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What we heard at combine about Sharks' coaching search, free agency

What we heard at combine about Sharks' coaching search, free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Editor's Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Guess who’s coming to (the Sharks’) dinner?

It’s always a big deal who’s taking whom to dinner at the NHL Scouting Combine.

Seen as a sign of a team’s interest in a top prospect — for example, the Sharks ate with Will Smith, whom they picked at No. 4, and Leo Carlsson last year — it also can be a smokescreen. Famously, the Montreal Canadiens didn’t wine or dine their eventual 2022 and 2023 top picks Juraj Slavkofsky and David Reinbacher, respectively, in their draft years.

The Sharks, however, again were transparent with their intentions at this combine.

“They’re probably taking Celebrini out every night,” one league source jokingly said.

Actually, Sharks director of amateur scouting Chris Morehouse confirmed they took Celebrini to dinner only once. Morehouse also noted that Celebrini was the only 2024 NHL Draft prospect they ate with this week.

Celebrini, by the way, told San Jose Hockey Now that he had chicken at go-to combine restaurant Buffalo Chophouse.

But anyway, the combine is the swirling storm for all kinds of rumors: Here’s what SJHN has heard this week about the Sharks’ coaching search, their free agents and which prospects they interviewed.

On Wednesday, a source told San Jose Hockey Now that Ryan Warsofsky was the “front-runner” for the Sharks’ head coach vacancy. Another source told SJHN that it was down to Warsofsky and Marco Sturm, which Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said Friday that he also had heard.

Friedman also noted that Jeff Blashill had received a second interview with the Sharks. As of Wednesday, SJHN had heard, too, that Blashill hadn’t been ruled out yet.

A league source told SJHN on Friday: “I think Sturm is deep in the process.”

Another source corroborated that Warsofsky and Sturm seem to be the lead candidates.

With the draft coming June 28 in Las Vegas and the start of NHL free agency shortly thereafter, expect a head coach decision soon from the Sharks.

As for free agents, a source confirmed the Sharks are looking to bring back restricted free agent prospect Brandon Coe. Sharks director of player development Todd Marchant said as much in an upcoming episode of the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, due out Sunday.

There’s also interest from San Jose to bring back unrestricted free agents Ryan Carpenter and Justin Bailey, though both also might test the market to see if they can land better offers.

One league source told SJHN that the Sharks hadn’t reached out on hometown UFA goalie Devin Cooley, though that doesn’t mean much yet, with free agency still more than three weeks away.

With the combine out of the way — general manager Mike Grier was here all week — I’m sure deciding on a head coach and taking care of his free agents will go on the very top of his to-do list.

Finally, from a variety of sources, SJHN has tracked down about a quarter of the 70-plus prospects the Sharks interviewed at the combine.

Up front, they talked to, in alphabetical order, forwards Cole Beaudoin, Kamil Bednarik, Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, Berkly Catton, Cole Eiserman, Michael Hage, Konsta Helenius, Emil Hemming, Jett Luchanko, Julius Miettinen, Lucas Pettersson and Marek Vanacker.

On the back end, the Sharks interviewed defensemen Gabriel Eliasson, EJ Emery, Alfons Freij, Cole Hutson, Adam Jiricek, Stian Solberg, Veeti Väisänen and Carter Yakemchuk.

They did not interview forwards Trevor Connelly and Kevin He.

They also didn’t talk to goalie Mikhail Yegorov, forward Luca Marrelli and defenseman Anton Silayev this week, but …

Silayev was not invited to the combine because he’s a KHL prospect, but the hulking defenseman will interview with the Sharks before the draft.

Yegorov, who backstops the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, reported that he spoke with the Sharks in season.

Marrelli has spoken with the Sharks before, too, just not this week.

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