Despite a big overhaul during the off-season and a mandate for change, the Worcester Sharks continue to struggle with the consistency and scoring issues that have plagued the organization for years.
As inconsistent and woefully unskilled as the AHL Sharks are, they play a very hard-nosed, heady brand of hockey. What the Sharks lack in top-end offensive talent, they make up for in above average hockey intelligence. A great example of this is their team discipline: the team is the least penalized team in the entire league.
Leading the incredibly smart forward group are recently demoted Chris Tierney and Freddie Hamilton. Two players often compared to one another, they have made a living on playing smart two-way hockey despite not being the most dynamic offensive players. These two players perfectly embody the AHL Sharks: third line talents, trying to play first line hockey.
J.P. Anderson, G, 22
In the limited time J.P Anderson has manned the crease for the Worcester Sharks, he has looked average for an AHL backup, posting a .903 save percentage over 11 games. The Worcester faithful had been spoiled in past years with a 1A/1B goaltending situation, but it is evident that even despite Troy Grosenick’s struggles, he is far and away the better option in net. That being said, like the Sharks, Anderson is more than capable of going on a streak or two, but if the team ever has to rely on Anderson for a trip to the playoffs, the team is in trouble.
Chris Tierney, 20, C
The young shutdown forward struggled a bit out of the gate with the San Jose Sharks, but he has taken his demotion in stride and excelled in his role in Worcester. In fact, he is without a doubt the motor for this team’s offensive hopes, leading the scoring pace with 16 points in 17 games. Tierney’s ability to control the speed of the game with the puck is impressive, and he consistently generates positive shot differential at the AHL level, much of it a testament to his physical strength. The first year pro is showing he can play defense just as well as offense, and he continues to thrive away from the puck. If he continues to play this way, it will be difficult not to see him up with the big club before the end of the season.
Daniil Tarasov, RW, 23
One of the few players on the Worcester team with above average offensive talent, Daniil Tarasov has been forced to carry much of the team’s offensive burdens on his shoulders. Unfortunately, as good as Tarasov can be with the puck, it has rarely been good enough. With only 20 points in 34 games, the young Russian forward’s numbers have not impressed, but he has been a bit snake-bitten early on in the season, and could potentially see his numbers rise after developing chemistry with new linemate Chris Tierney. Tarasov needs to up his game if the Worcester Sharks are going to sneak into the playoffs.
Ryan Carpenter, RW, 23
After a really solid debut, having scored eight points in his first 13 games, first year pro Ryan Carpenter has really cooled off having only registered seven points in his last 22 games. The rigors of the professional game seemed to have slowed Carpenter down, and while he has not particularly thrilled, he has been effective in all three zones and has shown to be a capable AHL forward.
Konrad Abeltshauser, D, 22
Konrad Abeltshauser has been arguably the best defenseman for the Worcester Sharks, and the competition isn’t even close when you look at who in that group (Matt Taormina and Taylor Fedun) actually has NHL potential. The big German defender still lacks the ferocity one might expect from a man of his size, and he still does get pushed around from time to time, but he has improved greatly over the course of a year. Perhaps the most striking improvement is the way in which he carries the puck through the neutral zone. He looks as confident as he was in junior, except instead of dishing out passes to Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon he is making beautiful saucer passes to Eriah Hayes and Adam Burish. On a much more talented offensive team, Abeltshauser would be garnering plenty of attention because his offensive numbers would better portray just how good he has been so far in the 2014-15 season.
Dylan DeMelo, D, 21
DeMelo has not played to the best of his ability this season thus far, with 12 points in 32 games. Last season he was a force, but this season -even paired with veteran Taylor Fedun, with a much lighter load of responsibility- DeMelo looks at times to have taken a step back. Early on in the year he was a turnover machine, and was trying to do too much on offense, but since late November he has quieted his game and has started to once again look like a competent defender in all three zones. DeMelo looks the most comfortable manning the powerplay, and even though Roy Sommer looks to be spreading out ice time on the backend in that regard, it is DeMelo, not Abeltshauser or Taormina that looks the most deadly on the point.
Taylor Doherty, D, 23
This is a big contract year for Taylor Doherty, and things just have not gone his way. The towering 6’8 defender started the year off in solid fashion, but injuries and a lack of ice time (despite starting the year on the top pairing) have deterred his play greatly. Recently returned from a hand injury, Doherty has looked sluggish, and at times like he should not be in the AHL despite his massive potential. Inconsistency has long plagued Doherty, but it is the lack of the basic fundamentals that continues to curse the big man’s game. As much as the organization loves Doherty and his potential, his opportunity to live up to his billing has to be running out, putting the pressure on for a better second half of the season.
Chris Crane, RW, 23
After struggling to make the AHL roster because of a lack of skill, Chris Crane has found himself to be one of the key players on the Missouri Mavericks. In fact, Crane was recently named to the ECHL All-Star game to represent the Mavs. This will likely be the highest level Crane ever plays in an All-Star game, as he just does not have the skill or skating ability to be more effective at the professional level.
Other notable prospects and Prospect of the Month
Outside of the AHL and ECHL, the Sharks had five players representing their home countries at the World Junior Championships: Fredrik Bergvik and Julius Bergman (Sweden), Mirco Mueller and Noah Rod (Switzerland), and Nikolay Goldobin (Russia). The latter three players were integral members of their squads and came up with timely blocks, checks, and goals. While Mueller and Rod fought to not be relegated, Nikolay Goldobin proudly earned a silver medal with Team Russia.
After being one of the final players cut from Team Canada’s World Junior squad, Rourke Chartier returned to the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and continued his torrid scoring pace, amassing 6 points in his first 5 games back.
Sitting third in league scoring with 70 points, and first in assists with 52, Kevin Labanc has quietly taken the OHL by storm thanks to an impressive month’s work of 25 points in 11 games. For that reason, Labanc earns December’s title as Prospect of the Month.
Follow Craig Fischer on Twitter via @fgiarc