2015-16 was a strong development season for many of the San Jose Sharks’ best prospects. Up front the Sharks look to have a few more top-six potential players in their midst than previously thought, and on the back end the team looks poised to continue its steady stream of mobile, puck-moving, bottom-pairing defenders. In net there are still major questions, but with the confident play of Martin Jones up in San Jose, the organization can manage to take its time. Collectively it was a great season for the Sharks prospects.
The Sharks as a whole pride themselves on character and work ethic, and there were a number of deserving candidates, but it is Timo Meier’s unrelenting desire to get better each and every day that makes him the hardest working prospect in the organization.
He is notorious for his daily improvements: if he misses a shot in a game, he’s going to be taking wristers before practice, picking the corners. It’s not often that you see a team’s best prospect as its poster boy for work ethic, but Meier has worked incredibly hard on and off the ice this year. He plays with such a high motor and brings so much energy and skill to the game that one could lose sight of self-awareness and ability to improve that makes him such a lethal threat.
Meier, along with Francis Perron and a deep Huskies team, clinched the President Cup and will represent Quebec in the Memorial Cup.
Hardest Shot: Dylan DeMelo, D, San Jose Sharks (NHL)
DeMelo arguably secured his job as the Sharks seventh defender this year, because of his shot and his ability to really change the look of the second power play unit. DeMelo has a big booming right-handed shot from the point that has shown to be rather effective. While DeMelo won’t challenge in any hardest shot competitions, he should continue to be a force on that second power play unit.
Despite being leapfrogged by the organization’s immediate need for an experienced defender, Mirco Mueller retains the title of the best defensive prospect in the system. However he is quickly losing ground to the likes of DeMelo, Michael Brodzinski, Joakim Ryan, and Jeremy Roy.
Even after another lukewarm season, it’s hard to deny the the potential of the smooth skating Swiss defensive prospect, but there comes a time when eventually that potential has to be realized. Mueller’s confidence and decision making continue to come into question but his physical skill set remains ahead of the other young Sharks defensemen.
Fastest Skater: Rudolfs Balcers, W, Stavanger Oilers (Norway)
Though still extremely raw when it comes to hockey, Rudolfs Balcers is by far the quickest Sharks prospect in the pipeline. His powerful legs and quick two-step acceleration grant him exceptional separation speed that allows him to pull away and catch other players with ease. When in motion at full stride he could probably challenge the NHL’s best.
It was an amazing final season in the OHL for Kevin Labanc who not only led the league in scoring with 127 points (ahead of Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome, and Christian Dvorak) but he earned an entry-level deal with the Sharks in March. Labanc was named the overage player of the year, he won numerous player of the week honors in both the OHL and the CHL, and he was arguably robbed for the OHL MVP honors earlier this month. Statistically, Labanc’s campaign was one of the best seasons by a Sharks prospect ever.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Kevin Labanc, C/W, Barrie Colts (OHL)
The most exciting element of Labanc’s season was his improved skating (it certainly played a key part in his dominance). Once thought of to be a potential tweener in the Sharks organization, if he was lucky, Labanc’s impressive season has considerably raised his stock to the point where he is showing the possible ability to carry a power play at the pro level. Once known only by the most hardcore of Sharks fans, Kevin Labanc is very quickly becoming a household name within the organization.
Most Improved Prospect: Noah Rod, W, Geneve-Servette (NLA)
Noah Rod has always been regarded as a solid prospect, but it was his much improved play with the puck that has made him a real dark horse within the organization’s forward ranks. Quadrupling last year’s offensive output in the Swiss league with 16 points in 44 games, Rod played this season with so much more urgency and skill with the puck. He was a very different player: a real two-way force. The ways in which Rod can impact a game with his ruthless back check, agitation, and now sterling forecheck makes him a really interesting candidate for the Sharks’ fourth line next season, even if the odds are stacked against him.
Facing a lot of injuries, and forced to play their forwards in positions they were not accustomed to, the Portland Winterhawks created a red-headed monster. Alex Schoenborn played out of his mind all season long, and was without a doubt one of the most feared players in the WHL. He could hurt you on the scoresheet and on your face. His power and strength created so much space on the ice that his inclusion on the Winterhawks’ top line would have seemed obvious but wasn’t.
Schoenborn has long battled with the “grinder” stereotype in the WHL, and spent much of his WHL career on the bench, pressbox, or penalty box. And while the latter was certainly true this year, Schoenborn showed a propensity to score big goals and was a strong offensive contributor with career highs in goals (27), assists (30), and points (57).
Underachiever: Rourke Chartier, C, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
After contending for the WHL scoring lead for most of last season, and having a 1.41 ppg scoring pace on his 82 points, Rourke’s lackluster draft+2 year at 1.09 ppg left a lot of questions to be asked. Injuries obviously have plagued the young center. It has been two consecutive seasons of wrist and head injuries, but so much more was expected of the young man after his coming out season last year. Rourke hasn’t looked dominant in the offensive zone for over a calendar year now.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Nikolay Goldobin, W, San Jose Barracuda (AHL)
Goldobin’s raw offensive skill is unmatched in the prospect ranks of the Sharks organization. He is truly a gifted offensive hockey player. As it was said last year when he won this award as well, he has the ability to be a 30-40 goal scorer, but he also has the potential to never be an NHL regular because of his one-dimensional game and propensity to give up on plays.
It became apparent that Coach Peter DeBoer had major trust issues with the 2014 1st-rounder during his nine game stint with the big club this season. Some of Goldobin’s habits need to be changed if he’s going to play in DeBoer’s system, mainly a willingness to play a full 200-foot game, something Goldobin has struggled with since day one.
Prospect of The Month
Kevin Labanc played a key role in helping the Barrie Colts make it to the third round of the OHL playoffs, in fact he was the team’s leading scorer with 4 goals and 14 assists for 18 points in the month of April. A total good enough for fourth in the OHL. Labanc looked completely dominant in the second round against the North Bay Battalion where his special teams skills were on display. He finished the playoffs with 26 points in 15 games, fourth overall in scoring.