After a rocky start to the season, the San Jose Sharks have drastically improved their transition play, and now sit a comfortable seven points up on the Arizona Coyotes for the final divisional playoff spot in the Pacific. While the team predominately leans on its veterans, a handful of young prospects have impacted the team this season.
Joonas Donskoi, RW, 23
The shrewd signing of Joonas Donskoi by General Manager Doug Wilson has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Most people expected Donskoi to play for the Sharks this season, but few could have foreseen just how solid he’s looked on both sides of the puck in his first year of professional North American hockey.
The Finnish forward’s 26 points in 52 games puts him eighth in team scoring and tenth in rookie scoring. All of this, while averaging fewer minutes than anyone else above him on either list. Donskoi’s slick puck skills, long reach, and sufficient two-way play has earned the respect of coach Peter DeBoer. It’s safe to say that Donskoi has established himself as an NHL regular, and more importantly a fixture in the Sharks potent offense.
Nikolay Goldobin, RW, 20
Nikolay Goldobin lived up to his scouting report in his brief nine game stint with the Sharks earlier in the season. He registered two points in his first four games of the 2015-16 season. He was at times dominant in the offensive zone. and did not look out of place with the likes of Joe Thornton or Joe Pavelski. But, as has been the case with this player, he was unable to stay consistent. He could be frequently found giving up on his defensive assignments, which needless to say lost him favor with his coaches.
The 2015-16 cup of NHL coffee Goldobin experienced will be pivotal in this young player’s development. He has shown he can be a dangerous forward at the pro game, and now just has to round out his game. Goldobin will most certainly challenge for a roster spot next year if he can fix his defensive deficiencies. His solid AHL performance with the San Jose Barracuda is further proof that this player can earn an NHL spot in the near future.
Mirco Mueller, D, 20
Thought to be a lock for the sixth defenseman position on the team, Mirco Mueller has stumbled out of the gate for a second consecutive season. The smooth skating, 6’3’’ defenseman has all the tools to be a good player in the future, but he continues to struggle with the details and rigors of the professional game.
With the Sharks reportedly looking for defensive help on the trade market, it’s safe to say management does not see Mueller as a short-term play despite recent injuries to the blueline–and his struggles in the AHL seem to support that. That being said, Mueller is only 20 years old, and still has many development years ahead of him. He has the potential, but for the foreseeable future, his impact with the big club will be limited.
Dylan DeMelo, D, 22
The biggest reason Mirco Mueller didn’t make the Sharks out of training camp was Dylan DeMelo. The young defenseman with a booming shot took huge strides this offseason and improved his skating to the degree where he was able to fight for a roster spot. For all intents and purposes he has yet to give it up. However, as good as DeMelo has been, he still has had the typical rookie struggles.
While his ice time remains limited, DeMelo has slowly earned more responsibility as the season has gone on. Limited in terms of skill, DeMelo’s coachability and drive have made him a very serviceable bottom-pairing defender. As he’s become more comfortable, his offensive game has started to show, especially on the second power play unit. In late January, DeMelo scored his first National Hockey League goal on the man-advantage.
Chris Tierney, C, 21
Recently graduated from Hockey’s Future prospect status, Chris Tierney started out the year a little flat like the rest of the Sharks, but has slowly turned things around. Playing a bottom-six role, the two-way specialist has managed to register 17 points in 55 games, all while tasked with difficult defensive assignments. The young center had an especially good January where he scored seven points over seven games.
Tierney’s importance to the team is less to do with point production, and more to do with the little battles on the ice. For example, this season, Tierney has taken the second most faceoffs for the Sharks (557) including a team best 40 on the penalty kill. Of players younger than 22, only Sean Monahan, Bo Horvat, and Leon Draisaitl have taken more faceoffs for their team, and only Bo Horvat has been more clutch when a man down. At 21, Tierney is making a name for himself as one of the best young shutdown forwards in the league.
2016 World Juniors Update
The San Jose Sharks were secretly rooting for the Swiss during the World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland this year as Timo Meier and Noah Rod were their lone representatives in the tournament.
Timo Meier imploded early on in the tournament. He looked noticeably distraught and struggled with the pressure of being the team’s go to player. Eventually in the relegation matches against Belarus, he started to play well, but his poor play in the games that mattered early on was a bit disconcerting, despite his five points in six games.
Noah Rod, on the other hand, seemed to relish the big games, and was a constant threat and pest throughout the tournament. Outside of Florida Panthers prospect Denis Malgin, Rod was the best and most dangerous Swiss player on the ice.
Prospect of the Month
Sharks prospect Kevin Labanc earned OHL Player of the Month honors for January after posting 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points in 13 games for the red hot Barrie Colts. The impressive offensive outburst catapulted Labanc to the top of the OHL’s scoring lead. Despite questionable skating and offensive habits, Labanc is making quite a name for himself in the junior ranks. The 6th round pick in 2014 has shown great heart and bankable promise so far this season, and is set to improve on his 107-point total of last season.