SAN JOSE – The San Jose Sharks used 10 defensemen during the 2021-2022 season, the year before Mike Grier took over as the team’s general manager.
Three are left in the organization, with Grier replacing the others in the last year with a handful of young blueliners. The new guys are all between 21 and 23 years old, and one doesn’t need to squint too hard to see they could form the nucleus of the Sharks’ defense corps later this decade.
“You can kind of just tell from the age group of players that (Grier) is trying to accumulate or bring in that are in their early 20s,” Sharks center Nico Sturm said. “Probably (defensemen) hit their prime probably in their late 20s or early 30s. So, there’s a timeline further ahead.”
The latest to be added by Grier is Calen Addison, who will be in the Sharks’ lineup Thursday when they play the Edmonton Oilers at SAP Center. Addison, 23, was acquired from the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday for winger Adam Raska and a 2026 fifth-round draft pick.
Against the Oilers, Addison will be with Mario Ferraro on the Sharks’ top defense pair and join the No. 1 power-play unit. He’s set to become a restricted free agent next summer but is under team control for at least three more seasons after this one.
“It’s super exciting,” Addison said of potentially being in San Jose long term. “Honestly the biggest thought I have probably is just the excitement to what this could be and what this could mean. I want to show them that I want to be here for a long time and help this team win games.”
There was little question that Grier wanted to build up the organization’s depth on defense — while also freeing up cap space and getting bigger and younger — when he took over in San Jose.
Since the end of the 2021-2022 season, defensemen Santeri Hatakka, Artemi Kniazev, Jaycob Megna, Nicolas Meloche, Ryan Merkley – not to mention Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson – have all been shipped out. Defensemen who are in their early 20s and have been brought into the organization include Ty Emberson (23), Nikita Okhotiuk (22), Henry Thrun (22), Valtteri Pulli (22), and Shakir Mukhamadullin (21).
Emberson has gotten some NHL experience so far this season, Thrun, Mukhamadullin, and Pulli are gaining more seasoning in the AHL, with Mukhamadullin, with six points in nine Barracuda games, projected to be a top-four NHL defenseman if he continues to develop.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Okhotiuk, healthy again, has impressed the Sharks with his simple but physical brand of hockey.
“He’s playing with the right intentions. I like a lot of what I see,” said Sharks coach David Quinn, adding about Okhotiuk’s physicality, “He’s real. He doesn’t have to be prodded. When there’s a one-on-one it’s, he’s through you, not to you. It’s a nice quality.”
Not all of these defensemen will become full-time NHLers, of course, but the Sharks are hopeful that some will break through and be a part of the solution going forward.
Grier doesn’t want to rush his rebuild but doesn’t want it to last another six or seven years, either. Bringing in defensemen who are on the verge of becoming full-time NHLers is likely an indication that the Sharks want to be competitive sooner this decade rather than later.
“It’s obviously at times, painful, but you need to give these guys experience, 150-200 games, then where are you at?” said Sturm, who is signed through the 2024-25 season. “I knew that coming in. That’s what I signed up for. I have a year left on my deal after this year. You go through the pain, now you want to kind of reap some of the rewards down the road as well.”
As far as the current Sharks’ defense corps, Ferraro, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Matt Benning, and Kyle Burroughs are signed through the end of the 2025-2026 season, and Jan Rutta and Nikolai Knyzhov are signed through 2024-2025.
The only defensemen who played on the 2021-2022 team and are still with the Sharks are Ferraro, Vlasic, and Radim Simek, who is with the Barracuda after he was waived last month.
“Whenever there’s turnover, you try to get younger up front and on defense,” Vlasic said. “We’ve got some guys up front and some guys on the back end that’ll be good for many years.”
The Sharks hope Addison can fill a need for a puck-moving defenseman with NHL experience who can quarterback a power play, and at least start to fill the massive void left after Karlsson was traded to Pittsburgh.
“When you get a guy like that, it allows everyone else to play in position,” Quinn said. “We’ve got a lot of good power play players, but they’ve been out of position. It’s like putting a band together, and we’ve been having the piano guy try to play the trombone and so on and so forth. Now we have people in the right spots and I think it’ll help our power play be more effective and look better.”
Addison said he felt honored to be put on the Sharks’ top defense pair and power unit to start off. Now it’s a matter of how long he fills that role.
“It makes you feel good about yourself, makes you confident,” Addison said. “For me working hard and playing my game, moving the puck, moving my feet. I’m going to focus on that and do everything I can to show my teammates and coaches I’m ready.”
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