San Jose Sharks junior prospects have run the gamut of experiences in 2013-14

By Craig Fischer

Chris Tierney - London Knights

Photo: London Knights center Chris Tierney, finding the back of the net at the best pace of his junior career, is tied for the team lead with 13 goals in 2013-14 (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The San Jose Sharks junior prospect pool features five, up and coming prospects of various pedigree. Some have a plethora of skill, some of grit but what remains consistent in all of them is that they are good character kids in and around the rink and have something to prove to the naysayers; a staple for Sharks prospects.

No two prospects are alike, and their path to the pros are all different. The 2013-14 campaigns have been revelations for some and forgetful for others. Like with all young junior prospects, you have to take the good with the bad.

This update features three new players from the 2013 NHL Draft, highlighted by first round talent, Mirco Mueller, who enters the year as the only defensemen in the group after longstanding junior prospects Konrad Abeltshauser and Dylan DeMelo turned pro. This is a very promising group, but despite the promise, there probably is not a player here that will contribute at the NHL level in the very near future. In time though, this group has the potential to be very respectable and a few of these picks should convert to the pro level.

WHL

Mirco Mueller, D, Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 1st round (18th overall) in 2013

At first glance, Mirco Mueller’s second full season in the Western Hockey League seems to be a bit of a letdown considering his meager point totals. With two goals and six assists for eight points in 25 games, Mueller is outside of the top 50 highest scoring WHL defensemen this year; an astonishing realization when you consider his draft pedigree and just how many players who were taken behind him and now rank in front of him. That is WHL defensemen—he would not even be in the top 100 amongst CHL defenders. Even the most defensive defensemen are racking up more points.

The fact of the matter is though, the Sharks did not pay a steep price to move up two spots to the 18th position to get the next Bobby Orr. The Sharks moved up to get a very projectable two-way defenseman with an exceptional defensive skill set. While the offensive production is lacking, he has the physical skills to one day produce in that spectrum.  On the defensive side of the puck though, the young Swiss player’s game is quietly blossoming. On any given night, Mueller is on the ice for half of the Everett Silvertips game, shadowing and shutting down some of the WHL’s best. He is a big part of the Everett team, one of their anchors, but the fact he is not always getting the most important assignment and his special teams ice time is dipping is a concern. Still, to look at merely the box score when assessing Mueller’s season so far would be a crime. The tall defender has played very well given his role, and he is no doubt one of the main reasons why Everett sits atop the Western Hockey League standings.

OHL

Chris Tierney, C, London Knights
Acquired: 2nd round (55th overall) in 2012

Ever since the halfway point of last season, Chris Tierney has been a revelation. He has been a point-per-game player, and quietly has become one of London’s big offensive weapons. He has always been a key player for the Knights with his excellent two-way play and ability to be used as a shutdown forward, but now as one of the main shoulders that the team rests their offensive hopes on, Tierney has become one of junior hockey’s most complete players.

There is not a whole lot wrong with Tierney’s game – in fact, the major flaw from years past was his lack of scoring, and he has raced up the stats chart this season. With 13 goals and 20 assists for 33 points in 27 games, Tierney sits in 23rd place overall among some of the best young offensive prospects in the game. It is a pace that is reminiscent of Sharks prospect, Freddie Hamilton, a player with a very similar style and make up. While some might be quick to note Hamilton’s average offensive contributions now at the AHL level, what separates the two similar players is how dangerous Tierney looks in all scoring positions, particularly on the power play. He is not as much of an interior scorer as you might think, and it is his ability to make opportunities happen from all around the ice that makes Tierney a very fun player to watch.

QMJHL

Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau, LW, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Acquired: 2nd round (49th overall) in 2013

After a hot start to the season, Paquin-Boudreau has gone ice cold in the month of November. In fact, he registered only one assist in 10 November games. The worst part is, Baie-Comeau is playing great hockey over that stretch going 6-3-1 over that period, including a nine goal outburst against Chicoutimi where Paquin-Boudreau failed to leave his mark on the box score. He is getting his chances, and for all intents and purposes, this is just a cold streak. It should be noted that his power play time has dwindled, and he has not been getting a consistent shift anymore with Valentin Zykov (LAK), a talented player that had developed tremendous chemistry with the young Sharks prospect. There are some rumblings that perhaps Paquin-Boudreau, who had a poor rookie camp with the Sharks, benefited greatly by playing with Zykov last season, and without him, his skill set is getting exposed for what it truly is, flashy fool’s gold.

Still, for a player in his second year out of midget AAA hockey, 16 points in 30 games is not a bad start. Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau has the skill and finesse to one day be a top-nine forward, but he has a lot to work on and it all starts with ending his current unlucky streak.

Christophe Lalancette, C, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Acquired: 4th round (109th overall) in 2012

Christophe Lalancette is continuing to thrive in Drummondville playing for his new team. While his electric pace set in the month of October (18 points in 11 games) might have set the bar a little too high for what is to be expected, the third year center is continuing his play in November. At a point-per-game pace (28 points) over twenty-seven games, it is safe to say Lalancette has definitely broken out and has become one of the stars of the QMJHL’s early part of the season. In fact, if you look at his scoring pace after his first five games into the season, he would be on pace to be a top 15 scorer in the league.

Outside of his scoring prowess, Lalancette continues to make a name for himself on the dot during key draws. He has always been skilled in this regard but his gained strength (he put on 15 pounds over the offseason) is becoming very apparent as he is winning battles he would have easily lost as little as a year ago. This is an important developmental step for Lalancette, whose greatest weakness coming into the season was his lack of physicality and strength.

USHL

Jake Jackson, C, Des Moines Buccaneers
Acquired: 7th round (201st overall) in 2013

The USHL is proving to be a much different beast than high school hockey for Jake Jackson. Last season, the seventh round selection was an offensive dynamo, this season he has become something of a plug.  Early on he was getting tons of opportunities, even as rookie, but he just has not been able to adapt to the improved level of play. Still, even with the struggles, Jackson has always been considered a long-term project, having committed to Michigan Tech University next fall. At a bare minimum he is five seasons away from being a Shark. There even remains the possibility that Jackson might commit to baseball—he was a multi-sport athlete in high school and excelled at the plate.

While this season is not going the way he would hope on the ice, Jackson, like Lalancette, has hit the gym hard, put on considerable weight, and looks a lot stronger on the puck. Unfortunately, it looks like he has lost a step, which could be a product of his gains or perhaps a hidden injury. The good news is Jackson is taking poor results in stride. He is a humble young man and is dedicated to improving his and his team’s play. You never see him complaining or sulking, and while the scoring has taken a dive, he has looked decent along the boards.

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