pederson has skated 15 NHL and 183 AHL contests.
Gambrell, miscast as the San Jose Sharks’ third-line center last season, doesn’t appear safe even another rung down. Not surprisingly, one area of weakness for him is on the draw: He won just 43.8 percent of his faceoffs last year.
He also doesn’t offer much offensively at the NHL, but it’s an open question as to whether or not Reedy or Weatherby offer much more.
Gambrell is solid defensively, and was the second most-regular penalty killer among San Jose Sharks forwards last season.
The sleeper in this conversation is Pederson, who the Sharks acquired from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2024 fourth-round pick.
In a small sample size — 15 games — Pederson performed well on the draw at the NHL level, winning 50 percent. Per SPORTLOGiQ, the 24-year-old was also strong in this department at the AHL level, winning 52 percent of his faceoffs with the Tucson Roadrunners last season.
He also might offer a little more juice offensively than Gambrell and company.
“They didn’t trade for him to play for the Cuda,” Sommer noted of the Roadrunners center that he saw plenty of last season. “Kind of always dangerous. You had to know when he was out there. He would hurt you with a shot.”
The San Jose Sharks start training camp next Wednesday. Meanwhile, Weatherby and Reedy will have Sunday and Monday to get a jump on their more experienced counterparts.
“Coming into camp, everyone’s got an eye on that [4C job],” Reedy admitted. “I think if you don’t have your eye on that, you shouldn’t be here.”
Consider Santeri Hatakka a Finn out of water.
Not only is Hatakka the only Finnish player on the San Jose Sharks’ Rookie Faceoff roster — it’s also his first time in Arizona, where it hit 100 degrees today.
“It’s pretty different than Finland,” the 2019 sixth-rounder said, laughing. “It’s like nine Celsius there.”
100 degrees equals 38 Celsius.
Hatakka, however, hasn’t looked out of place on the ice. While he missed Sharks Development Camp because of visa issues, it’s not the Finnish pro’s first time on smaller ice — he reminded me that the 2021 World Junior Championships, where he represented Finland, took place in Edmonton.
“I liked Hatakka’s game [yesterday],” Sommer said. “Kind of what you see is what you get. Hard worker, gritty, first pass guy, kind of a shutdown D.”
Like Hatakka, Robins missed Development Camp because of visa issues.
So this is a big week for the 2020 second-rounder to show the San Jose Sharks brass his stuff.
Robins, for his part, is focused on improving his already-quick feet: “I don’t think you could ever be quick enough. It’ll only improve your game and that’s probably one of my main focuses.
“And yeah, adjusting to the pace of play and trying to see plays in my head before they develop.”
Robins is a little lost in the shuffle compared to more-ballyhooed San Jose Sharks prospects up front William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, and Wiesblatt.
“He’s a guy that I think as the camp goes on, you’re gonna see him get better,” Sommer said. “He’s got a real competitive edge to his game.”
He’ll skate tomorrow between Danil Gushchin and Brandon Coe, which promises to be a high-octane offensive line.
Finally, Weatherby had a great anecdote about working out recently with Zach Parise in Minnesota.
“We did a tip drill with Zach Parise. He didn’t miss a tip,” he recounted. “You’re like okay, that’s how this guy scores goals.”
He smiled when I asked him what his tip percentage was: “I just try to do my best.”
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