Sharks trade veteran winger and former first round draft pick to Colorado as selloff begins

The San Jose Sharks’ selloff began in earnest Wednesday night as they traded forward Matt Nieto and Barracuda defenseman Ryan Merkley to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Jacob MacDonald and forward Martin Kaut.

Nieto, among a handful of pending unrestricted free agents on the Sharks roster, re-joins an Avalanche team that he played for from 2016 to 2020. In 45 games for San Jose this season, Nieto, a second-round draft pick by 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 deal, which comes a little more than five weeks ahead of the NHL’s trade deadline on March 3, also closes the book on Merkley’s sometimes tumultuous tenure in San Jose.

Merkley was the Sharks’ first-round draft pick in 2018 and was once described as the organization’s top prospect.

But feeling that he had plummeted on the Sharks’ organizational depth chart this season, Merkley requested a trade earlier this month. He had not appeared in an AHL game since Dec. 31, although team officials said he was also dealing with a minor injury.

Merkley’s only games with the Sharks came last season when he had one goal and five assists in 39 games at the NHL level. But Merkley, a pending restricted free agent, did not make the Sharks’ roster out of training camp, as he was left in San Jose while the team took undrafted center Nick Cicek to Europe.

Just days before his last game with the Barracuda, the offensively gifted Merkley was benched for the second and third periods of a Dec. 27 game against Bakersfield. Coach John McCarthy was upset with Merkley’s lack of effort on the defensive end, a recurring issue during the defenseman’s time in the organization.

This season with the Barracuda, Merkley had 14 points, all assists, in 30 games. In 93 career AHL games, Merkley has two goals, 42 assists, and 70 penalty minutes.

The Sharks’ other pending UFA’s are forward Nick Bonino and goalie James Reimer, as San Jose (14-25-10) entered Wednesday in seventh place in the Pacific Division, 17 points out of a playoff spot.┬áBut other players have been rumored to be on the move, including leading goal-scorer Timo Meier and defensemen Erik Karlsson and Jaycob Megna.

MacDonald will join the Sharks on the road, as they play the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Kaut will join the Barracuda, which played in Henderson, Nev. on Wednesday, with a second meeting on Friday.

MacDonald, 29, is in the first season of a two-year, two-way contract that carries a $762,500 cap hit at the NHL level. Kaut is a pending RFA.

MacDonald has 12 points and 21 penalty minutes in a combined 76 NHL games with Florida and Colorado. He had two assists in 33 games with the Avalanche this season, averaging 8:40 of ice time per game.

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 has been an All-Star at the American Hockey League level and will add depth to our NHL lineup,” Sharks general manager Mike Grier said of MacDonald in a statement.

Kaut, 23, has split time with the Avalanche and the Colorado Eagles (AHL) this season. In the NHL, he played 27 NHL games with the Avs and averaged 9:08 of ice time per game.

In 173 AHL games, Kaut has registered 99 points and 103 penalty minutes. In 47 NHL games, he has six points and 10 penalty minutes.

Kaut, at 6-foot-2 and 190-pounds, was originally selected in the first round by Colorado, 16th overall, in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“Martin is a former first-round pick who bolsters our group of young developing forwards at the American Hockey League level,” said Grier.