San Jose Sharks prospects breaking out of obscurity in 2015-16

By Craig Fischer
Rudolfs Balcers - San Jose Sharks

Photo: Sharks prospect Rudolfs Balcers and the Stavanger Oilers fell in the Champions Hockey League tournament but the Latvian star is on pace to shatter his league scoring totals (courtesy of Ocelari Trinec/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

 

 

With an underrated group of players at all levels of play, the 2015-16 San Jose Sharks prospect pool is easily one of the deepest collective systems in the league. On an individual front, there are many exciting stories and players to keep an eye on this upcoming season. Chris Tierney is on the cusp of becoming something truly special, Colin Blackwell eyes his first healthy season in years, and Mirco Mueller will be looking for a season of redemption.

The future looks incredibly bright in San Jose. However, at the end of the day, as shiny and hopeful as the future looks, it’s up to these players to go out on the ice and perform, and take the next step in their development path. As all Sharks fans know, looking good on paper, and actually getting results, are two very different things.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Chris Tierney, C, San Jose Sharks (NHL)

Chris Tierney was a player to watch in the final month of the season. There were moments when he not only outshone the other young Sharks but his high hockey intelligence and ability to make things happen made him one of the best players on the whole team. Tierney has always been a solid shutdown forward, but after showing two consecutive seasons of scoring prowess in every league he has been in, Tierney is on the precipice of something special.

NHL-bound Prospect
Joonas Donskoi, W, San Jose Sharks (NHL)

There was an incredible amount of hype surrounding Finnish Liiga Playoff MVP Joonas Donskoi after signing with the Sharks in May. After an impressive prospect tournament showing against the Ducks’ youngsters where Donskoi was far and away the best prospect in attendance – the hype is real. The two-way forward has the skill, flash, and poise to have an immediate NHL impact. Starting the season on the wing with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton is an incredible way to be eased into the NHL, but he will need more results to gain more ice-time.

Bounceback Pro Prospect
Mirco Mueller, D, San Jose Barracuda (AHL)

After breaking into the NHL as a teenager, Mirco Mueller’s 2014-15 season was met with numerous challenges, and it didn’t end the way he was hoping. The young Swiss defender struggled in all three zones as evidenced through advanced stats and the eye test, but through this struggle he never once lost his composure. This speaks highly of the young man’s character and improved confidence. With a solid defensive core ahead of him in the NHL, Mueller will likely be given ample time in the AHL to really develop his pro game. Don’t expect mountains to be moved this season – rather, expect Mueller to slowly build up experience and show why he made the NHL as a 19-year-old in the first place.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Timo Meier, W, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

After being drafted with the 9th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Timo Meier became the highest draft pick by the Sharks since Logan Couture. With that kind of pedigree it is not tough to argue his place as the top junior prospect in the system. Though to be fair, the pick has been met with some criticism. Particularly that Meier, while a solid young player, lacks true star potential and benefited greatly by playing with Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG). The 2015-16 season is going to be huge in silencing those critics, as it looks like Ehlers won’t return to the Mooseheads this season, meaning Meier will be the top dog in Halifax. Look for Meier to do the ‘sharkiest’ thing he can do by proving the critics wrong and hitting the century mark in scoring this season.

Offensive Breakout
Alex Schoenborn, W, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Despite being relegated to a fourth-line checking role during the Sharks development tournament, Alex Schoenborn has the potential to explode onto the WHL scene as many Portland Winterhawks have done before him. This veritable Scott Hartnell-type player will be counted on as a leader and veteran on a team in Portland that has all the pieces to continue its reign as one of the most dangerous offensive systems in the WHL. While Schoenborn will never drive an offense, his gritty power game is one that fosters a scoring environment. Just last season he finished the final 30 games of the season at over a point per game clip so expect big things from the “Red Hawk.”

Bounceback Prospect
Rourke Chartier, C, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Rourke Chartier had a magnificent breakout year in 2014-15; he was on pace for an MVP-calibre season (the MVP crown ended up going to highly-praised Columbus prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand) before enduring multiple injuries during the latter half of the season and playoffs. After a strong and healthy offseason, and much needed recuperation time, Chartier looks just as good as he did when he was tearing up the WHL in October and November. The young forward looked strong at Team Canada’s U20 development camp, and when partnered with Nikolai Goldobin and Joonas Donskoi at the prospect tournament in September, Chartier was a force to be reckoned with. Chartier’s going to have to show he can play at this exceptional level and still stay healthy.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Dan O’Regan, C/W, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)

As big of a loss as Jack Eichel is to the Boston University hockey program, this is still a very good collegiate hockey team, and part of the reason is that they still have Dan O’Regan leading the charge. The gifted undersized winger played incredibly well as the Robin to Eichel’s Batman. As strong as his offensive numbers were, and as much as O’Regan will be relied upon to create offense this season, it is O’Regan’s understated defensive side of his game that could help accomplished something that Eichel could never do: win a national championship. O’Regan will look to show he’s more of a Dark Knight than a sidekick in his senior year.

Offensive Breakout
Michael Brodzinski, D, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)

Out from the shadow of Mike Reilly (MIN), Michael Brodzinski is in for a huge offensive season at the University of Minnesota. Big things will be expected of the junior blueliner in a year where he will be relied heavily upon in all situations – particularly on the Golden Gophers power play. This season has been a long time coming. After a huge developmental turnaround on the defensive side of the puck that spanned two hard seasons of work, Brodzinski blossomed into a bona fide two-way defenseman worth mentioning. Having earned his coaches’ trust, and having still retained his exceptional and daring offensive skill set, Brodzinski is going to be one of the big names talked about in college hockey this season.

Bounceback Amateur Prospect
Colin Blackwell, W, Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)

Two consecutive years of traumatic concussions all but destroyed this young hockey player’s hopes of one day becoming an NHLer. Still not 100%, the 2011 seventh-round selection is nonetheless in a good position for a bounceback season during his senior year at Harvard. In his brief return at the tail-end of last season, Blackwell showed above-average skill, and ability to contribute on both sides of the puck. Despite the potential issues, the concussions don’t seem to have had a gigantic effect on his game.

Harvard is going to be a good team this season, and Blackwell should gain some recognition if he can stay healthy – giving him a good opportunity to earn a professional contract despite his injury-plagued history.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Noah Rod, W, Genève-Servette HC (NLA)

 Noah Rod is the Wayne Gretzky of making the opposition’s blood boil. Even as a teenager he was one of the fiercest (read:annoying) players to play against in Switzerland. As big of a pest as Rod is, he has struggled to find his scoring touch at the professional level, and this one-sided focus of his game will continue to be a main concern in his development. Rod is going to have to prove he has more offense in the tank than he showed last season. With the season underway, he has already matched his last season’s scoring total, and should put up impressive numbers. Expect the U20 Championships to be another huge coming out party for Rod, who did well at the tournament last season.

Offensive Breakout
Rudolfs Balcers, W, Stavanger Oilers (Norway)

Not a lot was known about Balcers heading into the 2014-15 season. And even after an impressive rookie season in the GET-ligaen (Norway’s top division), most hockey fans still don’t know his name. Rudolfs Balcers’s 2015-16 season will no doubt fly under the radar as well in North America. But as an integral part of the Stavanger Oilers offense – because of a legitimate NHL shot, blazing speed, and unrefined offensive ability like few players in the world – more and more people will take notice. This level of offensive talent is hard to ignore and the teen is already among the league leaders in scoring. Look for fans to really start taking notice of this young Latvian at the U20 – Division 1A tournament.

Bounceback Prospect
Emil Galimov, W, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)

After an impressive KHL debut in 2013-14, Galimov took a step back last season. The young Russian saw his opportunities, role, and minutes diminish over the course of last season to the point where he was almost a non-factor. At the start of this KHL season, Galimov looks energized and motivated to get back on track. There is an opening in the top two lines of Lokomotiv, and while he hasn’t taken hold of it in the first ten games of the season, he looks poised to do so in the near future. Galimov has the skill to be a real force in the KHL, and he has the offense to be considered a real NHL prospect if he ever decides to cross the pond, but he’s going to have to prove he can put that skill to use this year.