The Sharks have signed goalie Alexei Melnichuk of Russia and forward Fredrik Handemark of Sweden, two free agents that might have a chance to contribute at the NHL level next season.
Melnichuk’s two-year contract has an average annual value of $925,000, and Handemark’s one year deal is worth $792,500, according to a source. Both are two-way deals.
Melnichuk, at 6-foot-1 at 187 pounds, is an intriguing addition. Just 21, he ranked fourth in the KHL in goals-against average (1.68) and tied for 12th in save percentage (.930) as he posted a 8-5-1 record with SKA St. Petersburg.
Other teams such as Carolina, Colorado and Vegas were reportedly interested in Melnichuk, who would not be eligible to play for the Sharks this season should the NHL resume its schedule.
The most likely path for Melnichuk would be to start the 2020-2021 season in the AHL with the Barracuda. But given how unsettled the Sharks’ goaltending situation is, with Martin Jones the only netminder in the organization signed through next season who has NHL experience, Melnichuk might be given the chance to play with the big club fairly soon if the team lets Aaron Dell walk as a free agent and does not add another goalie.
“We really like his game, where he’s played and how he’s progressed,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Melnichuk. “He played against men this year. How he plays, his style of play and getting him to commit to us is we think, a big add-on for us.”
Melnichuk will work closely with Sharks goaltender coach Evgeni Nabokov, who carved a similar path. Nabokov played his first professional season in North America in 1997 when he was 22.
“I think Nabby really connected with Alexei,” Wilson said when asked why he thought Melnichuk chose San Jose. “Obviously looking at the opportunity that’s within our organization, the competitiveness. We’ve got a lot of young goalies that are kind of stepping into the league. … Nabby deserves a lot of credit for this one.”
The Sharks needed to address their goaltending situation in some fashion.
When the NHL paused its 2019-2020 season March 12, the Sharks had a team save percentage of .895, which ranked 29th out of 31 teams in the league. In 2018-19, it was an NHL-worst .889.
Jones has four more seasons left on his contract that carries and average annual value of $5.75 million and Dell is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
“Adding a guy like this is a good thing on many fronts,” Wilson said. “We are not going to not look at every opportunity to make our team better in all areas. … These guys can come in and compete. You’ve seen around the league where guys have come in and, irregardless of the age or experience, if they can play, they can play. Time will tell.”
The Sharks also have Zach Emond, 19, and Josef Korenar, 22 in the fold with Andrew Shortridge, 25, set to become a restricted free agent. Zachary Sawchenko, 22, split time this past season with the Barracuda and the Allen Americans of the ECHL. Korenar and Shortridge had their struggles in 2019-20, although they did play over half of the season without daily tutelage from Nabokov.
“We’re not slotting Alexei in anywhere,” Wilson Jr said. “It just adds to the goalie competition.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Handemark, 26, had 38 points in 52 games for Malmo in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this past season. The Sharks could have some holes to fill on their fourth line with both Melker Karlsson and Stefan Noesen slated to become UFAs.
“There’s a history of guys that are late bloomers,” Wilson said. “(Handemark’s) got an edge to his game. We think there’s things that he can bring over that could come in and establish a spot on his hockey team.”
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