The San Jose Sharks prospect pool has improved greatly over the past season, quietly becoming one of the more respectable collections of prospects in the league. This surge is due in large part to the organizational desire to get younger, the 2014 NHL draft class, and the aggressive free agent signings of Barclay Goodrow and Nikita Jevpalovs.
While the prospect pool lacks blue-chip prospects after the recent graduation of Tomas Hertl, it features a strong cast of complementary skaters, role-players, and two-way gamers that have the skill and ability to step into the fold and instantly contribute.
1. (2) Chris Tierney, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 55th Overall, 2012
The new top prospect in the San Jose Sharks prospect pool is a talented two-way center with unreal hockey intelligence. Early in his NHL career, Tierney has shown he is capable of being an NHL regular – and at times displayed glimpses of premiere talent. While Tierney will never be mentioned in the same breath as many of the top prospects of the league, his shutdown ability and strong heady style of play will make him a mainstay in the Sharks lineup going forward.
Tierney is often thought of as a defensive specialist, and while he has those skills, the tremendous growth of his offensive game has propelled his potential to new heights. In the AHL this season, Tierney dominated competition in all ends of the ice. Enhanced stats indicate that Tierney’s NHL career is off to a rocky start, but he has the skills to be a top-six forward in the Sharks organization and possibly a future Selke award candidate too.
2. (3) Mirco Mueller, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 18th Overall, 2013
Mirco Mueller, a smooth-skating defenseman with top-four potential, began the season on an incredible high. Sportscasters were likening his already-mature style of play to Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s start to his career and expectations grew to an unrealistic level. Mueller thinks the game very well, and his quick acceleration, smooth breakout passes and strong positioning are going to make him a good NHL defenseman one day. That day just probably won’t come for a while.
This season, the young Swiss rearguard has shown that his inexperience, lack of physicality, and below-average offensive arsenal are problems. Nonetheless, despite the trials and tribulations of his first pro season, Mueller has the highest potential, and the best likelihood to succeed, out of any Sharks defense prospect. Given his skillset and the organization’s confidence in his game, Mueller will likely be an everyday player next season.
3. (4) Nikolay Goldobin, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 27th Overall, 2014
Moving to Finland to play for HIFK might have been the best step Goldobin could have taken for his professional development. Goldobin is an excellent playmaker, and one of the more talented scorers in his age group as witnessed in the World Junior Championships. His biggest knock has always been his poor defensive skills and lack of willingness to compete in his own end. HIFK is well known for its strong defensive play and some of it seems to have rubbed off on the young Russian.
In recent months, playing on the HIFK top line, Goldobin has looked like a much more complete player. He still makes mistakes but because of his new-found willingness to compete in his own zone, he has become much more dangerous off the rush and the coaches seem more trusting of him. This trust has led to a strong point-producing season, where ‘Goldy’ has the highest points-per-game of the U20 players in the Liiga. Goldobin possesses the highest skill potential out of any prospect in the Sharks system, but he has a long way to go to reach that potential.
4. (5) Dan O’Regan, C/RW, 7.5D
Drafted 5th Round, 138th Overall, 2012
After a forgettable injury-riddled sophomore season for Boston University, Dan O’Regan’s junior year in the NCAA has been a memorable one. The undersized winger looks reinvigorated playing alongside 2015 top prospect Jack Eichel. While playing with a generational talent can pad one’s stats, O’Regan has been more than a beneficiary. His positive attributes – particularly his skating ability, his passing, and his quick wrist shot – have lent themselves to the situation. O’Regan has proved he can keep up with the Eichels of the world and has the ability to be a great complementary piece alongside a real star.
5. (NR) Rourke Chartier, C, 7.5D
Drafted 5th Round, 149th Overall, 2014
The biggest riser on the list, Rourke Chartier has been nothing short of spectacular. His breakout year in many ways began on the back of his great two-way performance during the playoffs. Chartier has carried that success into the 2014-15 season, and thanks to great chemistry with Nick Merkley (2015), Chartier dominated the WHL with 48 points in the first 27 games of the season.
The second half of the season hasn’t been as great, with 30 points over 27 games: a slightly disappointing drop that probably better represents this player’s offensive skill. Chartier probably will never electrify the professional game the way he has done in junior, but his strong puck possession game in the WHL is likely going to translate to a successful pro game.
6. (NR) Barclay Goodrow, LW, 6.0B
Free agent signing, March 2014
No player came into the Sharks’ 2014-15 season with as much moxie, hope and hustle as Goodrow did. By all accounts, Goodrow, an undrafted free agent signing, was a longshot of epic proportions to make the team (he was unranked in our September Top 20 list). He willed his way onto the roster nonetheless.
The 22-year-old does a little bit of everything on the ice. He can chip in and score (he has four goals and seven assists in 46 games), plays solid along the boards and in his own end, and will even drop the gloves. He’s the kind of quality role-player great teams infuse in their lineups. Goodrow still has a lot to prove, but he is on the fast track to shed his prospect status.
7. (10) Dylan DeMelo, D, 7.0C
Drafted 6th Round, 179th Overall, 2011
For the first time, DeMelo is above Konrad Abeltshauser. Both are gifted young defensemen playing key minutes (lately on the same pairing) for the Worcester Sharks, and both amassed 19 points so far this season. While the two are pretty interchangeable in these rankings, DeMelo is given the slight edge because of his physicality and his ability to elevate his game in the defensive zone when his team needs him.
DeMelo’s mid-season NHL call-up (despite not suiting up) speaks to the team’s belief in his ability, suggesting they see DeMelo in next year’s lineup. The heavy two-way defenseman has one of the hardest shots in the organization, and looks confident on the power play despite the fact that veterans Taylor Fedun and Matt Taormina seem to be getting most of the minutes.
8. (6) Konrad Abeltshauser, D, 7.0C
Drafted 6th Round, 163rd Overall, 2010
With a 6’5, 225 pound frame, Abeltshauser has the size to be a powerful force on the blueline. Unfortunately, he does not always use his body to the best of his ability. At times, the 22-year-old looks out of his depth in the defensive zone against stronger players.
On the flip side, when Abeltshauser carries the puck, he looks capable of being an NHL defenseman. He makes a quick first pass, skates extremely well for his size, and has a daring nature on the offensive side of things. He is becoming something of a poor decision-maker lately and the coaches have not responded well to his mistakes. Abeltshauser, like DeMelo, probably caps out at a second-pairing NHL defenseman, but he is going to have to improve to get that opportunity.
9. (7) Michael Brodzinski, D, 7.0C
Drafted 5th Round, 141st Overall, 2013
In his freshman season, Michael Brodzinski was a defensive liability despite displaying a range of offensive skills. This year the sophomore at the University of Minnesota has been strong, responsible, and arguably one of the more reliable players on a blue line that features fantastic talent like Brady Skjei (NYR) and Mike Reilly (CBJ). While his offense has been reined in a bit, Brodzinski is a big time player. With Reilly graduating and Skjei possibly moving on, ‘Brodzi’ could have an increase in opportunity and responsibility leading to a breakout season in 2015-16.
10. (9) Julius Bergman, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd Round, 46th Overall, 2014
Julius Bergman’s first year of OHL hockey has been a mixed bag. The young defender started off a bit rocky in his own end for the London Knights but has slowly emerged as one of the key players on the team. He skates well, has decent size, and above-average scoring ability. He’s a prototypical puck-moving defenseman.
Bergman plays a very complete game, and he battles hard against the boards. He doesn’t lose a lot of one-on-one puck battles, which speaks to his underrated strength. On the offensive side of things, Bergman is becoming a noticeable threat and seems to have a propensity to kickstart a big play or score when his team needs him.
11. (12) Noah Rod, C/LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 53rd Overall, 2014
The Swiss agitator has struggled to score this season in the NLA. Used primarily as a bottom-six winger in a defensive role, Rod has had a difficult time competing against men. While not particularly out of his depth, it’s obvious he needs to get stronger.
Against his peers however, Rod has looked exceptional. Tasked with shutting down the world’s best at the World Junior Championships, Rod over-delivered for Team Switzerland. With a chippy style, he climbed the lineup, and eventually found his way to the top line where he did a solid job of shutting down key players and creating scoring chances. He was arguably the best Swiss forward on a team that featured a lot of great talent. Rod is looking to come over to North America next season to play in the AHL. Don’t be surprised if he is the first of the Sharks’ 2014 draft selections to make the jump to the NHL.
12. (11) Sean Kuraly, C, 6.0B
Drafted 5th Round, 133rd Overall, 2011
For those wondering why the Sharks would trade Freddie Hamilton (COL) at the 2015 NHL trade deadline, one answer is the progress and development of Sean Kuraly. Kuraly plays a similar two-way game to Hamilton, and he projects to be a checking-line center with some offensive upside. The shutdown ability might not be as strong as Hamilton’s but Kuraly’s shot and breakneck speed separate him from the former AHL Shark. This extra offense makes Kuraly much more of a likely NHL player than Hamilton.
Kuraly continues to be an effective player for the University of Miami (Ohio) Redhawks, and will likely finish up his collegiate career next season.
13. (NR) Nikita Jevpalovs, LW/RW, 7.0D
Signed as free agent, February 2014
Jevpalovs represents a growing trend in the Sharks’ developmental process of targeting older, more developed, prospects that have been skipped over in the draft. The Sharks have done surprisingly well with college (Matt Irwin, Matt Tennyson) and CHL (Barclay Goodrow) signings.
Jevpalovs is a big strong two-way forward who plays a physical game but with a rare combination of skill and finesse. He has a quick release and a good slapshot, something the Sharks desperately need. He skates well, checks hard, and competes. There is a lot to like about the 20-year-old Latvian who is third in QMJHL scoring with 48 goals and 50 assists. He’s one player who could easily climb these rankings.
14. (NR) Kevin Labanc, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 6th Round, 171st Overall, 2014
Not particularly big or fast, Kevin Labanc has terrific offensive instincts. The Barrie Colt forward sits 6th in OHL scoring and has compiled 28 goals and 75 assists. He is most dangerous on the power play where he makes beautiful passes for one-timers. His reliance on the man advantage is a bit concerning considering over half of his points – 19 goals and 38 assists – have come from the stacked Colts power play.
His 5-on-5 play is still good, but because of his lack of size, and a few small issues with his skating, he looks less dominant when he’s forced to grind it out at even strength. Labanc has the potential to be a very good power play specialist, and could eventually fit into the top nine for the Sharks, but his skating is going to have to improve.
15. (13) Fredrik Bergvik, G, 6.5D
Drafted 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2013
The only goaltender to make the list, Bergvik is having an unimpressive year in the SuperElit League. After being unable to crack Frolunda’s SHL squad early in the season, Bergvik has wallowed in the lesser league ever since. While his play hasn’t declined, it hasn’t necessarily improved either, as Bergvik sports almost identical numbers to last year’s campaign.
Given the logjam in front of Bergvik on his club team, and the Sharks’ in the AHL, Bergvik’s development has the potential to be severely stunted going forward. Unless he can correct some of his mechanics (in particular his rebound control) he might be forced to play in an inferior league.
16. (20) Emil Galimov, LW, 6.5F
Drafted 7th Round, 207th Overall, 2013
After another strong KHL season with Lokomotiv Yarolsavl, where he amassed nine goals and nine assists for 18 points in 54 games, while playing sparse minutes, Emil Galimov is looking more and more like an actual player for the Sharks, and not just a shot in the dark.
While the point production might seem unimpressive, Galimov has matured into a player of above-average skill on both sides of the ice, and brings a high level of scoring ability that isn’t necessarily in abundance in this prospect pool. Still at least a year away from coming over, Galimov is a player to watch.
17. (17) Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 49th Overall, 2013
Hampered by a wrist injury since early in the 2014-15 season, Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau’s year has been one he’d like to forget. After being traded in the off-season to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the second-round pick was looking for a big bounce-back year and had nine points in his first seven games before the injury.
The fact that this is now two consecutive seasons of flatline development is concerning – especially for a player without much junior experience. This is a player with great ability, and the potential to be a solid tweener, but he must show it.
18. (18) Daniil Tarasov, RW, 6.5F
Signed as Free Agent, April 2013
The quintessential Russian scorer, Daniil Tarasov had a great start to the year, leading the Worcester Sharks in points up until his call-up and injury. Tarasov has always been a force with the puck and he proved in his short stint with the big club that his skill can translate to the NHL. However, what has always plagued the winger is his inability to backcheck. While his defensive awareness has improved it is still below average and will likely be the main reason why Tarasov will continue to light up the AHL.
19. (NR) Alex Schoenborn, RW, 6.0D
Drafted 3rd Round, 72nd Overall, 2014
Vastly improved from last season, Schoenborn is pure chaos on the ice. Not only does he look like a young Scott Hartnell, but Schoenborn plays a very similar-styled game to the veteran NHLer. The gritty Portland winger isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas of the rink to help his team win. At the same time, he often gets too preoccupied with that side of the game to be purely beneficial. As good as Schoenborn can be (he had 30 points in his last 34 games before injury), he makes decisions on the ice that not only hurt his team (he’s one of the few minus players on the Hawks squad) but also his opposition – as seen in his most recent suspension.
20. (16) Joakim Ryan, D, 6.0D
Drafted 7th Round, 198th Overall, 2012
A Cornell senior, Ryan hasn’t had the most captivating of college careers, and few hockey fans outside of the Sharks and Cornell faithful know much about him. This season hasn’t been spectacular but it has been solid. Ryan is a talented hockey player capable of controlling the flow of the game. He is used by Coach Mike Schafer as an integral part of Cornell’s special teams units. While Ryan’s size and usefulness in the pro game might come into question, he looks like he’s done enough to warrant a contract at the end of the year.