Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will highlight five different Sharks prospects to watch heading into the 2019-20 season. Some have a chance to make the NHL roster as soon as this year, while others face critical years in their development. We continue with defenseman Mario Ferraro.
Colorado rookie phenom Cale Makar burst on the scene in the playoffs for the Avalanche last season, looking every bit like an NHL player at the ripe age of 20 years old. Makar scored a goal in his first career game, and then added four assists in the seven-game second-round series against the Sharks.
Before Makar arrived in Denver, he was playing at UMass-Amherst with San Jose defensive prospect Mario Ferraro. While Makar made the jump to the NHL first, he seemed to believe Ferraro would be able to do the same eventually.
"Hardest-working guy I've ever met and played with my entire life," Makar said of Ferraro to the Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka, shortly after the Sharks signed Ferraro to an entry-level contract in April.
Fast-forward a few months, and Ferraro is ever closer to joining Makar at the NHL level. He was very impressive in San Jose's recently completed prospect development camp, and -- given the offseason developments with the Sharks' roster -- he could arrive sooner rather than later.
Draft year, position: 2017, second round (No. 49 overall)
Weight: 185 pounds
2018-19 team: UMass-Amherst (NCAA)
Ferraro's best skill likely is his motor. He's the energizer bunny out on the ice.
"One of the most high-energy guys you've ever seen, he does not have a bad day," Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. said of Ferraro during the development camp.
"Early in the scrimmage, I thought he kind of carried the play," said Barracuda coach Roy Sommer. "Kind of a hard guy to play against."
Ferraro is a smooth skater with near top-end speed. His shot is solid, but not spectacular. He's an adept passer, and has advanced hockey IQ for a player his age. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he isn't the biggest defensemen, but he doesn't shy away from physical play.
Training-camp proving ground
As things currently stand, the Sharks' top-six group of defensemen appears to be set. On the right side, San Jose has former Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, as well as Tim Heed. On the left, the Sharks have Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brenden Dillon and Radim Simek. Jacob Middleton could be a factor, too.
That doesn't appear to leave much room at the moment for Ferraro, who shoots left. However, there's reason to believe things could change in the relatively near future.
Dillon -- who also shoots left -- is due to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, and given the financial constraints San Jose is likely to face over the next several years, it's reasonable to assume the Sharks won't be able to re-sign him, given what he could command on the open market. Additionally, if the Sharks are going to make a trade for salary relief any time soon, Dillon seems like one of the obvious candidates to be included.
Ferraro is unlikely to unseat any of the current top-six in training camp, but if he can show the Sharks' brass that he is ahead of schedule and capable of competing at the NHL level, it could open up some options for San Jose moving forward.
Ferraro builds off the momentum he generated at the development camp and carries it through training camp, leaving the Sharks no decision but to push him straight from college to the NHL, just like his former UMass-Amherst teammate Makar.
Ferraro dazzles during training camp and claims one of the spots on the Sharks' third defensive pairing. With so much attention focused on the likes of Karlsson and Burns, Ferraro is permitted the time and space to properly learn on the job while being tutored by some of the best players at his position in the entire world.
While he doesn't garner any Calder Trophy votes, Ferraro gains valuable experience in a lengthy Sharks' playoff run and proves to be a logical and obvious eventual replacement for Vlasic.
Ferraro's strong performance at the development camp goes to his head, and the motor that has been his calling card suddenly stalls.
He underwhelms at training camp, and gets dismissed early on, sent down to the AHL with the Barracuda. He remains there all season, and never recaptures the promise that had Sharks coaches so excited.
San Jose then is forced to go further into salary cap treachery, understanding they don't have a realistic internal option to fill Dillon's resulting void.
He's 20 years old!
Expecting Ferraro to go straight from the Frozen Four to the NHL is unfair, to say the least. That just doesn't happen very often, Makar being an obvious exception.
Ferraro continues along his current trajectory, impressing Sharks coaches in training camp, but not enough to expedite his promotion. He spends the majority of the season with the Barracuda, where he solidifies his status as the Sharks' top defensive prospect (Ryan Merkley will also have a say).
He makes his NHL debut as a temporary injury replacement late in the regular season, and enters the following season's training camp earmarked for a spot in San Jose's top-six.