To a team claiming to be in a rebuild, there may be no more important off-season event than the prospect development camp. The San Jose Sharks finally got to see what their future might look like in game action when Team White defeated Team Teal 2-1 in a scrimmage Wednesday, July 9.
The stand-out Sharks were not among the photo list (with notes about their performances) of prospects with the most eyes on them coming into the game. Matt Nieto, Freddie Hamilton and Eriah Hayes broke into the NHL last season, while the first pick in each of the last two drafts (Mirco Mueller and Nikolay Goldobin) were the prospects SJ Chomp Facebook Page followers voiced the most interest in.
Mueller was not very visible, though that is not always a bad sign for a defenseman. However, Team Teal mates Gage Ausmus and Nick Jones did manage to make a positive impression from the unit, as did Randy Gazzola and Clifford Watson on the opposing blue line.
The only strong goalie prospect the Sharks have left it J.P. Anderson. He was one of the game's stars, keeping Team White in the contest in the first period with saves on all 10 shots faced.
When asked about the keys to his success, he mentioned gaining confidence from playing well down the stretch this past spring and noted in his post-game interview Wednesday: "It's my third time out there...(I'm) starting to feel more comfortable, trying to be a leader."
His counterpart Marc Cheverie was slow to react to cover the back door on one play, allowing Jake Jackson an easy goal to give his team the early lead (Gazzola and Lebanc assists). It was one of just four first-period shots by Team White.
Both teams had nine shots in a closer second half of the game. The format was two 25-minute halves in which the clock ran even after the whistle except when the ice was being repaired or a timeout was called.
Chris Crane had laid the first big hit early in the game and took the puck in with speed in the second half, putting a good backhand past Matt Skoff to tie the game. It was clear in the post-game interview that the 22-year old is taking this a step at a time and "trying to get better every day."
Noah Rod (pronounced "road") did not need long to answer the score. On a clever wrap-around goal, he was able to lift the puck past Fredrik Bergvik. (It was initially waived off but overturned on replay.) Throughout the game, he was clearly the most impressive Shark and thus among those made available to the media after the game.
While he gave what sounded like a fluent post-game response in French to radio play-by-play master Dan Rusanowsky, his English comprehension is something he will need to improve quickly given how well he played. San Jose's second pick in the second round this summer was asked about being strong on the puck and playing so well in his first game situation since the draft:
The guys with me play very well, give me an opportunity to score and I take it. ...I want to have the puck so I make everything (about) protecting the puck and I use my body for that.
The three biggest ovations of the game were given when Rod was correctly given what turned out to be the game-winning goal and the two times Tomas Hertl was seen (in street clothes) behind the bench. The San Jose rookie of the year was walking normally in the halls before and after the game, so all indications are he will be fine.
Meanwhile, much was made of Nieto's role as the only major Shark during the 2013-14 NHL season to be in the contest. It was clear that status meant something to him:
Even though it's a scrimmage, you never wanna lose. ...I'm trying to be a good example here. It's pretty easy—you know they're all trying to make an impression here—so...I'm pretty hard on myself, making these guys try their best.
In all, the game was well worth the $5 per ticket for the thousands of fans that attend. They got a firsthand glimpse of the next generation for a team claiming to be in rebuilding mode, and the early results say Rod may be closer than one would expect of a prospect not even two weeks removed from being picked behind 52 other players.