San Jose Sharks top prospects look to finish strong junior careers

By Craig Fischer
Alexis Vanier - San Jose Sharks

Photo: San Jose prospect Alexis Vanier has pro-ready size and has scored some goals in his QMJHL career, but has work to do on his mobility if he wants a shot at the next level (courtesy of Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

 

 

The San Jose Sharks have nine players playing in Canadian Junior Hockey during the 2015-16 season, and two playing in the USHL. This group of young players features some of the most promising and intriguing skaters in the prospect pool – including the team’s number one prospect, Timo Meier.

QMJHL

Timo Meier, W, Halifax Mooseheads
Acquired: 1st round (9th overall), 2015

The Sharks’ top pick in last summer’s draft has had a challenging time adapting to his new role as captain of the Mooseheads. At times he looks better out from the shadow of Nikolaj Ehlers; like a more complete, confident player. But there are still moments in games where it is obvious that he is not the motor his former linemate was.

Still, early on in the 2015-16 season Meier is producing admirably, netting 7 goals and 18 assists for 25 points in 19 games. It’s a slower pace than last season, and his shooting percentage has dropped considerably. Given his increased role, particularly on the defensive end, and the fact that he is considered a main assignment for his opposition, the drop off in offense isn’t particularly alarming. Meier’s captaincy should not be taken lightly either – it’s a position Ehlers never held, and it emphasizes that as good as Ehlers is, his sidekick last season offers a little bit more of the intangibles.

Cavan Fitzgerald, D, Halifax Mooseheads
Acquired: Free Agent Signing, 2015

A standout at the Sharks prospect camp, the newly signed Cavan Fitzgerald has – like Meier – had an up and down season. The 19-year old has elevated his offensive game to new heights this year after taking over the top duties on the Mooseheads blueline. Fitzgerald has an understated toolkit, and when he applies himself he is certainly an above average prospect. However, his 21 points in 26 games have come at a cost. The 6’0’’ defender has at times neglected his defensive duties, to the point where he looks like a different prospect from last year. Part of it has to do with how the team is using him, and the other part is that Fitzgerald looks to be trying to do too much, rather than playing the simple and smart game the Sharks signed him to play.

Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Acquired: 2nd round (31st overall), 2015

Just like Cavan Fitzgerald, Jeremy Roy has been impressive with the puck. They sit 7th and 6th respectively in the QMJHL defense scoring race. Historically, dominating the Q as a blueliner hasn’t really translated to NHL success. What does often spell success is hard work on both sides of the ice, and that seems to be Roy’s calling card this season. His skating looks improved after a summer of power skating training, and he seems more aggressive on the defensive side of things. He has been one of the best players on the Phoenix all year.

Unfortunately, Roy has been dealing with a lower body injury, and despite his great start and team selection, was unable to compete at the Canada Russia Super Series. Injury aside, Roy’s post-draft season is off to a good start, but he will have to continue to work on all facets of his game this season if he plans on being an NHL player in the next few seasons.

Alexis Vanier, D, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Acquired: 4th round (102 overall), 2014

Alexis Vanier is a great example of offense not being everything. Drafted in 2014, Vanier was thought to be a hit or miss juggernaut on skates–a potential power play weapon. The 6’5’’ Vanier is an imposing force on the ice – when he can catch up to the play. Skating has always been a weak point in Vanier’s game, and it is starting to hold back his development. Seeing Roy and Vanier together is night and day: one looks like an NHL player, and one could actually be one. Vanier has all the physical size to be a dominant force, but he lacks the speed and hockey IQ to be more than a superficial prospect.

Still chasing his draft year point totals (36) it is becoming painfully obvious that the power play specialist with a rocket of a shot does not have the skill to rise up the ranks. With just six points on the year, it looks increasingly likely that Vanier will not be signed, especially after the prospect pool influx of young, agile defensemen like the aforementioned Roy and Fitzgerald.

OHL

Kevin Labanc, W, Barrie Colts
Acquired: 6th round (171st overall), 2014

Labanc is a scoring machine. The Barrie Colts forward has been a man on a mission this season, sitting 6th in OHL scoring behind a very impressive cast of top-tier prospects (Mitchell Marner, Dylan Strome, and Matthew Tkachuk). His 40 points in 25 games put him at a higher point per game pace than any other Sharks prospect this season.

His season has been highlighted by a CHL Player of the Week nod in late October, but it should be recognized for Labanc’s improved two-way play. While he has been relatively untested in Barrie’s dynamic system, his skating looks less rigid, and he looks a lot more capable on the backcheck.

Dylan Sadowy, W, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 3rd round (81st overall), 2014

Without his friend Mitchell Stephens (out with injury), Sadowy has had to carry the brunt of his team’s load for most of the season. Sadowy is used in all situations, and excels in his two-way game. He doesn’t look quite as dominant as Chris Tierney was away from the puck, but he is used in a similar role with less of a supporting cast.

Sadowy’s work ethic, and diverse level of play made him a surprise star at the Canada Russia Super series. He only slotted into one game but in that game he completely shut down the Russian attack and played a strong forecheck. He looked as good as any bottom-six forward Canada used all series, and should expect a Team Canada training camp invite later in December if they choose to fill out the bottom of their lineup with a bit of sandpaper.

WHL

Alex Schoenborn, W, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 3rd round (72nd overall), 2014

Speaking of sandpaper, in his overage season Schoenborn has been a real force on the ice. He has been physically imposing and has played a really strong north-south offensive game. His chemistry with Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson has formed a potent top line – one different than years past in Portland, but its physically dominant presence has been effective and proves there’s more than one way to excel.

While he hasn’t had a multi-point game in over a month, the way in which Schoenborn has dominated his opposition has been a real treat to watch. He’ll have to continue playing as hard as he has been if he wants to earn a place on the Barracuda next season.
 
Adam Helewka, LW, Spokane Chiefs
Acquired: 4th round (106th overall), 2015

As a 20 year-old, Adam Helewka is expected to thrive in the Western Hockey League, and he has done exactly that. Easily the best player for the Chiefs since being returned to his club from the Barracuda, Helewka has been an effective leader and playmaker this season. More impressive than his 18 points in 12 games is the fact that Helewka, a minutes muncher, has only been on the ice four times in 12 games when the opposition scored. His strong possession game, and heady two-way play are proving he was too good to return to juniors, and he’ll no doubt be a Barracuda next season.

Rourke Chartier, C, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 5th round (149th overall), 2014

Rourke Chartier’s 2015-16 season has been a disappointment through injury. After an injury-plagued 2014-15 season, a healthy start was hoped, but Chartier’s concussion troubles continue to linger and keep Chartier out of the lineup. He has not played since October 10, and if this problem persists it could be detrimental for this player’s development to say the least. Needless to say it is becoming something of a red flag.

One interesting fact surrounding this unfortunate string of events is that without Chartier in the lineup the Rockets are 12-3-1-0 this season. As good as the young center was last year, Chartier’s success looks more and more like it was the product of Nick Merkley and the Rockets system.

USHL

Karlis Cukste, D, Chicago Steel
Acquired: 5th round (130th overall), 2015

No one knew quite where Cukste would end up this season. In fact for the first weeks of the season, Cukste was nowhere to be found. Eventually he showed up in the USHL, playing for the Chicago Steel. Early on he has endured growing pains, but there have been moments of intrigue. This player has one of the best passes in the entire USHL, and if he can gain some confidence he’ll really make his mark on the league.

Adam Parsells, D, Chicago Steel
Acquired: 6th round (160th overall), 2015

After being dealt to the Chicago Steel from the Green Bay Gamblers, Adam Parsells season has really taken off. The lanky 6’6’’ defender has shown a propensity to make a good first pass, and is showing a bit more offense than what was first expected with his seven points in 16 games. His skating is still a little bit of a question mark (as it is for most players of that size) but so far this project-pick is looking good.

San Jose Sharks Top Performing Non-Junior Players

Rudolfs Balcers has been on fire for the Stavanger Oilers in Norway. The 18-year old winger sits 13th in league scoring, an impressive feat considering how veteran-heavy the league is. More impressive is that he leads the league in goals with 12.

Chris Tierney solidified himself as a 4th line center on the big team in October and graduated from prospect status, while Nikolay Goldobin and Joonas Donskoi have shown great promise at the NHL level. All three have had their troubles, but all look like they belong. While Goldobin looks to have lost his roster spot with the recent signing of Dainius Zubrus, his limited play has shown what the team can expect in future seasons.

Joakim Ryan’s first AHL season might not look impressive on the statsheet with just two points in October, but Ryan’s play since the start of the season has been outstanding. He has been a solid puck carrier, strong in all situations, and one of the best defensemen on the team. In a more high powered offense he might actually catch the attention of more outsiders, but until then, he’ll have to quietly keep winning the favor of his coaches and San Francisco fans.

San Jose Sharks Top Prospect of the Month

Dan O'Regan - San Jose SharksDan O’Regan’s big October of four goals and eight assists for 12 points was one of the best in all of college hockey. O’Regan was a star in almost every game, and only missed the scoresheet once in those eight games. All of this coming post-Jack Eichel makes an impressive feat for the Boston University Terriers senior, who now leads his squad with 17 points in 14 contests.