UPDATE (7:39 p.m.): Gambrell's agent tweeted this afternoon that Gambrell will make his NHL debut later this week. This story has been updated to reflect that.
"Dylan Gambrell watch" ended on Monday before it really began.
Gambrell, the Sharks' second-round pick in 2016 and one of the top prospects in the team's system, chose to forego his senior season at the University of Denver and signed an entry-level contract, the team announced on Monday. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.
"Dylan is one of the top college players in the country, who has proven through his many accomplishments that he can compete at the highest level," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We believe his speed, combined with his high-end hockey IQ, make him ready to be an NHL player. We are confident that, with his skill-set, he will make an impact with our team."
The signing comes a day after Gambrell's college season ended with a loss to Ohio State in the NCAA quarterfinals. The 21-year-old center scored 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 41 games with the Pioneers this season. He finished his college career with 132 points (43 goals, 39 assists) in 120 games, winning a national championship in 2017 as a sophomore and appearing in the Frozen Four during his freshman campaign in 2016.
Gambrell almost signed with the Sharks last summer. His representatives spoke with the Sharks, according to The Denver Post, but the promise of wearing a letter (he was named an alternate captain) and pursuing a second national championship drew him back to school.
"It's been absolutely amazing, and I wanted to be there another year. I want to enjoy college and get my education, be with a great group of guys, and the coaching staff," Gambrell told The Denver Post in July. "Developmentally, it will be great for me to have another good year with my great linemates, Troy Terry and Jarid Lukosevicius. To be able to play with them again, and play for [Denver head coach Jim Montgomery], it's only going to make me better. I think that's what it came down to."
Gambrell has not yet been assigned to the AHL's San Jose Barracuda, according to the AHL transactions page, and for good reason: His agent, Scott Norton, tweeted earlier this afternoon that Gambrell will make his NHL debut later this week.
I have watched @D_Gambrell7 since he was 16. Didn't make @USAHockeyNTDP; didn't get drafted in NHL 1st year of eligibility;didn't get drafted in NHL 2nd year of eligibility and NEVER poured or quit! This week he will play his 1st @NHL game! #TrustTheProcess #ProudAgent #NSMFamily— Scott Norton (@NortonSports) March 26, 2018
San Jose was without fourth-line center Eric Fehr ahead of Monday's matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks due to a lower-body injury. Barclay Goodrow, a natural winger who's deputized as the fourth-line center this season, took Fehr's place at the morning skate.
If Gambrell does make his NHL debut this week, he'll be the first Sharks player to play in the NHL and the NCAA in the same season since fellow Denver alum Matt Carle debuted in 2006.