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The X Factors
Sharks’ rookies could change the equation for the struggling South Bay franchise
10/11/21 - By Paul Krill
After back-to-back non-playoff seasons, not much is expected from the Sharks in the upcoming 2021-22 season. (DRatings, for example, gives the Sharks a .6 percent chance of winning it all this season. Not 6 percent, that’s .6 percent.) There could be reasons for optimism, though, given a growing crop of quality young players, anchored by William Eklund, Ryan Merkley, and Jonathan Dahlen, who would be in their rookie seasons if they make the squad.

All could be game-changers, serving as x factors – special talents – on the team. In the exhibition season, Eklund has a goal and five assists while Merkley has a goal and two assists. Dahlen, son of former Shark Ulf Dahlen, has a goal and two assists.

Merkley, a defenseman, and Eklund, a forward, were first round draft picks, Merkley in 2018 and Eklund in 2021. Merkley was chosen 21st overall, with the talk at the time being that he’d have been selected much sooner if not for some attitude issues. The Sharks decided to take a gamble on him when other teams stayed away. Since being drafted, smooth-skating Merkley has spent time in junior hockey and with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, particularly to work on the defensive side of his game.

It looks like we may be seeing progress. (I guess the Sharks, who already have Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, just can’t have too many offensive-minded defensemen. Not surprising, given the playing history of the GM, Doug Wilson, as an offensive defenseman and Norris winner himself.)

Eklund, slotted as the fourth-best prospect in The Hockey News draft rankings, despite a belief that he was the most-NHL-ready player available, somehow was still on the board when it came time for the Sharks to make their pick with the seventh selection. Not initially expected to make the big league squad given his age (he’ll be 19 on October 12), Eklund could force the Sharks’ hand and earn a roster spot anyway. And he could make the six teams who passed on him regret their decision big time.

Dahlen, chosen 42nd overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2016, has a goal and two assists. At 23, he is perhaps a late bloomer. But he, too, could become an impact player.

Of course, these guys can’t do it all. We’re going to need, major improvements, well, everywhere - from the defense to the offense to goaltending. But Eklund, Merkley, and Dahlen could form the nucleus of a new Sharks team, one that might just win the Cup, if not this year, then some time in the next few seasons. It should be fun to watch.

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