Top 10 Prospects
The Sharks were one of the better-balanced teams in the NHL last season. They were capable of rolling four lines, none of which lacked speed or were liabilities at either end of the ice. Rookie Logan Couture proved reliable in literally all areas of the game while Ryane Clowe continued on his path to becoming a top-tier power forward. Savvy moves to acquire players like Jamal Mayers and Kyle Wellwood helped round out a dynamic forward group anchored by their former captain Patrick Marleau and current captain Joe Thornton.
On defense, they may have relied a bit more heavily than they would have liked on their top pairing of Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray. Still, they got mileage out of veterans like Niclas Wallin and Ian White along with some dynamic contributions from young rearguards such as Jason Demers and Justin Braun.
In net, the departure of Evgeni Nabokov presented the Sharks with the cap and roster space to pursue other options in net. Their early platoon of the Olympic silver medalist Antero Niittymaki and the 2010 Stanley Cup winner Antti Niemi gave way to a unilateral confidence in Niemi as the Sharks recovered from a trying midseason lull. Niemi has since signed a lucrative contract extension and Niittymaki has one year remaining on his deal.
The back-to-back-to-back-to-back Pacific Division champions are presently flush with forwards and goaltending at the NHL level. Up front, Thornton, Marleau and Dany Heatley were the veterans in a group of seven 20-goal scorers that also included Couture, Clowe, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski. While the lower levels of the organization do not have outstanding depth at the forward position, the 2010 first-rounder Charlie Coyle offers an outstanding mix of size, skill, instincts, and physical maturity. Benn Ferriero, who scored a game-winning goal against Detroit on his 24th birthday in his first NHL playoff game, affords San Jose yet another two-way forward with outstanding competitiveness and hockey sense.
Their reliable, deep goaltending stable also boasts three somewhat promising prospects at the lower levels of their organization, including Alex Stalock, the top goalie with their AHL affiliate Worcester.
Defensively, the Sharks had eight serviceable blueliners but were challenged at times by the deep, puck-possession-oriented Red Wings and Canucks. Reinforcements are on the way, not only in the form of steadier play from the adventurous Demers and the puck-moving Braun, but from two imposing prospects as well. Taylor Doherty and Nick Petricki each offer glimpses of the shutdown defender that could take this club that has reached the Western Conference Finals in consecutive seasons to the next level. Petricki offers great mobility and offensive capability in a big frame, but Doherty’s incredible size and reach may make him the more singular commodity.
Neither Doherty, a 2009 second-round selection, nor Petricki, a 2007 first-rounder appear ready for the top level yet. Despite the youth of several key players, the Sharks are in win-now mode given their recent success. A stout rearguard at the NHL level would do wonders for their chances of surmounting versatile, quick squads like Vancouver and Chicago, the two teams that have eliminated San Jose the past two seasons.
It seems unlikely that Niittymaki would return to San Jose in a reserve role, particularly one as reduced as his was in the second half of this past season. If they cannot develop a sound backup for Niemi from their current crop of goalies, other options may need to be explored in net.
Up front, continued murmurs of a potential Heatley departure could leave the Sharks with a need for a top-level finisher, specifically with the man advantage. The goal-scoring upside of players like Setoguchi and Coyle may obviate such a need.
The Sharks have favored skaters out of the CHL ranks as well as the NCAA level and goaltenders from Europe in terms of both draft selections and trade/free-agency acquisitions. Thornton, Marleau, Clowe, and Couture all came through the CHL while Niemi, Niittymaki, Nabokov, Thomas Greiss, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Vesa Toskala were all European netminders. Finland has been particularly fertile ground for San Jose goalies. Collegians like Heatley, Boyle, and the Sharks’ NCAA picks Pavelski, Coyle, and Torrey Mitchell have also paid dividends for the Sharks. Wisconsin’s Pavelski, the QMJHL‘s Clowe, and the Swedish-born NCAA product Murray have all been smashing successes as late-round picks.
Despite a bit of shuffling around toward end of the draft, the Sharks essentially have a late pick in the first six rounds of the 2011 draft and little else.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:
No. 28: Ty Rattie
A dynamic talent, the undersized Rattie could down the road nicely complement many of the larger, more physical forwards in the San Jose Sharks lineup.