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Who are these guys
Sharks loading up on farmhands
1/26/2023 - By Mike Lee

So who are these new guys that Sharks General Manager Mike Grier acquired in a pair of trades this past week. Grier first shipped Jasper Weatherby to Detroit for journeyman AHLer Kyle Criscuolo last week, then dealt Matt Nieto and Ryan Merkley to Colorado on Wednesday in exchange for prospects Jacob MacDonald and Martin Kaut.

First let's address the latter deal that included disgruntled defenseman Merkley, who requested a trade through the media two weeks ago. Merkley was unhappy with his lack of opportunity at the NHL level and decided to burn his bridge with the Sharks by making it public.

He forced the Sharks hand, and Grier obliged him on Wednesday with a move to the Avalanche. The thing about a deal like that is, if you're getting shipped from team that is in a rebuild and has holes up and down their NHL roster to a team that is making a run at a playoff spot, the chances of their being more opportunity at the NHL level seems less likely.

Did we mention that Colorado is the defending Stanley Cup Champion and isn't a franchise leaking on the blueline. Nieto was likely the key piece in the puzzle for Colorado, so Merkley may find himself playing in some European league within the next couple of years if he doesn't suddenly become a serviceable NHL defenseman. The Sharks didn't think he was that guy at the moment, so it was likely easy for them to deal him.

What San Jose got in return may help in the long run, but that's more likely to come in the form of Kaut, who is only 23 years old. Merkley is almost an entire year younger than Kaut, but he lacks the size that Kaut brings to the table. Kaut's 6'2", 180lb frame is a step up from Merkley's 5'11" 170lb package. Merkley is a defenseman and Kaut a winger, but the Sharks are looking to get bigger and faster across the board.

The Sharks had hoped Merkely would be Erik Karlsson 2.0, but he lacked the skating skills and decision making to keep him at the NHL level. Kaut is regarded a good two-way player, but he's endured some strange injuries in his path to San Jose. Before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he was misdiagnosed with congenital heart condition. He underwent ablation surgery, which confirmed the misdiagnosis. Colorado took him 16th overall in that year's draft.

While playing for the Avalanche's top minor league affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, he suffered a concussion in a game against the San Jose Barracuda. That injury sidelined him for two months early in the 2019-20 season. He has performed at the AHL level, but that hasn't translated in the NHL.

After not making the Avalanche roster to start the current season, he was assigned to the Eagles, where he played in 10 games before injury issues with the Avalanche warranted a call up to the big club. He's played in 27 games for the Avalanche this season, but has only recorded 1 goal and 2 assists in that span. He has 3 goals and 3 assists in 47 NHL games.

MacDonald and Criscuolo are peculiar acquisitions given their age. MacDonald turns 30 next month and the AHL journeyman has played for five teams in that league in his 7-year professional career. He made his NHL debut in 2018 for Florida, scoring in his first game, on his first NHL shot.

The Panthers let him play one more game before shipping him back to Springfield where he put up decent offensive numbers for a defenseman. The Sharks aren't looking for offensive help from the blueline, because they need to solve the hemorrhaging defensive issues.

The undrafted blueliner has 33 NHL games, but at 30 years old, it's unlikely that he's a realistic long term solution for the Sharks. He's more likely to provide guidance to the Sharks prospects with the Barracuda or serve as an insurance policy if the Sharks see any injuries within the defensive corps. The trade deadline could also create holes that need filling for San Jose.

Criscuolo is another aging journeyman that seems destined for the same role as MacDonald. He turns 31 in May and is playing for his 6th AHL franchise. He made his NHL debut in 2017 for Buffalo where he appeared in 9 games for the Sabres and did not record a point.

After bouncing from Grand Rapids, Rochester, Lehigh. San Diego and back to Grand Rapids, Criscuolo was recalled by the Detroit Red Wings in December of 2021 during the COVID season. He played two games for the Red Wings before being assigned to Grand Rapids, where he played until being recalled again in April. He would finish the 2021-22 season by appearing in 4 more games for the Red Wings.

The centerman has recorded no goals and 2 assists in 15 NHL games. He recorded a career high 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) for Grand Rapids in 2016-17. Criscuolo almost matched that last season by scoring 39 points for Grand Rapids last season.

Both MacDonald and Criscuolo are American.


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