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Scouts answer questions surrounding Sharks’ free agency moves

Scouts answer questions surrounding Sharks’ free agency moves originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The Sharks were busy when NHL free agency opened on July 1.

San Jose signed UFA defenseman Kyle Burroughs to a three-year, $3.3 million contract and UFA winger Givani Smith to a two-year, $1.6 million pact. They inked goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who they had acquired before the 2023 draft, to a two-year, $4.7 million deal. The Sharks also traded for winger Anthony Duclair, sending out Steven Lorentz and a 2025 fifth-round pick to the Florida Panthers.

How were these moves perceived league-wide? I spoke with four NHL scouts from outside the Sharks organization to get their thoughts.

I asked these specific questions about the newest Sharks: In Florida’s run for the Cup, did Duclair look fully recovered from his Achilles tear? Was acquiring Blackwood a good gamble for the Sharks? Burroughs played a career-high 17:22 a night for the Vancouver Canucks last year, is he capable of taking on an even larger role than that? And what does Smith bring besides fisticuffs?

Anthony Duclair

Two scouts disagreed on how far Duclair’s game has come back from injury.

During the 2021-22 season, the 5-foot-11 winger set a career-high with 31 goals. But then, Duclair tore his Achilles over the summer and played just 20 games and scored only two goals. He did pick it up during Florida’s surprise run to the Stanley Cup Finals, notching four goals and seven assists in 20 games.

“Want to give Duclair the benefit of the doubt after missing all that time before jumping into the playoffs. He wasn’t great. But hard to fault him just stepping in,” Scout No. 1 said.

“Duclair is fully recovered. He was a big part of why the Panthers turned the corner after the trade deadline,” Scout No. 2 countered.

Both scouts, however, came together on Duclair’s tantalizing speed and skill.

“Like his skating and skill set. Complementary top-nine winger,” Scout No. 1 offered.

“He has some holes like many players, but is skilled and plays with speed,” Scout No. 2 said.

Hopefully, a healthy offseason helps the left-handed scorer regain his 31-goal form.

Mackenzie Blackwood

Once considered an heir apparent to Team Canada’s net, the 26-year-old Blackwood has lost some of the luster from his sixth-place Calder Trophy finish in 2019-20.

From 2018 to 2020, the first two years of his career, Blackwood’s .916 save percentage was 13th in the NHL (of 49 goalies, 3000-plus minutes played). Over the last two seasons, the oft-injured Blackwood’s .893 save percentage was fourth-worst in the league (of 53 goalies, 2500-plus minutes).

So which Blackwood are the Sharks getting?

“Thought the Blackwood gamble was a good one. Has upside, just can’t stay healthy, which got in the way with his development,” Scout No. 1 opined. “Good bet on the player.”

“Skill-wise and work ethic, he’s fine,” Scout No. 3 said. “The problems are mostly between his ears.

“He just needs quite a bit of attention. I wouldn’t say a defeatist attitude, but it’s in that vein. Mentally, he has a ways to go. “

The scout added, “His willingness to return has sometimes been questioned, so there are some issues there.”

Talent isn’t the question with Blackwood. Can the 6-foot-4 netminder live up to his once-sizeable promise?

Kyle Burroughs

The verdict on the 28-year-old Burroughs appears to be a very solid bottom-pairing defensive defenseman. But perhaps not much more than that?

“He averaged over 17 minutes last year which is probably the ceiling for him,” Scout No. 4 said. “He’s a competitive player. Has grit and is sound defensively.

Scout no. 1 also brought up Burroughs’ compete: “I like Burroughs. Solid depth who can give you regular bottom-pairing minutes when needed. Pretty limited offensively but competitive, can defend and keeps it simple.”

Givani Smith

Smith is a 6-foot-2 bruising winger who has gotten 19 fights in just 119 NHL games. That’s more fights than goals (eight).

“Smith is a big, strong, and tough, but not an every night player,” Scout No. 3 opined.

What does he have to do to establish himself as a full-time NHL player?

“Adds size and toughness but needs to learn how to impact games more consistently,” Scout No. 1 said. “Frustrating in that sense but does add an element.”

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Smith is just 25. Maybe there’s room to grow?

After their July 1 crop, the Sharks also traded for Leon Gawanke and signed UFA winger Filip Zadina to a one-year, $1.1 million contract.

Like Duclair and Blackwood, Zadina and maybe Gawanke are low-risk, high-reward bets.

The scouts that I spoke to, in general, liked Sharks general manager Mike Grier’s gambles. We’ll see if any of them pay off.

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