Tomas Hertl maintains first spot in San Jose Sharks Top 20

By Craig Fischer

Tomas Hertl - San Jose Sharks

Photo: Tomas Hertl was on pace to graduate to the NHL in 2013-14 but suffered a knee injury in December (courtesy of Danny Murphy/Icon SMI)

The San Jose Sharks had ample opportunity heading into the 2014 trade deadline to acquire a piece to help them with their quest for a cup. Many speculated that the Sharks would mortgage their future to rise up next to the conference’s best.

However, general manager, Doug Wilson was unwilling to give up any of his talented youth and stood pat. This was the first time since he became general manager of the Sharks in 2003 that he did not make a trade anywhere close to the trade deadline. This decision speaks on the organization’s belief not in just their current roster but their prospect pool and what the draft has done for the organization as well. Matt Nieto, a second round pick in 2011, graduated to the NHL this season and top prospect Tomas Hertl would have done the same if not for injury.

Collectively, every position seems to have improved in the San Jose system over the course of the season. The forward group looks surprisingly better than it did almost a year ago, including a blue chip prospect, the defense corps is just as strong as it has been for the past few seasons, and the team has a couple of goalies with NHL potential. It still is not the flashiest group in the NHL, but like Doug Wilson showed, it is worth betting on.

1. (1) Tomas Hertl, LW/C, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2012

San Jose’s potential franchise forward held onto the top spot in the top 20 rankings despite a mid-season knee injury that has kept him out of play since December. For good reason, he is just that much better than anyone else in the system. Hertl broke camp as something of a league unknown and overnight became the talk of the town. Before the injury he was a Calder favorite and an integral part of the San Jose offense.

The knee is looking good and the rehab is well underway, and while even a playoff appearance might be out of the question, Hertl’s long-term presence will be felt on this roster. No longer a league unknown, Hertl will look to continue to raise his game to the next level in 2014-15.

2. (6) Chris Tierney, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2012

Besides Tomas Hertl, no one’s star is rising faster and higher than Chris Tierney’s. The London Knight’s newly appointed captain has always been a talented defensive player under the Hunter coaching regime. But this season, much like the end of last season and in the playoffs, Tierney’s offensive game has been a revelation.

The skilled forward, is on the verge of scoring more points this season than he did in his first three in the OHL. With 89 points in 67 games played, Tierney sits not just as a scoring threat on his incredibly talented team, but league-wide as well as the thirteenth highest scorer. The remarkable part of this offensive transition is that Tierney’s excellent back check and robust collection of defensive skills have not faltered. Tierney might just be the best two-way forward in CHL hockey.

3. (4) Mirco Mueller, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2013

Mueller started the season a little underwhelming, especially after the front office was so confident in this player to move up in the draft to obtain him. Now, late in the season, he is looking very strong away from the puck as if management knew what they were doing all along. There are few 19-year-old defenders with as much poise and defensive acumen as Mueller. While he still has not emerged as the de facto number-one defender in Everett as many had hoped after the departure of Ryan Murray (CBJ), the times when he is heavily relied upon, he has looked solid and comfortable in the role.

After a strong but uneventful World Junior Championship with Team Switzerland, Mueller returned with a whole new confidence on the ice in the offensive zone. In fact, the tall and lanky defender tallied 13 points in his last 20 regular season games, almost doubling his season point total. There is talk that Mueller has impressed brass enough to actually break camp next year, but unless he physically matures over the offseason this is just front-office hyperbole.

4. (5) Freddie Hamilton, C, 6.5B
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2010

The Worcester Sharks leading scorer with 34 points, Freddie Hamilton looks to have found some of the offensive firepower he had in junior—but not all of it. The 2013-14 season has been a great step in the young forwards development and a year of great promise. Hamilton showed he was capable of playing at the NHL level, having played 11 games for the Sharks and earned another call-up on March 27th. Making it to and thriving at the top level are two different beasts however, and while Hamilton played adequately for an injury call-up, the inadequacies in his game became obvious.

5. (3) Matt Tennyson, D, 7.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 2012

Matt Tennyson entered the year as the most NHL-ready prospect, but to date he has yet to be called up by San Jose to play this season. Statistically, it is a down year in almost every imaginable category for the offensive-defenseman. The truth of the matter is, Tennyson has been trying to do way too much to generate offense for his team. He is not superman, but at times he and his coaches think he is.

Despite the poor play in Worcester, Tennyson is still an NHL-caliber defenseman and there are times amidst the blunders that he looks to have more potential than simply a fringe professional. Sooner, rather than later he will find his way into an NHL lineup. Depending on what the Sharks do over the offseason could help define how much the organization believes in Tennyson.  

6. (7) Dan O’Regan, C, 7.5D
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2012

The Boston University Terriers had a very disappointing season, and no one player on the squad epitomized that more than Sharks prospect Dan O’Regan. The speedy forward struggled under new head coach David Quinn, and never quite found his offensive spark, amassing just 22 points, 16 fewer than last season. O’Regan was used in every combination and situation imaginable but nothing could change his despondency.

O’Regan’s scoring woes also translated to the WJC as well. Despite being tabbed as the number one center on Team USA early on, O’Regan struggled to contribute in the offensive zone, was injured, and eventually lost his spot on the team’s big line. O’Regan still has a very high ceiling, and do not be surprised if he leaves school this summer for greener pastures.

7. (8) Konrad Abeltshauser, D, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 163rd overall, 2010

The post-super star era of Konrad Abeltshauser’s early career is painting a more accurate depiction of what Sharks fans can expect from the polarizing 6’5 German defender. In his first professional season Abeltshauser has experienced his fair share of struggles, but as the season has worn on, he has looked more and more like an actual AHL defenseman and not just a friendly giant on skates. There are still considerable holes in his very soft-styled game, but the young defenseman seems willing to learn. The offense is slowly coming along and now it seems just a matter of how much he can put together on the defensive side of things.

8. (10) Dylan DeMelo, D, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2011

A strong case can be made that Dylan DeMelo has been the best defenseman for the Worcester Sharks, from the moment the puck dropped in September. The first year pro has had his fair share of mistakes on the job, but DeMelo has adapted strongly to the learning curve, especially on the offensive side of things where he uses his powerful shot from the right point.

9. (9) Sena Acolatse, D, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, March 2011

Ever since his jaw injury, Sena Acolatse has not been the same player. He lacks the same physical domination on a nightly basis he once brought every single night, and without the sandpaper, he is not as effective. On the nights he plays full force, he is a terrific player. Interestingly enough, his first fight of the season in late December spurred a solid month of hockey for both Acolatse and the Sharks.

10. (12) Daniil Tarasov, RW, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, April 2013

Daniil Tarasov adds a different dimension to the prospect pool. In fact there have not been a lot of one dimensional forwards in the system since Doug Wilson took command of the team, and in a way this is great for both the organization and Tarasov because it fills organizational needs. Despite the obvious defensive and neutral zone deficiencies, not to mention poor penalties that are constantly pointed out when it comes to this player, Tarasov has played very well given his supporting cast and his offensive numbers should not be scoffed at with 31 points in 43 games under Roy Sommer’s system is a great achievement. Depending on how well this player adapts away from the puck could mean the difference between the AHL and NHL.

11. (11) Harri Sateri, G, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2008

Finally out from behind Alex Stalock’s shadow, Harri Sateri is not having the kind of season he would have hoped for. Much of his downfall resides in just how bad the Worcester team had been playing in front of him, but he was still letting in soft goals on a nightly basis. Sateri is an incredibly streaky goaltender, and under a better Worcester team he looks noticeably better and more composed in the crease. His developmental rise is one of the reasons why the Worcester season has turned around so abruptly. Still, if he ever plans to usurp Stalock as the back-up at the NHL level, he needs to improve his glove work.

12. (15) Sean Kuraly, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 133rd overall, 2011

Sean Kuraly has had a huge bounce back. After a dismal and snake-bitten 2012-13 season, Kuraly’s offensive game seems to have come alive this season. The Miami University sophomore, more than doubled his offensive output with 29 points in 38 games, all while playing a fast paced, responsible energy game. Part of Kuraly’s resurgence has to do with how the team handled the graduation of many keys players, but it can also be attributed to the work he has done on his shot. Kuraly is not just a speedster anymore, he has the tools to actually be dangerous in the collegiate game. Next year could be another big step in his development.

13. (17) Michael Brodzinski, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2013

For most freshman defensemen, scoring points in half of your games would be considered a success, but for Michael Brodzinski, his first season with the University of Minnesota was one filled with trials and tribulations. Brodzinski’s wild and cavalier style of play was reined in by head coach Don Lucia, and a strong defensive structure was imposed on the young Minnesota natives game—something Brodzinski has struggled to adapt to. A leg injury has also hampered the young Gopher’s adaptation, and kept him out of some of the University of Minnesota’s biggest games of the season.
 
14. (NR) Eriah Hayes, RW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, April 2013

Eriah Hayes has looked incredibly solid in his first full professional season. His 15-game audition with the big club showed that the strong and powerful winger has what it takes to battle against men. Despite playing limited minutes in the NHL, Hayes has illustrated how effective he can be in all zones. His power offensive game has not yet translated, and chances are it will not, however his value to a team goes far beyond that of a normal stat sheet. Hayes could be a prime candidate to start the year in San Jose next season if the team needs a bottom-six forward.

15. (14) Taylor Doherty, D, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2009

The 2013-14 season has been a year of slow meaningful change for the tall and lanky, Taylor Doherty. As easy as it is to criticize the 23-year-old’s game, especially considering his post-draft hype, Taylor Doherty is improving and moving towards becoming a serviceable shutdown defenseman. Doherty’s improved defensive play and grit have him slowly becoming relevant again within the organization, and given his high ceiling and size, it would not be out of the question to see him on the San Jose blue line in the next couple of seasons.
 
16. (NR) Joakim Ryan, D, 6.5D
Drafted 7th round, 198th overall, 2012

Cornell junior defenseman Joakim Ryan is having his best collegiate season yet for the Big Red, amassing 24 points in 32 games. Not only is he the best defenseman on his team, but he sits in the top seven for defensive scoring in all of ECAC hockey. His ability to quarterback a power play is masterful.

Ryan’s game is incredibly technical, and he plays with a very high intelligence in the same sort of way Mirco Mueller does. Where Ryan differs is in the size and strength, and he might not ever be adept in that category. Despite bulking up, Ryan still has troubles controlling the flow of traffic in and around his defending net making defense a bit of a long term question mark when he eventually makes his way to the professional level.

17. (20) Travis Oleksuk, C, 6.5D
Signed as a free agent, March 2012

Travis Oleksuk has quietly developed into one of the better two-way forwards in the Sharks system. He plays a smart, creative brand of hockey, with a very under-stated offensive game. He began his professional career with tremendous expectations, given his collegiate track record as a playmaking center, but he had a rocky start. In his second year with Worcester, Oleksuk looks a lot more comfortable and capable. He might not be the same kind of player he was for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but he has shown this season that he is not out for the count yet.

18. (18) Christophe Lalancette, C, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 109th overall, 2012

Lalancette started the year as one of the QMJHL’s hottest scorers, and while he has simmered down as of late, he is still having a very respectable season. The spritely centerman registered 59 points in 68 regular season games, a career high, but the potential is there for even better offensive production. The only thing standing in Lalancette’s way from becoming a top-10 prospect in the San Jose pool is his drive. Far too many puck battles are lost, and plays given up on early by this player.
 
19. (16) Gabryel Boudreau, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2013

Gabryel Boudreau is experiencing a cataclysmic fall in his second season in the QMJHL. Not only has Boudreau lost the favour of his coaches, but it became apparent that last season’s successes greatly rode on the successes of Baie-Comeau Drakkar’s more prominent players. When not playing with Valentin Zykov (LAK) and Felix Girard (NAS), Boudraeu’s offensive ability looks to have dried up. That being said, there is a reason why he is still on this list: potential. Boudreau might be experiencing one of the worst sophomore slumps in recent CHL history, but he also has terrific dangles and offensive instinct like few on this list.

20. (19) Fredrik Bergvik, G, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 117th overall, 2013

Coming off of a statistically spectacular season in the Swedish junior leagues last season, there was a lot of hype surrounding the 19-year-old Fredrik Bergvik. The technically sound butterfly netminder did not live up to those expectations this season, and had a modest, if not slightly disappointing season with a 2.60 goals against average and a .904 save percentage for Frolunda J20. While he did not manage to make the WJC team, he did make his SHL debut, serving mop up duty in a blowout. Interestingly enough, despite giving up three goals, he looked very good for a teenager. He will likely serve as the big club's full-time backup next season.

Even despite these challenges in the 2013-14 season, Bergvik is one of the better European goaltending prospects. Considering his upside and ability to steal games, he could easily rise through these rankings, but like most goaltenders, he is a long term project.