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Mario Ferraro has impressed the San Jose Sharks’ coaching staff so far in training camp — so much so that Bob Boughner said the second-year defenseman might be ready for a bigger role with the team at the start of the season.
Boughner said Ferraro was the Sharks’ best defenseman during the team’s controlled scrimmage Sunday, and would, as of now, have no problem putting him on one of San Jose’s top two defense pairs for its Jan. 14 season opener against the Arizona Coyotes. Ferraro was mainly on the Sharks’ third defense pair as a rookie last season.
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“There’s major strides in his maturity and I think his confidence,” Boughner said. “I wouldn’t be surprised, opening night puck drop, that he’s not sitting in our top four if he keeps progressing in camp like he is.”
Right now, the Sharks’ top two defense pairs are presumed to be Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Erik Karlsson, and Radim Simek and Brent Burns. Like Vlasic and Simek, Ferraro is a left shot defenseman, but is also comfortable playing on the right side.
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Boughner was later asked if that means he’s looking for more from some guys in his presumed top four defense group. Not necessarily, he said.
“I’m not saying anybody’s off. I’m just saying that you can tell Mario, he’s one of those guys that catches your eye every shift doing something.” Boughner said. “His energy and his intensity, those are the things you notice.”
Leonard, who played three years at UMass, was not placed on waivers Monday and played on the top line of the White team during the Sharks Teal vs. White scrimmage Sunday.
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“He has high-end skill and he has speed, and I like him in that position on that top line,” San Jose coach Bob Boughner said after the scrimmage. “I’m sure there’s going to be some tinkering as we get through this compacted schedule, but Johnny did a good job and had a good camp and he deserves to be with the big club.”
Boughner on John Leonard: “I’m sure there’s going to be some tinkering as we get through this compacted schedule, but Johnny’s done a good job and had a good camp, and he deserves to be with the big club.” Leonard will make his NHL debut on Thursday. #SJSharks
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— Curtis Pashelka (@CurtisPashelka) January 11, 2021
The Sharks drafted Leonard in the sixth round with the 182nd overall pick in 2018 after his freshman season at UMass. He agreed to sign with San Jose last March as a junior, forgoing his final season of collegiate eligibility.
Leonard, who played at the former Cathedral High School in Springfield and with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, left the Minutemen as the program’s fourth-leading goalscorer (56) and eighth in career points (105) after 106 games. He set the school’s Division I era scoring record with 27 goals as a junior.
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He’ll re-join his former UMass teammate Mario Ferraro with the Sharks. Ferraro played in 61 games for San Jose last season, scoring two goals with nine assists. He was the 48th overall pick in 2017.
“I think Mario is a little mature beyond his years when it comes to his hockey sense,” Boughner said. “Mario has earned the right to be in the top four (defensive mix) based on how he played last year and how he’s come into camp here.”
The duo are two of 11 former Minutemen set to start the NHL season this week. Cale Makar won the Calder Trophy last season as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in helping the Colorado Avalanche reach the Western Conference semifinals.
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Jonathan Quick is entering his 14th season with the Los Angeles Kings. Conor Sheary signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals. East Longmeadow’s Frank Vatrano will start his fourth year with the Florida Panthers after being traded from the Bruins.
Justin Braun joined the Philadelphia Flyers after nearly a decade with the Sharks. Brandon Montour and Matt Irwin are in Buffalo with the Sabres. Joel Hanley will play for the Dallas Stars.
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Regardless, Ferraro’s continued improvement in the eyes of the coaching staff is a nice insurance policy for the Sharks should anything happen to one of their more seasoned blueliners. The Sharks did not add a defensemen in free agency, and the candidates for the sixth and seventh defensemen jobs are largely inexperienced.
Ferraro was the Sharks’ top rookie last season. With a seemingly endless reservoir of energy, he was able to win an NHL job out of training camp. In 61 games, he averaged close to 16 minutes of ice time per night — sixth most among all Sharks defensemen.
Boughner said Ferraro, who had 11 points last season, looks more confident than he did at the 2019 camp.
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“He’s got leadership qualities. I think he’s a guy that people gravitate to,” Boughner said. “He’s one of those guys, he brings life to every situation. He’s very likeable, the guys love having him around. I just think that one day, you’re going to see him wearing a letter.”
In the Sharks’ scrimmage Sunday, Ferraro had a goal for Team White with assists credited to winger Joachim Blichfeld and defenseman Nicolas Meloche. Joel Kellman also scored, as Team White won 2-0. Martin Jones and Alexei Melnichuk combined for the shutout, as the game was played in two 20-minute halves.
“It felt really good to be back in game situation-style. It’s been quite a while,” Ferraro said. “But to be out there, I was just really excited. It’s been a while since we’ve scrimmaged and played a real five-on-five.”
What does Ferraro see as his role right now?
“A lot of our (defensemen) are very offensive,” Ferraro said. “I feel like I can provide that as well, but it’s very important that I stay solid back there and defend the net as best as I can, and then that’ll lead to good offense.”