Top 20 San Jose Sharks prospects embody hunger for success

By Craig Fischer
Photo: Timo Meier (courtesy of Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

Photo: San Jose Sharks prospect Timo Meier, the team’s first top ten draft pick since 2007, is part of a European talent influx into the organization (courtesy of Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

 

 

Over the course of two off-seasons, the San Jose Sharks have vastly improved their prospect ranks. The once small and meager prospect pool has quietly evolved into a massive, shark-infested ocean.

While still lacking in true blue chip talent, this is without a doubt the strongest crop of players the Sharks have had in their system in the last ten seasons. But that comes as no surprise with the decline of the NHL roster and its recent playoff failings. After all, prospect pools and winning are typically inversely proportional.

The group features a handful of well-developed players that have the ability to take the NHL by storm this upcoming season. It is a collection of solid two-way gamers with a few potential stars. There is strong depth at every position to help the Sharks get back to their winning ways.

20. (20) Joakim Ryan, D, 6.0D
Drafted 7th Round, 198th overall, 2012

After a terrific senior year at Cornell University, Joakim Ryan will begin his first full professional season with the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks’ new AHL affiliate. After a brief seven game stint in the AHL last year, Ryan showed he was capable of playing against bigger bodies, which was a big concern before he made the jump from college. While his small stature will continue to be a concern throughout his development, how he handles the offensive side of things will play a key role in how far he will climb. The 5’10 Ryan has an above average offensive toolkit that is bound to create opportunities. Look for the smooth-skating defenseman to carve out a role on the Barracuda power play this season.

19. (NR) Patrick McNally, D, 6.0D
Trade with Vancouver Canucks, June 2015

The Sharks traded a 7th round pick at the draft for Patrick McNally, and it looks to have been a huge bargain just a few months later. McNally skates well for his size, plays a good to average defensive game, and has an excellent first pass. A tough competitor, McNally will likely fill the organizational hole left by the departure of Konrad Abeltshauser (STL). Fans will appreciate McNally’s strong work ethic, tenacity and smart plays with the puck – all areas Abeltshauser struggled with down the stretch.

The San Jose Sharks have been enamored with the big 6’2 offensive defenseman ever since a development scouting trip to Harvard to check up on Colin Blackwell. While it’s unlikely McNally takes a huge jump this season, given his more refined game he could play a key role for the Barracuda.

18. (19) Alex Schoenborn, W, 6.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2014

If not for a midseason injury and a careless suspension, Alex Schoenborn might just have been a more talked about commodity within the organization. In his last 34 games of the regular season, the 6’1 Schoenborn scored 31 points rotating between the second and the third line of the Portland Winterhawks. The gritty right wing plays a very mature style game, and has a winner’s mentality. He will be a veteran on his WHL team this year, especially with the departure of Nicolas Petan (WPG), Chase De Leo (WPG), and Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ). Given Schoenborn’s chippiness and ability to score goals in the tough areas around the net – and with the Winterhawks being a perennial powerhouse offense – a Rourke Chartier-like rise to prominence shouldn’t be out of the question.

17. (NR) Rudolfs Balcers, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 142nd overall, 2015

At first glance, the Sharks went off the board with the selection of Balcers in the most recent draft. However, he was a big climber among European scouts who saw the Latvian’s talented play in Norway as investment-worthy potential: someone who in four years with the right coaching and development plan could be really special.

Balcers has incredible offensive skills: he skates like the wind, and can dangle just as well as anybody on this list, but he is a massive project and has limited hockey I.Q. Balcers will play one more season with the Stavanger Oilers, but look for him to come over to North America near the end of the season for some seasoning.

16. (14) Kevin Labanc, W, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 171st overall, 2014

Labanc had a breakout 2014-15 season for the Barrie Colts and proved he had the offensive ability the Sharks saw in him. He scored 31 goals and 76 assists for 107 points, far eclipsing his previous 35 point total (in just 3 more games). The young forward excelled on the Colts power play, and he was an integral part of its success with his great passing along the right side.

Skating remains a concern with this player, and under a less dynamic offensive system this issue would be a lot more magnified. That being said, his play in all situations – especially shorthanded – shows he is smart enough to overcome this skill deficiency, at least at the junior level.

15. (10) Julius Bergman, D, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2014

In his first year of North American hockey, Julius Bergman’s season could best be summarized as a whirlwind. The young Swedish rearguard at times played absolutely fantastic hockey, and showed signs of incredible offensive awareness. However, there were also long stretches of play where his gutsy passes, and sloppy defensive positioning, showed his inexperience and cost the Knights games. He along with Max Domi (ARI) were the most controversial “star” players in London last season.

Bergman still maintains second pairing potential for the Sharks, but he runs the risk of falling down the development slide if he fails to establish his defensive game this year. He will have every opportunity for the Knights this season and, because of an early birthday, if he shows considerable growth he could find himself playing for the Barracuda. Given his slow development last season, expect a Memorial Cup contending season from Bergman and the Knights – especially if Mitch Marner doesn’t make the Toronto Maple Leafs.

14. (11) Noah Rod, W, 6.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2014

Noah Rod is a hard-working defensive sparkplug who has struggled to show offense against men. Even at the Sharks prospect development camp this past summer his offense was barely noticeable when playing against older and more experienced players. Rod’s two-way potential still exists, as demonstrated in international play last season where he scored 16 points in 17 games, but he is going to have to show an ability to get his shot off in stride to really be a factor. Geneve-Servette HC looks very stacked this season, so opportunity likely won’t present itself outside of practice for Rod to work on his offensive ability. The young Swiss shift-disturber showed he still has potential to be a real NHL gamer, but his development curve is diminutive compared to a lot of his peers within the system and he really took a step back this past season.

13. (13) Nikita Jevpalovs, W, 7.0D
Signed as a Free Agent, January 2015

With the exodus of a lot of the older AHL Sharks, the new Barracuda team is going to feature a number of new faces in key roles. Free agent signing Nikita Jevpalovs has all the makings of an offensive leader for the Barracuda this season. Such a contribution is a rarity among rookies, but the Latvian plays a very mature, hard-working game, and is going to get an opportunity to contribute right out of the gate. His combination of size and scoring ability will prove difficult to match up against, even in the pros. If his 49 goals and 51 assists last year for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada are any indication of his scoring aptitude, he has the potential to lead the Barracuda in goals this season.

12. (NR) Dylan Sadowy, W, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 81st overall, 2014

Where Labanc might have benefited from a fantastic veteran supporting cast, Dylan Sadowy had to make do with a draft-eligible center. Sadowy and Mitchell Stephens (TAM) were a two-headed dragon for the Saginaw Spirit, and carried their team on their shoulders. Sadowy dominated opposition all season, and showed incredible puck possession skill. He was arguably one of the best two-way forwards in the Ontario Hockey League last season, and his seven shorthanded goals illustrate just how dangerous he was patrolling the zone on the penalty kill.
 
Sadowy shined at Team Canada’s World Junior development camp in Calgary over the summer. His two-way play, especially on the penalty kill, caught the attention of a number of Hockey Canada brass. While he has an outside shot at actually making the team, he could land a shutdown specialist role if he continues to show his strong two-way play through the first half of the OHL season.

11. (9) Michael Brodzinski, D, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2013

Out from Mike Reilly’s shadow, Minnesota’s Michael Brodzinski is poised for a breakout season in the Big 10. Evolved from a pure offensive rover, Michael Brodzinski has become a complete two-way defender during his first two seasons at the University of Minnesota.

Brodzinski’s excellent passing, above-average shot, and impressive shot differential numbers have the Sharks staff very excited for his future. What is perhaps more exciting is just how fast this player turned his game around under the tutelage of Don Lucia. If he can continue to grow on the defensive side at this pace, it’s not out of the question that he could catch Dylan DeMelo, Jeremy Roy, and Mirco Mueller in the depth charts. That being said, size will continue to be a factor (just as it is for Joakim Ryan) and could limit just how far Brodzinski rises.

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