The 2013-14 season was a big year for the San Jose Sharks and their prospects. In a lot of ways it was an eye opener for the rest of the league and demonstrated the depth and top-flight skill they had hidden away in their prospect pool.
Beyond Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto (graduated) who both played key roles for the big team, relative unknowns continued to make big strides, and there were a lot of fantastic individual performances in an otherwise heartbreaking season.
Prospect of the Year: Tomas Hertl, C, San Jose Sharks (NHL)
As good as Matt Nieto was this year, it was not even a race. This season was the year of the Hertl. Even with an injury shortened season, Hertl dominated, and showed that he was not only capable of contributing, but he was actually a big part of the San Jose offense. Next year, the young Czech star will continue to make improvements, and it is only a matter of time before he becomes a bona fide star in the league.
Just one year removed from a demotion to the ECHL San Francisco Bulls, where it looked like his professional game might have peaked, Marek Viedensky, quietly turned his career around. At first glance, 23 points in 54 games is not that impressive, but the 23-year-old plays a very well-rounded game, especially on the back check, and if the way he ended the season is any indication of his growth, this is a player that has come a long way under enormous personal growth. In fact, playing at the 2014 World Championships this spring for Slovakia, Viedensky has looked very good, easily good enough to warrant a new contract. If he is re-signed by the Sharks, big things will be expected of him in Worcester, and he instantly becomes a sleeper candidate to break the Sharks in 2014-15.
Matt Tennyson had a terrible season. He had a down year in terms of the score sheet and if you asked him he would tell you he threw away a fantastic opportunity, but he is still the organizations most adept blueliner and most likely to make the big team next year out of camp. Much of his struggles were a product of him being asked to do too much for a team that was not very good. He played very tough minutes, and in any other situation, he would have been considered one of the AHL’s best. Still, even with his raw skill set, young Mirco Mueller is nipping at his heels. In fact, the big, intelligent, Swiss born rearguard played well enough this year, especially after the WJC’s to really make a name for himself and prove he should at least be in contention for this award. If he could ever add a true offensive dynamic to his game, he would be widely considered not just one of the best defensive prospects on the team but in the game.
Mueller plays so smart for his age, and it is an overused sentiment, but he really does play like a veteran on the ice. That being said, in his brief stint with the Worcester Sharks, Mueller showed his inexperience against men, and as good as he is, the much younger Mueller is not where Tennyson (or some of the other Worcester defenders for that matter) is with his game yet.
Fastest Skater: Sean Kuraly, C, Miami University RedHawks (NCHC)
Sean Kuraly’s game is pure speed. This player has one of the best first strides in all of collegiate hockey, and is able to pull away from defenders with such ease. He has always been a speed demon, in fact he was noted as such when the Sharks drafted him, but it was his work and dedication this offseason to carry the puck, shoot, and create offense at his top speed that really helped his game grow into a stronger player. Last season he was flying so fast down the ice that he jumbled the puck. As such, his shots were just a bit off the mark and his numbers faltered because of it. This year, he found a really great balance of speed and control and has been really cashing in on the offensive side of things. With an excellent in-stride shot, Kuraly has the skill to showcase his speed at the NHL level.
Hardest Shot: Emil Galimov, LW, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (KHL)
The only Russian prospect in the mix, Emil Galimov is probably one of the most unknown unknowns in this entire prospect pool. One aspect of his game that really makes this player memorable is his hard one timer. He has one of the loudest, and scariest shots in the KHL, and while it is not adeptly accurate, it is a tremendous asset. As a younger player on a well built team, Galimov had limited opportunities to really show off his cannon. With an expected bigger role next season with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, Galimov will no doubt improve upon his seven goals this season–largely in part to his terrific shot–that is if he can improve his accuracy.
Overachiever: Troy Grosenick, G, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Troy Grosenick was not supposed to be this good. Last year’s college signing, went from backup, to platoon, to basically forcing Harri Sateri to the KHL, after Grosenick outdueled the veteran during much of the season. In terms of raw skill and talent level, Grosenick probably is not the better goalie, but Sateri is a very good goalie in his own right. The truth of the matter is Grosenick just outworked the incumbent netminder. A lot of it has to do with his competitiveness and his psychological factors attributed to being a goalie; Grosenick just wanted the job more, and he wanted to stop the puck more. It looks like going into the second season with the Worcester Sharks, he is going to be the man playing between the posts.
There is considerable pressure attributed to being one of a team’s top picks in a draft, especially on a young kid who up until last season was not even playing junior hockey. The pressure undoubtedly got to the Sharks forward because he had a terrible season. Watching him play this year compared to last was like night and day. He seemed like a ghost of his former self. There is considerable concern here that Boudreau benefited heavily last year by playing a large number of shifts with Valentin Zykov (LAK), as not playing with the star Russian forward this season has yielded terrible results. Boudreau scored 28 points less than he did last season in the same amount of games, and in junior hockey any time you see decline in the stat sheet of a solid NHL prospect, there is a big story there. He will get a chance to rebound next season with Chicoutimi after a trade from Baie-Comeau in May.
Highest Risk/Reward prospect: Michael Brodzinski, D, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Granted, there is not much organizational risk attributed to a fourth round pick, but the way Brodzinski plays on the ice is very high risk/high reward. When he has the puck on his stick, he can do amazing things; he can change a game—for better or for worse. The young University of Minnesota has taken strides this season to become more defensively sound, but he still has a lot of work to do in gaining the trust of his coaches. If he can put both sides of his game together, while retaining his flare, and game-changing potential, he could be a very good NHL defenseman and one of the next generation of Sharks defenders to take the reins from the departing Dan Boyle.
The captain of the London Knights is a born winner, and as such, he will do anything he can to help his team win. Tierney not only excelled at his usual shutdown position, shutting the league’s best offensive forces, but he became a faceoff winning machine, and offensive stud in his fourth and last season with the Knights. Playing big minutes on the OHL’s elite team, Tierney did everything that was asked of him, and constantly outshined some of the exceptional talent that played around him. While it is uncertain if Tierney will maintain his offensive pedigree at the professional level, his hard working mentality will lend itself nicely to the jump, and he should have one of the easier transition periods going forward.
Breakout Player for 2014-15 season: Konrad Abeltshauser, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Even though Tennyson and Mueller got the nod for the Best Defensive prospect award, Abeltshauser did not finish too far off. By all accounts, he had a very strong second half of his professional career, and if he continues to play the way he played in 2014, given his size, skill, and skating ability, he might not be long for the AHL. Once thought to be a major benefactor from playing alongside Jonathan Drouin (TBL) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL) in Halifax, Abeltshauser proved this season in Worcester that he can play a strong two-way game without superstar talent around him. Look for Abeltshauser to make big waves in 2014-15.