Ice skating is not the most important thing.
Sasha Chmelevski’s current stay with the San Jose Sharks is a study in it.
Chmelevski started alongside John Leonard Saturday night on the fourth line, flanking Scott Reedy. But after the Sharks came down 4-1 in the first period to the Dallas Stars, head coach Bob Boughner raised Chmelevski next to Logan Couture.
“I thought Sasha’s game was strong. I knew it right away, “Boughner said.” You try to make adjustments as a game goes on and give guys opportunities where they deserve, and I thought he deserved that opportunity to play on the big line. “
And in fact, the promotion paid off instantly as both Chmelevski and Couture showed how smart can trump skating.
Couture (39) passes it on to Brent Burns (88). Burns returns it to Couture, but when the return pass arrives, former San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski (16) is on top of the current captain.
Here’s where Couture’s infamous hockey IQ starts: Instead of trying to handle the puck through Pavelski (likely turnover) or sending it (it would be a single-touch pass under duress, which is risky), Couture lets it go to Jaycob Megna (24), runs a pick on pre-checker Pavelski in the process.
Megna has a little more time and space – than Couture would have had – to play and beat Chmelevski (55) up the ice. Couture helps again by running the midfield and pushing Thomas Harley (55) and John Klingberg (3) back.
Chmelevski wins the zone and pulls up. He does not necessarily have the feet or the physicality a la Timo Meier to run the net at Klingberg. But what he has is patience with the puck and the sight.
He sees Burns available on the far lane and zips a pass under Tyler Seguin’s (91) stick. Burns has a step on Seguin, and his center-right pass deflects Harley past Scott Wedgewood.
Chmelevski made his NHL debut last season with two assists in five games. But understandably for a rookie, the best league in the world at times seemed quick to him.
He’s clearly treating the game to a higher level now.
“I can see it slowing down a bit for me, but that’s also me having to take it upon myself to slow it down,” Chmelevski remarked. “You have more time than you think and you have to play a game if you want to play in this league, you can not just get rid of the puck. That’s what I’m trying to do. ”
And that’s what he does.
First, credit to Noah Gregor (73). He feints shot and draws Ryan Suter (20). He then hits the open Chmelevski with the pass.
Many inexperienced players would fire it right there or look for the pass at this point – basically they would not know what to do with the puck in the spotlight.
And that might have been Chmelevski last season.
But now, the third-year pro slung Wedgewood and almost got his first NHL goal. However, it was Couture who took advantage of the Chmelevski-created chaos to pull San Jose within one.
Both Couture and Chmelevski played for the Ottawa 67s, so Couture has kept a watchful eye on Chmelevski since the San Jose Sharks drafted him in the sixth round of the 2017 Draft.
“Every time he played, whether it was World Juniors or a junior match on television, I saw him. And one thing you pick up when you see him is his brain,” Couture said.
He then gave Chmelevski the ultimate compliment: “Ice skating may not be a strength, but he gets it and he puts himself in the right positions all over the ice. Skates like Pav. I’m not saying he’s Joe Pavelski, but he has that look to himself when he skates. He thinks of the game in a similar way. “
Chmelevski paid the compliment back to the captain (and the deputies) and credited the management of Couture, Burns and Erik Karlsson for his high stakes.
“Our big guys stay with me that they want to see me carry the puck. That’s when I play my best, when I try to play, use my teammates,” he said. “Especially Burnzie, he’s always on me about to play with confidence. “
Even Chmelevski’s younger peers have noticed it. John Leonard, who himself scored a goal against Dallas and was Chmelevski’s linemate in the AHL, added: “He has really shown his patience lately on the ice. It paid off on Burnzie’s goal and then also on the Coochs. He held on to the puck, took that extra second to play. “
And perhaps most importantly, the San Jose Sharks coaching staff has also noticed. Boughner agreed that Chmelevski’s processing power has increased compared to last season.
“I think the AHL, I know from my experience as a player, when they watch the AHL over time, most guys will sometimes tell you that it’s easier to play up here. The reason is that everyone does their own job. , everyone is organized.You care about your own things [here]said the bench boss. “Sometimes it’s a little more messy and you’re trying to do a little too much down there to cover up for other mistakes.”
Big picture for the San Jose Sharks? Chmelevski’s entry-level contract expires at the end of this season. But the RFA argues well that he belongs in the NHL right now.
“Sasha is a pretty versatile player. He could play center, he could play wing, ”Boughner pointed out. “We used him on the kill tonight.”
San Jose Barracuda’s head coach Roy Sommer told San Jose Hockey Now that Chmelevski is over 50 percent on a draw in the AHL this year.
So it looks like the Sharks’ patience with their 2017 draft pick might pay off – they could have found a legitimate and versatile NHL striker in the late rounds.
“It takes time to get used to the NHL and get up to speed,” Couture said, “but I think he’s been great so far.”
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