High-scoring prospect proving doubters wrong
SANJOSE » Sharks prospect Dylan Gambrell laughed when he was asked the last time he’s scored 70 goals in a season: “never.” The AHL Barracuda’s top scorer, Rudolfs Balcers, said he’s never reached the 70-goal mark at any level because, “that’s just way too much.”
Sasha Chmelevski, another hot prospect in the Sharks pipeline, admitted he’s in the same boat.
“No. I’ve never scored 70 goals,” Chmelevski said. “But I know someone who has.”
Chmelevski was referring to the short guy with the long name sitting next to him in the Sharks locker room Thursday afternoon.
Jayden Halbgewachs ( pronounced HALLB- GWACHS) might be the most-intriguing attraction at the Sharks annual prospects showcase being held at SAP Center Friday night. Although he led the Canadian junior leagues in scoring last season with 129 points (70g, 59a), Halbgewachs feels like an underdog at Sharks development camp this week. At 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, Halbgewachs knows he’ll need to overcome doubts about his size to get a shot in the NHL.
“You’ve always got to prove yourself more than other people when you’re the size I am,” Halbgewachs said. “Imay not get there in the first year, or even the second year. But down the road, I know I can do it if I keep working hard.”
No one envisioned Halbgewachs, 21, as an NHL player, let alone a minor leaguer, during his draft year in 2014-15. As Timo Meier thrust himself onto the Sharks’ radar by collecting 91 points in 61 games as an 18-year old that season, Halbgewachs barely found the ice with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors, earning eight points in 59 games as a fourth liner.
But after scoring 50 goals and collecting 101 points in 2016-17, the undrafted forward was being courted by general managers across the NHL last winter. Halbgewachs eventually signed with the Sharks in December.
“It was just the best fit,” Halbgewachs said. “The Sharks really elaborated on the idea that my size does not matter in this organization. Knowing that, it was hard to say no”
Halbgewachs is joining the organization at a time when more and more undersized players are finding their way into the NHL. Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau is among the league’s most- electrifying scorers and he’s only 5-foot-9, 157 pounds. Tampa Bay Lighting forward Tyler Johnson, listed at 5-foot-8, 183 pounds, is a three-time 20- goal scorer, and Jona- than Marchessault (5-foot9, 174 pounds) helped lead the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final by recording 75 points in 77 games.
As the game gets faster and more skilled, teams are shedding the beefy one- dimensional grinders from their rosters, giving more chances to speedy- cerebral players, such as Halbgewachs.
“Those guys are impact players in the league right now,” Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer said. “That’s the beauty of the way the league’s going — it’s gone to more skill and quickness. That’s where everyone’s trying to get to right now. They’re not trying to get slower.”
Sommer said Halbgewachs is entering a much friendlier environment that the one another undersized Sharks prospect confronted five years ago.
Yanni Gourde, who’s listed at 5- foot- 9, 172 pounds, started his professional career under similar circumstances, winning a scoring title in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after going undrafted. But the Sharks organization cut ties with Gourde less than two years into his professional hockey career. Gourde eventually re-emerged with the Lightning last season, recording 64 points and finishing sixth in Calder Trophy voting.
“I don’t think a guy like that had a chance 10 years ago,” Sommer said.
“Those types of players with that type of skillset, speed and vision, you put them with the right players, the sky’s the limit.”
As boundless as the ceiling might be for Halbgewachs, he knows that a career in the NHL isn’t a slam dunk. In fact, the odds are stacked against him. The last WHL player that scored 70 goals, Pavel Brendl in 1998-99, suited up for just 78 NHL games over parts of four seasons. Yes, teams are giving more chances to undersized players, butHalbgewachs will need to develop his game just like everyone else to get a shot in the NHL.
Halbgewachs is expected to open the 2018-19 season as a top- six forward with the Barracuda. He knows he’ll need to put in a lot of work to reach the next level. The 21-year old stamped his ticket to Sharks development camp by transforming himself into a 70goal scorer in juniors. He’ll need to experience similar growth to make it in the NHL.
“It’s hard to even think of myself as a 70-goal scorer. That isn’t the mindset I have,” Halbgewachs said. “It doesn’t matter how many goals I scored in junior hockey, this is a wholenew league and a wholenew challenge.
“I’ll need to prove myself all over again.”