The San Jose Sharks have had an up and down 2014-2015 NHL season but with an eye on the future, and a deep desire to ‘get younger’, the growing pains were to be expected. The fact that the team remains in the playoff hunt is a testament to many of the younger players in the lineup who have risen up to play important roles for the organization.
NHL youngsters Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, and Matt Nieto have all excelled at one point or another during the season, and while consistency has been somewhat of an issue, these graduated prospects look to be integral parts of the Sharks lineup.
This season, injuries and lackluster play by veterans have opened up opportunities for a few unlikely younger prospects to showcase their ability. While there have yet to be been any earth-shattering performances from this crop of prospects making the leap to the NHL, there have been some solid performances and the future looks bright.
Barclay Goodrow, LW/RW, 21
After being signed in the off-season as an undrafted free agent, not a lot of experts experts predicted the NHL impact Goodrow would have right out of the gate. The 21-year-old forward shined in preseason play and, after a minor injury, he has been more or less the most impactful prospect to play for the Sharks this season.
Goodrow has played throughout the lineup, amassing 10 points in 41 games, but he looks most comfortable in a bottom-six role. The former North Bay Battalion captain brings a high intensity and strong work ethic. And while for the foreseeable future he will no doubt be typecast as a role-player, he has the motor and the intelligence to continue to surprise.
Chris Tierney, C/W, 20
For as long as he has been a Shark, Chris Tierney has been projected to be the team’s future third-line center. A slick skating two-way center, with a defensive prowess that could make him one of the best in the league in a few seasons, Tierney brings everything teams look for in that role. As a 20-year-old getting his first opportunity at the NHL level, one might be a bit bearish on that projection as he experiences the common struggles of a rookie in the world’s best league.
Recently, Tierney has been playing alongside Tomas Hertl, and the two have meshed surprisingly well together. While Tierney has totaled just seven points in 23 games so far this season, five of those have come in the last eight games. Chemistry will continue to come into question for the two highly touted Sharks youngsters, but Hertl and Tierney could be a pair this organization proudly ices for years to come.
Mirco Mueller, D, 19
Despite being an occasional healthy scratch as of late, Mirco Mueller has had a wonderful rookie campaign given his age and prior professional experience of just nine games with Worcester at the end of last season. Early on, the Sharks looked like they had another Marc-Edouard Vlasic ready to jump into the fold, destined to play big minutes as a teenager. And while Mueller’s ceiling still remains high, his rookie season has had its difficulties and it remains unlikely that he will contribute a great deal to the team’s playoff aspirations.
As has been the book on the Swiss youngster for a few seasons now, his offensive skill set just isn’t NHL-caliber, and it continues to be a point of weakness – especially for a potential top-four defenseman. Surprisingly though, despite this lack of an offensive toolkit, at times he has shown the ability to make very sophisticated outlet passes. His shot attempts for per 20 minutes (SATF/20) of 18.20 is one of the best on the team despite a ridiculously low points per 20 minutes (P/20) of just 0.12.
Daniil Tarasov and Freddie Hamilton each have had a cup of coffee at the NHL level this season, and while neither had exceptional games, both impressed, and showcased the Sharks’ underrated organizational depth. If not for injury, Tarasov could have possibly been a modest contributor at the NHL level, especially after his strong season so far in the AHL.
Dylan DeMelo was called up briefly due to injuries, but never got the opportunity to play in a game.
San Jose Sharks Prospect of the Month
It seems like a bit of a cheat, as he had only been part of the San Jose organization for less than a week – after signing an entry-level contract on January 26th – but Nikita Jevpalovs was an absolutely dynamic force in the month of January. The 20-year-old undrafted Latvian registered 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points in 12 games. These totals only tell half of the story though, as Jevpalovs has been solid on both ends of the ice. He has been one of the main reasons why the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League went 9-3 in that month and subsequently clinched a playoff berth.
Follow Craig Fischer on Twitter via @fgiarc