SAN JOSE - When the Sharks' 2018-19 season first got underway, it looked like Antti Suomela could be the answer the team needed in adding depth to their centers. But after tallying just eight points (three goals, five assists) through 27 games, the Finnish forward was reassigned to the AHL in December for the remainder of the season.
Fast forward to the present, and the 25-year-old is one of many restricted free agents the Sharks have to make decisions about this offseason. The question now is whether San Jose liked enough of what they saw from him in his first season to keep him on the roster. While his fate has yet to be written, it's fair to wonder if Suomela will be playing somewhere else next season.
Suomela was a good catch for the Sharks in the last offseason, coming off three campaigns in the Finnish Elite League that showed upward growth. He had just led his team, JyP HT Jyvaskyla, with 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists) and a staggering plus-28 in 59 games. But after looking impressive during Sharks' training camp last September and starting the season centering Joonas Donskoi and Evander Kane, the Espoo, Finland native had trouble generating offense or making a positive impact on the game.
When NBC Sports California caught up with Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer back in January, Suomela was one name that came up in the discussion. Suomela only had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 17 games at the AHL level. Sommer was confident that once Suomela "figured out" what he had to do at the NHL level, he would be unstoppable.
"With him, the work ethic is there, and he has a big compete to his game," Sommer said. "I think he just has to figure out the North American game. Things happen a lot quicker here than where he was at. But he's picking it up."
Suomela ended his 2019 tenure with the Barracuda, scoring 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 47 games. He rejoined the Sharks roster once the Barracuda's season was over, but never penciled back into the big league lineup as San Jose went on a 20-game playoff run that ended with a Game 6 loss in the Western Conference final to the St. Louis Blues.
Even when the Sharks' roster sustained numerous injuries down the stretch, Dylan Gambrell was the center of choice to pencil into San Jose's playoff lineup.
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Needless to say, it goes to wonder if we've already seen the end of Suomela's stint in a teal sweater. San Jose has 14 players who will become RFAs this summer on top of having some very tough decisions to make with its stacked UFA class. And there has been no word yet on how many of those discussions are unfolding.
In short, it's really anyone's guess at this point who will still be in San Jose when the offseason is over. For this center, though, it's looking very possible he could be playing somewhere else next season.