DeMelo in position to replace Sch­lemko on blue line

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Paul Gackle pgackle@ba­yare­anews­group.com

Pete DeBoer rec­og­nized his team’s good for­tune when the 2017 NHL ex­pan­sion draft wrapped up on June 21.

As the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins watched star goalie Marc-An­dre Fleury join the ex­pan­sion Ve­gas Golden Knights and the Nashville Preda­tors waved good­bye to for­mer 40-goalscorer James Neal, the Sharks coach ac­cepted the loss of de­fense­man David Sch­lemko, be­liev­ing his squad has the or­ga­ni­za­tion depth on the blue line to fill his spot on the third pair­ing.

“Ev­ery­one went in know­ing they were go­ing to lose a good player, or pay not to, and we felt for­tu­nate to get out with (min­i­mal dam­age),” DeBoer said. “As good as David Sch­lemko is, and as hard as he played for us, we have some young guys here in (Dy­lan) DeMelo and (Tim) Heed and (Joakim) Ryan that are knocking on the door.”

As the Sharks search for vi­able ways to replace Pa­trick Mar­leau’s of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion in train­ing camp, an­other position bat­tle is brew­ing on the un­der­card as Bar­racuda de­fen­sive part­ners Heed and Ryan com­pete for the sev­enth spot on the team’s blue line.

Af­ter Satur­day’s prac­tice, DeBoer ac­knowl­edged that DeMelo has all but locked up the job va­cated by Sch­lemko on the third pair­ing, leav­ing one open spot for Heed and Ryan to fight over.

“I’m a big DeMelo fan. I love what he’s done here over the last cou­ple years,” DeBoer said. “We’d be crazy to be over­look­ing him. He’s done a very good job and he’s one of the guys who’s shown that he can do it con­sis­tently and get our trust.

“He’s al­ready passed a few of those tests.”

When DeBoer picks a sev­enth de­fense­man for the Sharks sea­son opener against the Philadel­phia Fly­ers on Oct. 4, he’ll be choos­ing be­tween a pair of blue lin­ers who bring dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent skill sets to the rink.

“We do bring dif­fer­ent things to the ta­ble,” Ryan said. “Heed’s got an ab­so­lute rocket of a shot, very good of­fen­sively. I just play a sim­ple game, keep it steady and mix in of­fen­sively when I can.”

Heed, a for­mer-Swedish Hockey League de­fense­man of the year (2014-15), emerged as the Brent Burns of mi­nor league hockey last sea­son. The 26-year-old led all AHL de­fense­men in points per game (56 points in 55 games), driv­ing the Bar­racuda’s of­fense with his Burn­sian blast from the point.

The Swedish blue liner, who played one game with the Sharks last sea­son, was also the cen­ter­piece of a Bar­racuda power play that ranked sec­ond in the AHL (23. 8 per­cent). His ad­di­tion to the Sharks lineup would po­ten­tially give the team an­other of­fen­sive pro­ducer from the back end, tak­ing some weight off Burns’ shoul­ders, while also giv­ing the squad a much-needed scor­ing threat on the sec­ond power-play unit.

Like Burns, Heed, who’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, can pass the puck, too, draw­ing de­fenses to­ward him and then find­ing the open man.

“He sees the whole ice,” Bar­racuda coach Roy Som­mer said. “On the of­fen­sive blue line, he’ll find guys off to the side where most guys will shoot it, and he’s got a bomb, too.”

The ques­tion with Heed is whether his play in the de­fen­sive zone is up to snuff for NHL hockey. In some ways, it’s dif­fi­cult to know how well Heed plays in his own end be­cause he and Ryan spent most of their shifts in the at­tack zone.

“He’s bet­ter than you think. I was say­ing the same thing, can this guy de­fend?” Som­mer said. “But there are some things he’s got to work on: find­ing guys ear­lier and box­ing out be­cause he isn’t a big guy. And there’s no doubt it’s quicker up there. The (Con­nor) McDavid’s, we didn’t have guys like that that he had to play against.”

Ryan, on the other hand, plays a more Marc-Edouard Vla­sic-like game. With the Bar­racuda, he showed ex­cep­tional puck re­trieval skills, lead­ing the break­out with a strong first pass out of the de­fen­sive zone. He’s smart and po­si­tion­ally sound, too, which al­lowed him to rank fourth in the AHL in plus/mi­nus (plus-27).

Play­ing along­side Heed, Ryan’s of­fen­sive num­bers spiked up last sea­son as he led the Bar­racuda in shots (185) while pro­duc­ing 49 points in 65 games.

“He’s such a good skater and a smart player, with the puck and in the de­fen­sive zone,” Heed said. “It’s tough to know when a guy’s never played up in the NHL, but he’s such a smart guy, I think he’d handle it very well.”

Like Heed, the knock against Ryan is his size (511, 185) and whether he can hang with the big for­wards in the Pa­cific Divi­sion, like Anze Ko­pi­tar, Ryan Get­zlaf and Leon Drai­saitl.

“Ev­ery­one talks about his size, but he plays big­ger than he is,” Som­mer said. “No one knows how his game is go­ing to trans­late to the NHL, but I think he’ll be fine.”

JIM GENSHEIMER — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Dy­lan DeMelo is ex­pected to take the spot of David Sch­lemko, who was lost to Ve­gas, on the third de­fen­sive pair­ing.

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