The pressure on the Sharks' young players to step up has been at an all-time high this preseason.
For a player like Dylan Gambrell, a recent RFA who San Jose signed to a two-year deal over the summer, the expectations have been even higher - especially in Thursday's tuneup game against the Calgary Flames, featuring a Sharks lineup that closely resembled the one Team Teal will roll out on opening night.
The 23-year-old forward, coming off a season where he bounced between the NHL and AHL, hadn't been generating much offense through the start of training camp. That changed on Thursday when he tallied two goals, helping lift the Sharks to a 4-1 victory.
As team captain Logan Couture explained, scoring a couple of goals like that can really help boost a young player's confidence and lead to more production.
"Those guys are battling for spots," Couture said, "and when you're in that spot you really don't take a second to breathe. You're so focused on doing things to impress the coaches and the management. And when things are going your way and you contribute, I think you can take a step back and take a deep breath."
Both of Gambrell's goals occurred after the halfway point of the third period after both Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl redirected shots from Brent Burns to give San Jose a 2-0 advantage. Gambrell first skated into traffic to get a piece of one of Burns' sniper shots and angle the puck past Cam Talbot, giving San Jose a three-goal advantage. Then, less than 30 seconds later, he tipped a pass from Barclay Goodrow to give the Sharks their fourth goal on the evening.
Head coach Peter DeBoer said that, after seeing Gambrell score those two goals in the third, he wants to see that kind of production from the forward on a regular basis.
"Just looking for a little more consistency in that game," DeBoer explained. "He found a way in the third to get inside and get a stick on a couple of pucks. That's what he's got to do."
That consistency is, no doubt, something DeBoer would like to see consistently from his whole team - especially now that the regular season is less than a week away. Thursday marked the first time this preseason the Sharks rolled out the caliber of a regular-season lineup in the preseason, and the collective offense was getting good offensive zone time through the first two periods of play despite not getting on the scoreboard.
Now that the big audition period of the preseason has mostly concluded and the majority of San Jose's prospects have been reassigned to the Barracudas, the Sharks can focus on finetuning other aspects of their game in the final tune-up game taking place on Sunday against the Golden Knights in Vegas.
But don't be mistaken. Even with the start of the season on the horizon, Gambrell and the other young guns in San Jose's lineup have to keep pushing in order to continue getting playing time. At least now that he has those two preseason goals under his belt, he has something to build on.
"I think it's big for his confidence," Couture said.