In recent seasons, junior hockey has been a hotbed of talent for the San Jose Sharks. Just last year, Mirco Mueller, Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow were all in the CHL. That’s three young talented prospects that have already contributed with the big club this season.
Despite the loss of so much talent at the junior level, because of a big push towards the draft in 2014, the junior ranks look replenished–albeit lacking a true blue chip prospect. Many of the players in this list have the same drive, ability and swagger that Mueller, Tierney and Goodrow displayed last year, and it is only a matter of time before they end up crashing into the NHL too.
Rourke Chartier, C, Kelowna Rockets
Drafted 5th Round, 149th Overall in 2014
Rourke Chartier has been a dominant player at the WHL level this season. How well his game will translate to the NHL, if he even makes it, is quite debatable. But right now, Chartier might just be the hottest player in junior hockey (he earned the Hockey’s Future Prospect of the Month this month). Chartier has 29 goals and 19 assists for 48 points in 27 games. Those 29 goals lead the CHL, and the 48 points lead the WHL. What is perhaps more noteworthy is that Chartier has been doing all of his damage with above average two-way play. Chartier has established incredible chemistry with 2015 top prospect Nick Merkley, and the two have become a dynamic force in the league — and with the overager Tyrell Goulbourne on Chartier’s wing, it has been easily the best line in the WHL.
As fantastic as Chartier has been there are still questions about his overall game. Just because he has rocketed up to the top of the WHL in scoring does not mean he is a blue chip prospect. The young Rockets have feasted on poor goaltending for a large stretch of the season. Plenty of players who excel at the junior levels never even make the NHL. Fans need to temper expectations but it is looking like the Sharks got a potential steal at the 2014 NHL Draft.
Having received an invitation to Team Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp, what Hockey Canada does with Chartier in the coming weeks will be a great indicator of how the hockey world views Chartier’s success. Making the final roster would be a huge vote of confidence for the young center’s skillset, especially considering Canada’s depth and draft pedigree. No player on Canada’s camp roster was drafted later than Chartier. Just making a World Junior team isn’t the be-all and end-all of great NHL players, but it would speak to how the professional hockey world sees Chartier’s meteoric rise to WHL stardom. Regardless what happens, sustained success in Kelowna can establish Chartier as a very important piece for the Sharks going forward.
Alex Schoenborn, RW, Portland Winterhawks
Drafted 3rd Round, 72nd Overall in 2014
After spending much of his time early in the season on the Winterhawks’ third line with Dominic Turgeon (DET), Alex Schoenborn has recently found himself elevated to a scoring line due to injuries. With the increase in ice time and opportunity, Schoenborn has upped his stats considerably, having scored just three of his 16 points in October. His offensive abilities leave a lot to be desired but he is making the most of his opportunity. He has the size and ability to crash the net, and is smart enough to chase loose pucks in the dirty areas of play, but one should not expect much offense to translate to the NHL level if he ever finds his way that far. One of the biggest reasons he might not climb that high is his rather weak defensive ability. Traditionally +/- is a poor indicator of defensive prowess, but Schoenborn’s team worst -10 is a great jumping off point for just how bad Schoenborn has been. He has been occasionally sloppy – and sometimes even lazy – away from the puck, which was far from his usual style of play last season. One other noticeable factor in Schoenborn’s game is his lack of chippiness in recent months. That part of his game has really quieted, especially as he sits on a scoring line. Schoenborn is the kind of player who is at his best when he is playing physical, and he seems to have lost some of that edge.
Kevin Labanc, LW, Barrie Colts
Drafted 6th Round, 171st Overall in 2014
One of the top scorers in the OHL, the Barrie Colts’ Kevin Labanc has all but surpassed last season’s production totals, amassing 12 goals and 30 assists in 27 games. The shifty forward was red hot in the month of November, registering a point in every game he played.
A skilled 5-on-5 forward, Labanc has shown great puck possession skills, and an ability to generate offense. He has established a solid rapport with Brendan Lemieux (BUF) and Andrew Mangiapane, and has shined on the Colts power play because of it. The way he controls the puck on the man-advantage is very impressive, and his progression in this discipline this season is a big reason why the Colts power play is so deadly.
Dylan Sadowy, LW, Saginaw Spirit
Drafted 3rd Round, 81st Overall in 2014
So far this 2014-15 season, Dylan Sadowy had been a leader on and off the ice for the Saginaw Spirit. His 31 points have him leading the team in scoring and, while he was quiet at the end of November, it is how the young 18-year old is handling the lows that completely negates the drop. Just a second-year player and serving as Alternate Captain for the Spirit, Sadowy has taken on a lot more responsibility for this team. He looks just as composed on the penalty kill as he does in an interview. Projected as a longshot, Sadowy is showing he can be more than a streaky goal-scorer.
Julius Bergman, D, London Knights
Drafted 2nd Round, 46th Overall in 2014
After somewhat of a rocky start, Julius Bergman has acclimated quite nicely to the North American flow of the game after a solid junior tenure with Frölunda. Already a power play favorite of head coach Dale Hunter, Bergman is getting the most out of his first season in the OHL. The leader in points amongst defensemen on his team, Bergman is showing good ability in moving the puck under pressure. That being said, a lot of what he has done on the scoresheet is greatly inflated by the skill of the forwards around him. Twelve of his 17 points have come with the man-advantage and nine of those points are assists. The assist stat is also a bit misleading, as eight of those have been of the secondary variety. Bergman’s power play success has slightly overshadowed his struggles at even strength, particularly in the defensive end.
Despite the growing pains, he has not played badly overall, and on some nights he has been the Knights’ best defender. In all, he has been far from exceptional on a consistent basis and has shown he is prone to making poor decisions a few times a game. Still, this is Bergman’s first year in the OHL and he is playing for a contending team while showing great potential. He is expected to join Team Sweden for the World Juniors.
Alexis Vanier, D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Drafted 4th Round, 102nd Overall in 2014
Alexis Vanier is attempting to fix some of his biggest weaknesses in his game this season – particularly his skating. The emphasis on fixing these elements of his game has taken away from some of the things, notably the offense, that got Vanier drafted in the first place. At a most recent look, Vanier’s skating has improved marginally, but he is still a below average skater, especially when he skates backwards.
On pace for a down year with 10 points so far in 27 games, Vanier’s change in focus has perhaps impacted his offensive results. Still, four of his goals have come on the power play, showing that his big shot is still a weapon. The Drakkar are not as potent a team as last year’s was, but for Vanier what is perhaps more concerning is that he has been getting the opportunities, especially in terms of ice time. He just has not been able to contribute as effectively as he was last season but his efforts to improve could still yield results.
Gabryel Boudreau, LW, Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Drafted 2nd Round, 49th overall in 2013
After a great start to the season, Gabryel Boudreau has found himself out of the lineup since October as he deals with nagging injuries from earlier in training camp. He had put up nine points in seven games prior to being shelved. Boudreau had established excellent chemistry with linemate Laurent Dauphin (ARZ) and they will try to re-ignite their offense when Boudreau returns in December or January. It would be beneficial to see how Boudreau handles himself on a separate line to see if he can differentiate himself from the belief that he is a player that benefits mostly from playing with excellent players, but getting the young man back to full health is the first challenge.
San Jose Sharks Prospect of the Month
Barclay Goodrow, San Jose Sharks
Barclay Goodrow had an excellent junior career for the Brampton, and later North Bay, Battalion. Despite going undrafted by an NHL team, it was fitting that Goodrow led his squad to the OHL Championship series in his final season. He has always been a player that coaches and teammates appreciated for his work ethic and leadership on and off the ice. The Sharks wisely recognized this characteristic as well, signing Goodrow to an entry-level contract in March 2014. He was injured blocking a shot in the preseason and made his NHL debut on October 30th. Though he has just two points thus far on the season, Goodrow has been earning increased ice time as he gains in experience. The offensive ability that he showed with the Battalion suggests that he is not going to break any franchise records for the Sharks, but with a high-energy physical game and an overall very solid defensive awareness, Goodrow is showing well for a rookie.