The San Jose Sharks prospect pool is quite possibly the deepest it has ever been. With a lack of high picks on the horizon, it might just be the deepest it will be for a while. Then again, the Sharks organization has a propensity to find hidden gems in the later rounds of the draft, especially considering ten of the players listed on this top 20 list were drafted in the 4th round or later (and that’s not even including the three free agent signings).
Despite a continued lack of bluechip talent, and a few stumbles near the top of the list, this group continues to develop new and interesting players that are proving capable of having a considerable impact at the NHL level.
20. (NR) Adam Parsells, D, 6.5D
Drafted 6th Round, 160th overall, 2015
Adam Parsells’s season has been a mixed bag; there are moments in his play for the USHL Chicago Steel where his package of size, skill, and speed illuminate the imagination. His three goals and eight assists in 42 games were solid contributions given his role earlier in the season. He and teammate Karlis Cukste (an honorable mention on this list) have been solid anchors for the Steel during the second half of the season, but a lack of intelligence and a slough of often bad mistakes has and will be the Achilles heel of Parsells going forward. Due to this weakness, Sharks fans will be quick to draw comparisons (based on size and tools) of former Sharks prospect, Taylor Doherty. Parsells will continue his career next season at the University of Wisconsin.
19. (13) Nikita Jevpalovs, W, 6.5D
Signed as a Free Agent, January 2015
Jevpalovs has at times struggled with the offensive side of the AHL game. He has a mere 12 points in 48 games, a far cry from last year’s impressive 100 point season with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL. Despite a lack of production, the young Latvian has looked okay on the backcheck, but his ice-time has diminished every month and it’s obvious to see his perceived potential contribution is not in a checking role. This lack of ice time and poor play led to a three-game demotion to the ECHL. Back with the team now, Jevpalovs looks at times reinvigorated – like he lost something to start his pro game and now he’s found it. He has a considerable mountain to climb to get back on track.
18. (NR) Cavan Fitzgerald, D, 6.5D
Signed as a Free Agent, October 2015
Signed late in 2015, Fitzgerald has quietly had a very solid season in the QMJHL. After a modest start to the season with the struggling Halifax Mooseheads, Fitzgerald was traded to the Shawinigan Cataractes where he has evolved his game considerably, and become a very solid two-way defenseman. His 42 points in 56 games split between the two teams puts him just out of the top ten in QMJHL defensive scoring. However it is his play in all situations that really impresses. His prowess on the penalty kill, and ability to play smart, mistake-free hockey suggests this player has the potential to be a third-pairing defender for the Sharks.
17. (15) Julius Bergman, D, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd Round, 46th overall, 2014
The smooth-skating Swede struggled at times in his first professional hockey season, but he continues to improve his game on a nightly basis. He is a good, low-key puck mover for the Barracuda, and plays in all situations despite his limited experience. His two goals and seven assists are a tad bit discouraging but next year as his power play minutes increase, he should contribute more on the scoresheet. The second- round glimmer from this player seems to have worn off, and despite an intriguing skillset the high-end potential of this player seems unlikely.
16. (18) Alex Schoenborn, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd Round, 72nd overall, 2014
In his overage season in the WHL, Alex Schoenborn has mightily impressed. The rough and tough, sandpaper forward has played a pivotal role for a diminished Portland Winterhawks team. Schoenborn has not only elevated his offensive game to the point where he and his red mop look reminiscent of a young Scott Hartnell, but he has been leaned on heavily in his leadership position with the organization. Schoenborn’s 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points are all career highs. It has been an impressive season, and Schoenborn has likely earned an NHL contract because of it. If he is signed, he will no doubt become a fan favorite next season with the Barracuda.
15. (20) Joakim Ryan, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th Round, 198th overall, 2012
The undersized Joakim Ryan has played well for the San Jose Barracuda in his first professional AHL season. In fact, it could be argued that he has been the Barracuda’s best defender since November. Ryan has made it an easy transition from the college game, and has become a good, albeit risky, two-way defender that can be used in all situations. The offensive contributions are there for this player, with a 20 point season already under his belt. But the biggest detriment to his game continues to be his size. Despite being a very good skater, with adept hockey skills, he is at times outmanned in the defensive zone and despite confidence in his ability he does struggle with larger opponents. Ryan is a solid 185 pounds, but he still needs to get bigger and stronger at the gym during the off-season if he wants to be a real impact player at the pro level.
14. (NR) Adam Helewka, C/W, 6.5C
Drafted 4th Round, 106th overall, 2015
Adam Helewka’s spectacular coming-out season should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, Sharks fans just witnessed an impressive overage season last year from Jevpalovs, who has struggled in his first pro season. But the way in which Helewka has dominated the WHL opposition with his size, strength and skill (with two different teams) is reason enough to remain optimistic. The big power forward put the Spokane Chiefs on his back for the first half of the season, until he was traded to the Red Deer Rebels. Now in a much different role, Helewka continues to excel. It isn’t so much the points (63 in 47 games) – after all, he had an 87 point season last year – but rather the little things that impress. Helewka has developed impeccable positioning, and plays a very pro-style game in and around the net. Just signed to an entry-level contract, expect Helewka to have more of an immediate impact next year with the Barracuda than Jevpalovs had this season.
13. (17) Rudolfs Balcers, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 5th Round, 142nd overall, 2015
Rudolf Balcers is without a doubt one of the more talented players in this entire prospect pool. His shot is NHL caliber, and his skating and edgework are elite: he’s in Johnny Gaudreau territory. Unfortunately for North American fans, and perhaps even Balcers himself, he is stuck in Norway, playing for the Stavanger Oilers. The Latvian has had another solid year amassing 15 goals and 9 assists (which leads the league among players under 20) but one can’t help to feel his game is slowly stagnating and a lack of structure is hurting his development path. Balcers desperately needs to make the trip to North America, unfortunately his contract doesn’t end until after the 2016-17 season.
12. (12) Dylan Sadowy, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd Round, 81st overall, 2014
Dylan Sadowy had a good start to the season with the Saginaw Spirit. He was a leader, and a primary weapon on a very young and inexperienced team. As a result of being relied upon so heavily, his two-way play suffered at times: a troubling realization, especially after early reports of his defensive prowess. It became evident that while still a solid backchecker, Sadowy doesn’t have the same game-changing merits to his shutdown game that former Sharks prospect Chris Tierney had at the OHL level, a player often likened to Sadowy. That being said, Dylan Sadowy is a very talented young hockey player, and his recent trade to the Barrie Colts highlights just how versatile and skilled he actually is. Playing alongside fellow Sharks prospect Kevin Labanc has been great for the young forward’s development and has showcased a much stronger offensive side to his game. Realistically, Sadowy projects as a bottom-six forward with marginal upside, but it’s still early in his career.
11. (16) Kevin Labanc, LW/RW, 7.5D
Drafted 6th Round, 171st overall, 2014
38 goals and 81 assists in 59 games. That’s 119 points and it tops the OHL. An impressive feat for anyone, much less a 6th round talent. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Labanc sits ahead of such blue chip prospects like Arizona’s Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak and Toronto’s Mitch Marner. Labanc has been a force on both sides of the ice for the Barrie Colts, and will likely contend as one of the best CHL players of the year. The reason Labanc hasn’t climbed higher in the rankings is simple: his skating and style of play limit his overall projections. As good as Labanc has been with the slowed-down power-offense in Barrie, the chances of him replicating that style of play at the pro level are unlikely. While Labanc’s skating has improved (and it’s a factor in why he’s now upped his OHL point total) it is still a ways off from being NHL caliber, and it will hold this player back. Labanc has the offensive skills to get to the pro level, but it will be his skating and adaptive ability that determine whether he can be a factor in the NHL.