The San Jose Sharks have considerable depth at the minor league affiliate level. Quantity does not equal quality though, and while the ranks are brimming in numbers, there is not a lot to be excited for at the halfway point of 2013-14 season.
There are a few bright spots, and plenty of future potential, like with second-year pros Freddie Hamilton and Daniil Tarasov, but that also includes a number of down seasons and unsatisfying starts from first-year pros.
There are considerable gaps in the Sharks minor league development system, particularly on offense, and it shows in Worcester as the AHL affiliate boasts the third worst goals for (85) in the AHL and are bottom dwellers in the standings. Perhaps this season more than any other has been a bit of a disappointment at this level, especially considering how influential the AHL has been in San Jose’s continued success in bringing up NHL-ready players to plug into their lineup. And that right there could be part of the problem; the Sharks might have depleted their minor league ranks of power quicker than it could be refilled. After Hamilton, the pickings are slim this season. Still, given the pedigree and skill in a few of the younger players, there is considerable hope that the carrousel of hardworking unknowns that rise up from the AHL and ECHL will continue in the coming years without missing a beat.
Tomas Hertl, C, 20
Rookie sensation, Tomas Hertl likely had his Calder-caliber season come to an unfortunate end in late December because of a knee injury. At the very least, because the injury is so severe he will likely miss too many games to bring rise to his stock to be a contender for the prize as the NHL’s best rookie. Despite already having missed double-digit games, Hertl is still in the top-five in rookie points with 25 and tied for second in goals, having netted 15 before the injury.
Matt Nieto, LW, 21
Nieto has had himself a very solid start to his NHL career, not quite rookie-of-the-year good, but he has certainly helped the Sharks remain competitive. The California native plays a comfortable, not quite perfect, two-way game and utilizes his speed effectively in all zones. This successful, yet sheltered, start has been overshadowed by Hertl’s meteoric rise, but with rampant injuries to the Sharks forward corps, Nieto is going to be given every opportunity to really show his adept skill set on the big stage. The next month will really help with projections as to where Nieto might fit in long term among San Jose’s talented group.
Eriah Hayes , RW, 25
The big forward has had an up-and-down season in his first pro year—with more ups than downs. He plays a very physical brand of hockey, but there are times when his slower than average reaction speed and lack of offensive awareness hurt his game and prevent him from being more noteworthy. He has all the traditional skills to be a terrific bottom-six forward and possible power play specialist with his shot, but he will need to adapt his game to the faster more physical brand of hockey that is found in the professional leagues for that to happen. Hayes was called up to San Jose in early January and has appeared in six games, averaging about eight minutes.
Harri Sateri, G, 24
Sateri entered the year as the undisputed number one AHL goalie for the Sharks organization. In fact, he played well enough during training camp to compete for an NHL job but lost out to Alex Stalock, the man he had battled for starting time with for multiple seasons. After a very slow start, Sateri found himself in yet another timeshare in the Worcester net. This time with Troy Grosenick, and this time, he was the hunted, rather than the hunter. Through December he managed to regain some of his form, and looks to have recaptured a stronghold as the AHL Sharks top goalie. He is 9-12-1 in 22 appearances this year with a .891 save percentage and 3.09 goals against average.
The Finnish netminder’s technical skills looks shakey at times, though, this could be the result of fatigue. He is playing comparatively to what he played last year, strong down low, with small holes up top and his statistical decline seems to be a product of who is playing in front of him, rather than his own loss of skill.
Troy Grosenick, G, 24
The newcomer in the Worcester net has looked surprisingly good in his first professional season. In fact, statistically speaking, until a hiccup in late December he was leading the AHL in goals against average. He is currently 8-5 with a .919 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average in 16 appearances this season.
Grosenick’s early success is a product of his strong net coverage, specifically his five hole coverage, his willingness to challenge shooters, and his competitive drive during high traffic puck battles in front of the net.
Daniil Tarasov, RW, 22
The speedy Russian winger started off the year on fire, but has since slowed his pace and has not looked as dominant in the offensive zone as he has shown he can be. Even despite his recent struggles to rack up points, the fact that he is still creating offense (he is shooting more) bodes well for his long term growth. A lot of young players completely dismantle during poor stretches, but Tarasov seems to just continue to do his thing. He leads the Sharks with 22 points through 24 games.
Defense is still a concern, despite the fact that he is actually one of Worcester’s few plus players, but he has shown some improvement in this regard.
James Livingston, RW, 23,
The 2012-13 Unsung Hero of the Worcester Sharks, James Livingston, is the epitome of a player you just cannot judge by the stats sheet. His offensive numbers have all but dried up amassing just eight points this season, including three very generous secondary assists. Livingston is a one dimensional player of the defensive kind who has tried desperately this season to change that. He is attempting more on the rush, and he is generating more chances, he just does not have the aptitude to really make his mark in that regard. His real strength is that he is solid on the back-check and is selfless when it comes to his body. He is the kind of player who you cannot remember if he even touched the puck during the game, but you will remember him for his last second block to save a goal.
Brodie Reid, RW, 24
Brodie Reid like most of the forwards in Worcester, carries a lunch bucket to work. He is a hardworking, gritty forward who plays an incredibly cerebral game. Reid started the year off on fire, but has slowed up until recently. His 13 points in 30 games are not overly impressive (even for Worcester standards) when you consider the type of linemates and ice time he gets, but he just does not have the offensive toolkit to be dangerous. This is a down year in that respect for Reid, who should have been competing for an NHL job at this time given San Jose’s recent string of injuries, but his poor play has slid him down the depth charts considerably. Given the similar type players in the system, Reid is going to need a huge turn around in the second half of the 2013-14 season to become relevant again.
Curt Gogol, LW, 22
Curt Gogol wears his heart on his jersey sleeve. He has very little offensive skill, as demonstrated in his four points in 31 games this year, but what he does have is a desire to make it to the NHL. Gogol has refined his game to be at times one of the better pests in the AHL this season. He has a penchant for taking bad penalties, but he has proven very able in getting under the skin of the opposition, a job that some NHL teams covet immensely. In his team-high eight fighting majors this season he has squared off against both heavy weights and AHL stars who rarely drop their gloves but cannot take his pestering.
Freddie Hamilton, C, 22
One of the few bright spots for Worcester this season, Freddie Hamilton has really taken the initiative to develop his offensive game. The Sharks prospect currently sits second in points for Worcester with 21 through 25 games, despite being a regular injury call-up for the big team.
With his more aggressive style of play, Hamilton’s defensive game has marginally slipped. He is still a fantastic back checker as demonstrated in his stint with the big club, where he time and time again proves a capable NHL player. However, when he focuses on one section of his game, the other side of it greatly depreciates; he has not yet found the perfect balance in his two-way game.
Travis Oleksuk, C, 24
Travis Oleksuk is not the offensive weapon many thought he would be when the Sharks signed him. Whether it is the system (which given the number of declining seasons by the AHL Sharks, this is a huge possibility) or just the difference in compete levels, Oleksuk has been unable to score on a consistent basis at the pro level. He is a turnover machine, with decent defensive play, but unless he fully commits to defense and changes the part of his game that is not working, he likely will not last long in the AHL.
Rylan Schwartz, C, 24
Like Oleksuk, Rylan Schwartz, left the college game with high hopes and a fantastic offensive resume. The scoring just has not been able to translate at a strong pace. Schwartz’ meager nine points in 35 games this season does not accurately portray his offensive potential, but it does speak volumes to his adaptability and lack of ability to play outside of the top-six in the future.
Marek Viedensky, C, 23
Marek Viedesnky is playing solid non-flashy hockey. He is playing exactly the way the organization wants him to play. Smart, defensively strong hockey, with a lot of speed. His 10 points in 27 games seems very poor, but he has been one of the better Worcester forwards in all zones of the ice since the season began and plays a very strong dump-and-chase game that Worcester seems to be deploying.
Matt Tennyson, D, 23
Tennyson’s lack of inspired play at the start of the season had many worried. He was widely considered the most NHL-ready defensemen in the San Jose pool, and big things were expected from him. Coming back to Worcester and not breaking the NHL camp seemed to have withered away his confidence as Tennyson was not the same player he was at the start of the 2013-14 season as he was last year.
The skilled, puck-moving defenseman has quickly turned a corner as of late, and is playing a strong game, tallying seven points in his last 13 AHL games before he was called up to San Jose on January 9th.
Sena Acolatse, D, 23
Something is missing in Sena Acolatse’s game. He is not the same dynamic swiss-army knife player he was before his jaw injury. His physical game seems diluted, his offensive pushes seem slower and less impressive, and even his once praised slapper seems like it has lost some juice. He has one goal, six assists through 24 games so far this season.
The now veteran blueliner is not playing like one of the leaders of the team. His play is often very sloppy, especially down low and in around the boards. These were the type of deficiencies scouts were willing to look past because of his other intangibles, but given the fact that he just is not producing in any spectrum is certainly making his faults more luminous.
Konrad Abeltshauser, D, 21
The big non-physical German, has had a very rough go of things in his first professional season. There were high expectations early on , given Abeltshauser’s high-end offensive skill set, but the intense level of play in the AHL seems to be taking its toll on the young lanky rearguard and he has been unable to really establish any consistency in his game.
Abeltshauser has shown promise, especially on the rush, but it is safe to say that without one or two really talented offensive players like those he was accustomed to playing with in the QMJHL, that his offensive potential seems limited in Worcester. He has five points and a minus-nine rating in 21 contests.
Defensively, the young defenseman still needs a lot of work, particularly in terms of strength. A player with his frame should not be so easily outplayed in the corners or in front of the net.
Dylan DeMelo, D, 20
DeMelo is having the kind of rookie campaign in the AHL that many thought Abeltshauser would have. He looks comfortable out on a rush, for and against his team, and his shot is being utilized on the power play. DeMelo, who is tied for the lead in defensive scoring with 13 points in 28 games, was no doubt the less talked about rookie on the blue line coming into the season, but at the halfway mark, he might just be Worcester’s best defender this season.
Taylor Doherty, D, 22
In his third professional season, Taylor Doherty has finally started to look comfortable on the ice. His skating has improved somewhat which has allowed for better positioning, and at times he uses his large frame very well. However, his game is still very up and down and positive mentions should come with the caveat that this is still a prospect with an enormous uphill climb.
Adam Comrie, D, 23
A veteran in the professional circuit, Comrie has carried with him a modest swagger onto the ice. He uses his body well, and makes crisp and accurate first passes but lacks real fire power to be much of a factor on offense. That being said, as both a forward and defender, Comrie has positioned himself into a tie for the lead amongst his fellow Worcester defenders for the blue line point total with 13 points in 27 games. Eight of those points were secondary assists however, painting a picture that Comrie’s early-season rise is more a factor of his strong first pass than his true offensive ability.
Sebastian Stalberg, RW, 23
Stalberg started the year with renewed optimism, and the hope that he could improve upon last year’s decline in play. Unfortunately, the decline seems to be continuing. Statistically he has registered five points in 23 games, but the poor showing on the stat sheet is only half of the story. Stalberg seems lost on the ice for long periods of time, and his compete level seems to be incredibly sporadic. It is no surprise that he has recently been assigned to the ECHL with the San Francisco Bulls.
J.P. Anderson, G, 21
J.P. Anderson came out of the San Jose prospects camp with a bit of a swagger, and the opportunity to make the jump out of junior straight into the AHL as Harri Sateri’s back up. Ever since he lost the job in camp, his game has been in serious decline. He not only lost the AHL backup job, but he has also lost his ECHL starting job to Tyler Beskorowany (DAL). He has only one win on the season in 14 ECHL appearances with a .892 save percentage and 3.48 goals against.
Chris Crane, RW, 22
Chris Crane failed to make the Worcester team out of camp, and began his professional career out of Ohio State University in San Francisco. Once touted as a crease crasher with offensive potential, Crane has uncomfortably become more of a big body to shelter smaller players. His offensive game is apparent at the ECHL level, but his slow foot speed has made him a considerable target, and one of the weakest links on the team as a huge defensive liability. He has 16 points and a minus-13 rating in 38 games for the Bulls.