Sharks' Mike Grier reveals where William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau must improve

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Grier reveals areas where Eklund, Bordeleau must improve originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Mike Grier has more question to answer than just what to do with Erik Karlsson and Timo Meier.

While Grier did talk about the potential of trading Karlsson and Meier on Friday during his midseason check-in with local media, he also touched on the availability of long-term free agent signings Matt Benning and Nico Sturm, and what’s going on with Joe Thornton.

But Grier also spent a lot of time talking about Sharks prospects, what’s going on with Ryan Merkley’s trade request, where he wants William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau to improve before they are promoted to the NHL, why 2022 third-round draft pick Michael Fisher has missed the entire season, and what he thinks about “tanking” for the highest possible 2023 draft pick.

Here are Grier’s thoughts about the Sharks’ system at the midway point of the season.

Mike Grier on if he’s happy with the progress of his prospects on the San Jose Barracuda:

"Yeah, I'm happy with those guys. They all went down there with kind of specific things that we want them to work on to be successful at the NHL level. To those guys' credit, none of them have complained one bit.

"They've all gone down there, put their head down, and worked. They put in time after practice. Before practice. I think they take to heart what we've told them, and I think [Barracuda coach John McCarthy] and his staff have done a really good job down there of keeping things positive, even when they went through their little losing streak. I think they're all making strides and I'm happy with their progression."

Grier on if getting the No. 1 or another high pick in the 2023 NHL Draft accelerates his plan to build a winner:

"I don't know if it'll accelerate it. It'll bring some excitement to the organization, for sure. But we have to be smart about how we approach the off-season, who we sign or who we try to acquire. I don't think we want to get out of hand and get too excited because we got an 18-year-old kid coming in. It's still a tough league at the end of the day.

"I had Jack Hughes in Jersey. That first year was tough, was really tough for him. And I think it was a wake-up call for him.

"Being in New York, seeing [Alexis Lafreniere] and [Kaapo] Kakko. It's a tough league, and it's a tough ask for 18-year-olds to come in and really leave their mark. We'd be excited to get a player like that, for sure. But I don't think it changes what we're going to try and do."

Grier on his impressions from World Juniors:

"It was a great atmosphere in there. Especially for the European kids, it was a hostile environment. Even for Filip Bystedt, he answered the bell and played great. He didn't back down to Canada or the US. So it was good to see that.

"But to see [Leo] Carlsson and [Connor] Bedard and [Adam] Fantili and [Eduard] Sale and [Dalibor] Dvorsky, see all these kids in that type of environment, that kind of intense tournament, it was great. It gives you kind of a great peek.

"Because you look at that tournament, it's really a 19-year-old tournament. Teams usually with the older kids usually win and do well. So to see all those kids kind of hold their own as either 17 or 18-year-olds, it's pretty impressive."

Grier on “tanking” for the highest possible draft pick:

"I'm against it. I'm a super competitive person.

"Every organization has different thoughts on it and different opinions on it. But it's never my intention, or would I ever ask the coaches or players -- I respect the game, having played it for as long as I did -- I know how it is in that locker room.

"I would never assume or hope or ask those guys not to go out there and try and win every single game. It's not something I believe in. We're going to try and win games right down to Game 82. We'll kind of see where we are at the end of the day."

Grier on progress of Sharks’ 2022 draft class:

"Filip's done well. He's holding his own and playing with men back home in Sweden.

"It says a lot about him that they trust him. With a lot of kids over there, you look, they're playing five, six minutes. He's playing a solid third-line center role every night, playing on the second power play. So I think his progression this year, it's been really good.

"Cam Lund, as an 18-year-old kid in Hockey East is having a pretty good year, first power play. He's played on the top two lines all year. He's producing, so we're real happy with him.

"[Mattias] Havelid had a back issue for a while now. He's just back playing, scored the other night. Looking forward to seeing him in the second half of the year.

"[Mike] Fisher has been hurt. Looking forward to him getting back in a couple months.

"[Jake] Furlong has been really good with the Halifax team.

"You guys probably saw him some of the rookie tournament. I think that's who he is, just a solid, steady defenseman. He's been good for a good Halifax team.

"[Joey] Muldowney has been a good surprise for a kid coming out of Buffalo prep school hockey. He's kind of an undersized skill guy. He's leading his team in scoring in the USHL. We all know the USHL is a difficult league.

"Reese Laubach. First year in the USHL, he got traded to Omaha, ever since his game's kind of taken off. It's been a good fit for him.

"Eli Barnett's been solid up in the BCHL. He's such a big kid, that sometimes it's hard to kind of get a gauge on him. But he's been solid.

"I'm looking forward to him getting into Hockey East, playing against some bigger competition.

"Mason Beaupit, he was not in the best situation to start the year back on his team, where he was just getting 50-60 shots a night. And not just shots, but breakaways and 2-on-1's and it was tough on him. But he got traded, and now he's on one of the best teams in the league. I think that's been good for him. Just the quality of shots. He's getting to practice and play in front of a team where he can focus on his game and some of his fundamentals. Not worry about diving all over the place trying to make acrobatic saves all the time.

"So I think we're pretty happy with the draft class. Todd Marchant and Tommy Wingels and Luca Sbisa and Niklas Sundstrom, I think they've done a really good job communicating with these guys on the development side."

Grier on Fisher’s injury:

"He hurt his knee in maybe in the second or third exhibition game. He had a meniscus tear. At that young age, you don't want to just snip it. They decided repair was the best way to go. He's feeling good, actually. He was actually hoping to play this month, but I think the doctors have kind of told him to relax a little bit, make sure.

Grier, on if he expects a full recovery for Fisher:

"Yeah, he should be back here in the next month or so."

Grier on when he’s planning to call up Eklund and Bordeleau:

"There's no specific date. We sent those guys down with specific things we wanted them to work on. And to their credit, they're working on those things, and they're improving. They have some success and they also have some tough nights, probably themselves to start the season.

"People on the outside in general don't realize, one, how good the AHL is. And two, how hard it is as a first-year pro to go in there and be successful. "

You can throw [Danil] Gushchin and [Brandon] Coe and [Tristen] Robins and even [Artemi Kniazev], they're guys are finding their way through first-year [or more] pro. And they're doing well. They're making strides.

"We want them to tick the boxes that we've asked them to tick. When we bring them up, we want them to be playing well and playing confident. So they're coming up here and just playing their game and not thinking about what they should be learning, how they should be playing. We want them to be feeling good about themselves and playing a good, well-rounded game."

Grier on what boxes that he wants Eklund and Bordeleau to check off:

"They're both gifted offensive players. I think they both have to learn to value the other side of the puck and puck management and things like that. It's kind of just becoming a more well-rounded player.

"It's most 18-year-old kids, they've all been the best player on their team their whole lives and probably have been able to get away with not having defensive details or things like that or been asked to do certain things.

"At the NHL level, you got to punt sometimes. You got to make the smart play. These guys are guys who've had the puck on their stick all their whole life. It's not an easy thing to do, but I think they're all kind of learning and becoming pretty good two-way players.

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Grier on if he was surprised by Ryan Merkley’s trade request and why Merkley hasn’t been promoted this year:

"I wasn't surprised. I've had conversations with him and Joe has had conversations with him and I've talked to his agent throughout this whole thing.

"I don't think he was thrilled that he didn't go to Europe to begin with. We've asked him to do things from the rookie tournament to preseason and into the Barracuda, things we value as an organization, and [David Qunn] values as a coaching staff, things we've asked him to do more consistently. The consistency hasn't been there from his standpoint.

"He's got NHL talent, he can run a power play. He's got great vision. But to play in the NHL, you got to consistently compete defensively. You got to be engaged, whether you're [a] big guy, or small guy, you got to be willing to engage physically in your own end and care about box-outs and things like that. I think he's just been very inconsistent with that. That's what we're asking [from] him. If he can give us that, there's opportunity."

Grier on the plan for Merkley, who hasn’t played in the last few games:

"It's a fluid situation, to be honest with you. He did tweak his ankle maybe a few days ago. But it's a fluid situation.

The team's played pretty well recently. So it's no different than what I told the whole group at the beginning of training camp, that everything is going to be earned. He's got to earn his way back in, just like Scott Harrington did here, or whoever it may be, [Evgeny] Svechnikov. They sat for a while, they got to earn their way back in. That's where he's at with that. It's a fluid situation, but he's got to work his way back into the lineup."

Grier on the amount of interest in Merkley:

"There's some calls. I think everyone sees the talent. There's been some interest."