The San Jose Sharks have publicly stated that the younger players of the organization are going to start becoming key components of the roster, which means the 2014-15 season will be a fascinating year both in terms of individual prospect’s development and the sheer number of players that should move up to higher levels of play throughout the year.
Boasting one of their deepest prospect groups in recent memory, the Sharks have considerable talent at the professional and junior level, and with a new emphasis on younger players many of these top prospects will be in a Sharks jersey in the very near future.
Top Pro Prospect
Tomas Hertl, LW/C San Jose Sharks (NHL)
After a very productive offseason, Tomas Hertl will open the year as a top-six winger on the Sharks’ opening night roster. The young energetic Czech looks noticeably stronger, and his first step acceleration has improved greatly. His offensive success this year will be dependent upon his ability to crack the first power play unit. Great things are expected of the Sharks’ top prospect, and a top-50 scoring pace among all NHL players is within the realm of possibility.
Despite an opportunity to crack the lineup out of training camp this year, Chris Tierney will likely begin his professional career with the Worcester Sharks. Coming off of a massive year in the OHL and put onto a team with a lot of new parts up front and a deep hunger for offense, Tierney has the potential to have a very good offensive season in the AHL. How he reacts to the different level of play, and more specifically, how consistently he scores, will determine how he projects at and beyond the AHL.
J.P. Anderson, G, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
After failing to impress at last year’s AHL training camp, J.P. Anderson found himself sent down to the ECHL. Due to inconsistent and sometimes sloppy play between the pipes, J.P. Anderson could not even hold onto the starter’s position and was bounced about from San Francisco to Ontario. The former OHL standout is going to be given every opportunity to win the backup job in Worcester this year. After a solid prospects camp, he looks to have the ability to comfortably supply Worcester starter Troy Grosenick with relief.
Mirco Mueller is a fan favorite to make the jump from the WHL to the NHL this season, but the big, strong skater could probably use another year of seasoning before he becomes a full-time pro. Defensively, Mueller is NHL-ready, and after a very intensive summer training program the young Swiss rearguard would not look out of place in a bottom-pairing role, especially given his size and reach. However, with a below average shot and very little offensive instinct it might be better for his long-term growth to concentrate on building his offensive repertoire on the Everett Silvertips’ blueline.
Gabryel Boudreau enters the 2014-15 season on an entirely new team, and with an opportunity to turn his young career around. After an eye-opening 2012-13 season with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Boudreau struggled in 2013-14 and it became apparent that he was a player who benefited greatly from the players he was surrounded by. After a strong pre-season with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Boudreau looks capable of having a bounceback season. It should be noted, however, that his play alongside lesser talent at the Sharks prospect games left much to be desired, and it will take a big season for this player to be known as a player who drives play and not just a benefactor of the play of those around him.
Julius Bergman, D, London Knights (OHL)
The move from Sweden to the OHL’s London Knights was almost immediate after Julius Bergman was drafted by the San Jose Sharks. Coming over from Frolunda, Bergman is a bit of an unknown commodity to North America, but the Sharks were intrigued enough to draft the big, physical, two-way defenseman. They were so intrigued that they actually traded up to select him. Under the Dale Hunter regime in London, Bergman could explode onto the scene and become one of the most prominent defensemen in the OHL this 2014-15 season.
Dan O’Regan is on the precipice of becoming a college hockey star. The undersized forward has the defensive and offensive skills to be a dominant player for Boston University, and the sheer fact that he will have an opportunity to line up beside Jack Eichel gives O’Regan’s 2014-15 season massive potential to shine on a national level. O’Regan had a poor relationship with his coach in his first year and was bitten by the injury bug on multiple occasions, but one big season with a like-minded offensive talent could propel O’Regan up the depth charts.
Michael Brodzinski, D, University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Michael Brodzinski spent most of his freshman season in 2013-14 working on the defensive side of his game. With the respect of his coaches in 2014-15 and a full-time place on the University of Minnesota blueline, Brodzinski will have an opportunity to unleash his full offensive arsenal against the Big Ten conference this season. Registering 13 points in 26 games last season, playing limited minutes, and working almost exclusively on his defensive game, Brodzinski has the potential to double his offensive production and become a point-per-game defenseman in his sophomore season.
Unsigned for 2015-16
Joakim Ryan, D, Cornell University (NCAA)
Joakim Ryan has had a solid collegiate career up to this point, but heading into his senior year with Cornell University his future with the San Jose Sharks is up in the air. To this point Ryan has played well, but has been rather unspectacular (outside of his blocking and power play expertise); with a loaded young blueline in Worcester and many young defenseman of note in college and the CHL, there might not be room for Ryan. The small power play specialist is going to have to prove he can handle play against bigger, stronger opposition if he wants to earn his first-ever professional contract.
Top European Prosect
Noah Rod, C, Geneva-Servette HC (NLA)
Noah Rod is still a few seasons away from being an NHL player, but his feisty style of play and ability to affect a game could speed that process up. During the 2014-15 season Rod will likely play a substantial role on Geneva-Servette’s third line. However, due to many key players departing, the eighteen-year-old center could conceivably move into a scoring role by mid-season. Rod will also play a key role for the Swiss Junior team in Toronto and Montreal this winter. The defensively-minded forward’s ability to get under the skin of big game players will undoubtedly be in the spotlight during this tournament.
First Year Pro to Watch
Fredrik Bergvik, G, Frolunda (SHL)
Fredrik Bergvik’s first taste of professional hockey in the SHL was a mixed bag. The Swedish goaltender let in three goals in just over half of a game, but made impossible save after impossible save in the progress. Bergvik will start the year off as Frolunda’s backup, and it will be difficult for him to supplant Linus Fernstrom but he will be given chances, and his first professional season should be very telling of Bergvik’s potential in the Sharks system.
Unsigned for 2015-16
Emil Galimov, LW, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (KHL)
Emil Galimov may never come over to North America, as that is just the nature of the beast when dealing with young MHL and KHL players. But if ever there was a season for Galimov to make the move, it would be at the end of the 2014-15 season when Galimov’s contract with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv expires. Galimov has enough offensive prowess to be impactful at the AHL level and possibly beyond, but whether or not Galimov is interested in Worcester or not is the big question that will determine whether he and the Sharks can work out a deal to bring him over.
Follow Craig Fischer on Twitter @fgiarc