The Surprising Sharks Trio

By pbadmin

Last year, the rookie trio of Patrick Marleau, Andrei Zyuzin and Marco Sturm raised a lot of eyebrows. Marleau was/is thought of as one of the best young centers in the league, Zyuzin was coming along on defense, and Sturm surprised everyone with his exceptional play. This article however, will cover another trio of rookies; none of who were first round picks, in fact, the highest was chosen in the 6th round, and two were never drafted… I am of course speaking of forward Alexander Korolyuk, and defensemen Shawn Heins and Andy Sutton. (Note: Scott Hannan played in 5 games for the Sharks, but was sent to his Junior club in Kelowna. I will not include him in this report, since he is not available for the Sharks at the current time.)

Alex Korolyuk was drafted in the 6th round (141st overall) of the 1994 draft by the San Jose Sharks. He played in Russia until the 96/97 season, where he came to the United States playing for Manitoba of the IHL. In the 97/98 season, he played for the Sharks affiliate in Kentucky, also playing in 19 games for the Sharks, recording 2 goals and 3 assists. He is still considered a rookie due to the limited about of games. This year was Korolyuk’s chance to really make it. At training camp, Darryl Sutter was paying extra attention to “Korky,” which he admitted to a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, Korolyuk did not impress coaches at training camp and was assigned back to Kentucky. Then it got worse yet; the Head Coach of Kentucky, Roy Sommer, was quoted as saying that he wasn’t sure whether Korolyuk was even in the right league in Kentucky, debating whether some time in Richmond of the ECHL would do him more good. However, he stayed, and about a month into the season, became one of the core players in Kentucky. He played hard, and showed a willingness to learn, a necessity for Darryl Sutter. The Sharks recalled Korolyuk when Tony Granato got hurt, and he has made the most of his opportunity. Korolyuk brought an immediate threat at center where he has played most of his time. At the start of his tenure, he wasn’t scoring much, but he was setting up a lot of goals. Recently, Darryl Sutter simply told him to shoot the puck more, and he has, and sure enough, he’s getting goals. There have been several games where Korolyuk seems to be the only player working for the goals, and sure enough, there’s been several games where he was the only one to score. Korolyuk is also surprisingly physical for a guy only 5’9″ 190lbs. He has no problem going after guys who are over 6′ and sending them into the boards. A big reason Korolyuk has been so valuable to the Sharks is the fact that he can play all 3 forward positions; the only player on the Sharks who can do so effectively. A big reason for Korolyuk’s improvement is his improved English skills. Alex spent the summer living with Sommer in order to improve his English, which apparently has helped. His teammates couldn’t understand him, and he didn’t understand them. This year, his English is still quite choppy, but he understands what’s happening on the ice, when it’s time for a line change and whatnot. San Jose fans have been quick to compare Korolyuk to another small and feisty forward-Theo Fleury. There are similarities: they’re both quick, both use their bodies more than you’d expect, both have natural goal scoring ability, both good back on D, etc. Don’t go looking for Korolyuk’s name in the All-Star game quite yet, but he can very well be the type of player along the lines of a Valeri Kamenski of Colorado.

Shawn Heins made it to the NHL, but he got there the long way. From 1991-1993 he was playing in the OHL, but was never drafted. From 1993-1995 he started playing in the EOJHL (don’t worry, I’ve never heard of it either). From 1995-1997 he moved up the ladder, and was playing in the ECHL. Then in 1997/98, he opened the eyes of many NHL scouts playing for the Kansas City Blades of the IHL, oddly enough, the Sharks affiliate 3 years ago. It is reported that Heins had 8 different teams vying for his services. He decided to sign with the Sharks because he thought he would be given the best chance to play there. Heins came into training camp, and basically, the defensive job was his to lose, which he did. He didn’t impress anyone during training camp, and was assigned to the Canadian National Team. There are a few reasons Heins went to Canada to play. 1) What Heins really needed to work on was many of the fundamentals such as positioning. The fewer games and more practice time allowed him that. 2) His contract with Kansas City has not expired, and had a clause saying that if he played in another professional league, Kansas City would have to be compensated for the loss of their player. The Sharks loaned journeyman minor leaguer Jon Rohloff, to Kansas City for this purpose, allowing them to do what they please with Heins. Heins is best known for recently setting the professional record for the hardest shot on goal at the skills competition at the UHL All-Star game, recording a shot of 106.0 mph, breaking the old record of 105.2 set by former Shark, Al Iafrate, and winning the fastest skater competition. A couple weeks ago, Heins was originally to be assigned to Kentucky, then at the last minute, Darryl Sutter changed his mind, and brought him to San Jose for a look. Heins missed one game due to a mix-up where his equipment was in Kentucky, but played in the next game vs. Buffalo. After that, Heins thought he was going to Kentucky after all, but he wasn’t about to bring it up. When the coaching staff told him when to meet for the plane trip, he just went along, and he’s still with the team… He has only played in 4 games, with no points, and in my opinion, not particularly impressive. He has a lot of work to do on his positioning and decision making, and at age 25, I wonder how much development he has left, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Given the amount of improvement he’s made over the last year, it’s logical to assume he will continue to improve. At 6’4″ and 220 pounds of solid muscle, Heins has attributes that can’t be taught: size, speed, and one heck of a shot. It will be interesting to track his development over the next few years…

The third rookie to play for the Sharks this year is Andy Sutton, who is currently back in Kentucky to get more ice time. Sutton is another player signed as a free agent by the Sharks last year. During his senior year at Michigan Tech, the Sharks decided to take a chance on the 6’6″ 245lbs defenseman/left wing. His senior year was really the only year that he put up significant numbers in the goals and assists column, where he recorded 16 goals and 24 assists while amassing 97 penalty minutes in 38 games. In each of his previous 3 seasons, he only scored 2 goals, and never reached double digits in assists. Sutton, like Heins, also needs to work on his positioning and decision making skills, but again like Heins, there’s no reason to believe it won’t improve. Plus, given the fact that Sutton is still only 21, he has the time to improve. I’m going to make an odd comparison here, between Mike Rathje and Andy Sutton. Both are similar in height and weight, both have hard shots, however, neither is an offensive threat, both are average skaters, etc. Where similarities end (rather abruptly may I add) is that Mike Rathje is very good positionally, but doesn’t hit like you would expect someone 6’5″ would do. Sutton is very good at hitting, but needs to work on his positioning. This is why the two have been paired together. They can both learn from each other a lot, and I think they both have. Since Rathje has played with Sutton, it seems like he’s used his body a little bit more, and Sutton has improved positionally. Last year when the Sharks signed Sutton, GM Dean Lombardi conceded that it would probably be about a 3 year project for Sutton to make it to the NHL, but Sutton surprised everyone when he made the team out of camp. Injuries to Gary Suter and Marcus Ragnarsson, along with the contract holdout of Mike Rathje are what gave Sutton his chance, and he made the most of it. Many Shark fans like to compare Sutton to a bigger version of Bryan Marchment, and I am inclined to agree. People don’t realize that besides his hitting, Marchment is in fact a good positional player. Sutton will have to get better at this aspect of his game, but that’s why he’s currently in Kentucky learning from a very good X’s and O’s coach, Roy Sommer.

Last year, the Sharks intended for Patrick Marleau and Andrei Zyuzin to make the club, however Marco Sturm was a surprise. This year, they expected Heins to make it, hoped Korlyuk would make it, and virtually ruled out Sutton making it. As it turns out, none of those 3 occurred. Heins didn’t make it, as he came on rough times. Korolyuk nearly ended up in the ECHL, but then later got called up. And Sutton shocked everyone by making it so early. What makes things even further confusing is that next year you can expect another influx of rookies on the Sharks. Both Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan have excellent chances of making the Sharks, but will Darryl Sutter allow both of them to be on the team, along with so many other young dmen? Tough call…