The San Jose Sharks’ sell-off began in earnest Wednesday night when they traded forward Matt Nieto and Barracuda defenseman Ryan Merkley to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Jacob MacDonald and forward Martin Kaut.
Nieto was among a handful of outstanding unrestricted free agents on the Sharks roster when he rejoins an Avalanche team he played for from 2016-2020. In 45 games for San Jose this season, Nieto was a second-round draft pick for the Sharks in 2011, had 15 points and was one of the team’s top penalty killers.
In 364 career games with San Jose, Nieto, a Long Beach native, had 109 points.
The trade also closes the book on Merkley’s sometimes tumultuous tenure in San Jose.
Merkley was the Sharks’ first-round draft pick of 2018. However, Merkley felt he had crashed down the Sharks organizational depth chart and requested a trade earlier this month. He hadn’t appeared in an AHL game since Dec. 31, although team officials said he was also struggling with a minor injury.
Merkley played 39 games with the Sharks, all during the 2021-22 season, when he recorded one goal and five NHL-level assists. But Merkley, a pending restricted free agent, didn’t make the Sharks roster when he was left behind in San Jose while the team brought undrafted center Nick Cicek to Europe.
Just days before his final game with the Barracuda, Merkley was benched for the second and third periods of a December 27 game against Bakersfield, with coach John McCarthy angered by Merkley’s lack of defensive play.
That season with the Barracuda, Merkley had 14 points, all assists, in 30 games. In 93 AHL career games, Merkley has two goals, 42 assists and 70 penalty minutes.
MacDonald, 29, has played 76 total NHL games with Florida and Colorado and has 12 points and 21 penalty minutes. MacDonald, who can also play the wing, has also played in 271 AHL games with Springfield, Albany, Binghamton and Colorado and has 189 points and 123 penalty minutes.
“Jacob is a versatile, veteran player who was an American Hockey League-level All-Star and will bring more depth to our NHL roster,” Sharks general manager Mike Grier said in a statement from MacDonald, a defenseman, who can also play forward.
Kaut, 23, has stints with the Avalanche and Colorado Eagles (AHL) this season. He has three points in 27 NHL games and eight points in 10 AHL games. In 173 AHL games, Kaut has 99 points and 103 penalty minutes. In 47 NHL games, he has six points and ten penalty minutes.
Internationally, Kaut has represented the Czech Republic at junior and senior levels. He appeared at the 2018 and 2019 World Junior Championships, where he recorded seven points (two goals, five assists) in seven games and four points (three goals, one assist) in five games, respectively.
Kaut, at 6ft 2 and 190 pounds, was originally drafted in the first round by Colorado, 16th overall, in the 2018 NHL Draft.
“Martin is a former first-round pick who is joining our group of young, developing forwards at the American Hockey League level,” Grier said.
Nieto, who played for the Avalanche from 2016-2020, had 15 points in 45 games for the Sharks this season. In 364 career games with San Jose, Nieto had 109 points.
Merkley was the Sharks’ first-round draft pick of 2018. However, Merkley felt he had fallen down the Sharks’ depth chart and requested a trade and had not appeared in a game with the Barracudas since Dec. 31, though he it was also dealing with a minor injury.
Merkley had one goal and five assists in 39 games with the Sharks in 2021-22. With the Barracuda, Merkley had 14 points, all assists, in 30 games. In 93 AHL career games, Merkley has two goals, 42 assists and 70 penalty minutes.