Five years from now, the 1997 draft may very well turn out to be the best draft in San Jose Sharks history. With their second overall selection, they chose the highly touted center, Patrick Marleau. They then traded up in the first round with Carolina to pick defenseman Scott Hannan. Not picking again till the fourth round, they then chose the once highly regarded right wing, Adam Colagiacomo, acquiring three players rated to go in the top 30 by The Hockey News’ 1997 Draft Preview. All players chosen out of the Canadian Hockey League must be signed before the 1999 draft, or they may re-enter the draft. Players chosen from Europe or College are still property of the Sharks for three or two more years respectively.
With the Sharks first pick, 2nd overall, they chose one of the highest regarded prospects in a very long time—Patrick Marleau. Marleau was the youngest player chosen in the 97 draft. If he was born one day later, he would have been forced to enter the 1998 draft instead. Everyone was afraid that Marleau would turn into another Pat Falloon story, a highly regarded player, who turns out to be nothing but a bust. So far there is no implication that will happen. After much debate on the subject, Marleau played in the NHL right away during the 97/98 season, instead of sending him back to Seattle of the WHL. The prevailing opinion was that sending him back to the WHL would have been a waste of his time. He had clearly outgrown the WHL, and wasn’t eligible to play in the AHL due to his age. That only left the Sharks with one other solution, keep him in San Jose. In his rookie year, he scored 13 goals and 19 assists in 74 games, and as the season progressed, got more and more time on the PP and PK units. This year, his numbers have been better, recording 21 goals and 24 assists in 81 games. During the second half the season, there were notable strides in Marleau’s development, as he became more and more of a threat on the ice. Marleau is showing that he has the potential to be a #1 center in the NHL in the near future. Marleau is proving that he very well may be the gem of that draft, even though it was Joe Thornton who was considered the can’t miss prospect. Don’t be totally shocked if Marleau averages a point per game as early as next year. Marleau currently has one year left on his contract with the San Jose Sharks.
With Marleau being the easy choice at #2, the Sharks then directed their attention to defense. Fearing that the guy they wanted would be gone by the time they picked in the 2nd round; the Sharks made their move. They traded a 2nd and 3rd rounder (the 3rd in 98) to acquire the 23rd overall selection in the first round to pick defenseman Scott Hannan out of Kelowna of the WHL. It’s a good thing the Sharks did make this trade, as it was discovered that at least three other teams would have picked him up before the Sharks pick in the 2nd round. Hannan spent the next year in Kelowna, as expected. As the 98/99 season began, Hannan had a chance to show his worth. Hannan impressed Head Coach Darryl Sutter enough to keep him on the roster for a while. Not until November 13th did Hannan get assigned to the WHL in order to get more playing time. In the 14 games with San Jose, Hannan only played in 5 contests, recording 2 assists in his first game, and not playing badly at all. When fellow defenseman Marcus Ragnarsson came back from injury, it was assured that Hannan would not get the necessary playing time to keep him around. Like Marleau, he was not old enough to play in the AHL, but in Hannan’s case, he still could get something out of the WHL experience, since generally, defense is harder to learn than offense. He did in fact improve his game, often playing 40+ minutes per game in Kelowna, often shutting down the opponent’s top lines. However, the last month or so of the year may have started to waste his time, as it was just more of the same, game in game out. Plus, not playing for a contending team, he didn’t have the inspiration to be playing for the Memorial Cup. At the end of the year, he was assigned to the Kentucky Thoroughblades of the AHL, where he sat out the last few games of the year due to a shoulder injury. He has played in the playoffs for Kentucky, and has played quite well. It took him a little time to get adjusted, as would be expected, but has now gotten back on track. Look for Hannan in San Jose next year, if not on opening day, during mid season. Between the Sharks main two defensive prospects, Hannan, and Brad Stuart, I think Hannan is the more NHL ready of the two. One thing that concerns me with Hannan is a history of concussions that has caused him to miss significant playing time over the last two years.
It took the Sharks a little bit of time to make their next pick, not picking again until the 4th round. However, if you were to go by name recognition, one may have thought the Sharks had three picks in the first round. In the 4th round with the 82nd overall selection, the Sharks chose RW, Adam Colagiacomo out of Oshawa of the OHL. “The Wild Card” as I nicknamed him, is another player the Sharks traded up for to ensure they would acquire. The Sharks traded their 4th round selection (from Chicago) and their 6th round selection, to acquire the New York Rangers’ 4th round selection (which oddly enough, was originally the Sharks’). At one time, many scouts Colagiacomo going in the top 10 of the draft, but after suffering a serious shoulder injury, and a very slow recovery/rebound, his stock slipped badly. The Hockey News had him ranked #25, and The Central Scouting Bureau had him ranked #26 among North American skaters. The first round ended, and Colagiacomo’s name had not yet been called. Not an enormous surprise given the injury he sustained. Then into the second round, and even the third round, and questioned were raised to why hasn’t he been drafted. Then, finally, with the 84th pick, the Sharks took a chance on the once highly regarded prospect. The next year, he showed some of the signs of why he was so highly regarded at one time, but yet still didn’t show himself worth of being a 1st round pick. This year however, he has made a lot of people fear they made a mistake in not choosing him earlier. Many people will say that the only reason he is playing better this year, is because he’s playing on a better team (Plymouth Whalers) with guys like David Legwand and Harold Druken. My response to that: they’re absolutely right, but there’s nothing wrong with that. For one, Legwand and Colagiacomo rarely were on the ice at the same time, as he played on a line with Druken. I think what Druken and Colagiacomo needed were linemates who they could work with better. Both of the two players have credited each other with their improved play this year and it will be interesting to see how they do next year when they’re separated. Colagiacomo suffered another shoulder injury (unrelated to the last one) which took him out of Plymouth’s final game, and prevented him from joining the Kentucky Thoroughblades of the AHL. I nicknamed him “The Wild Card” simply because what you have in him is the guy who may be your ace in the hole, or your hole in the ace. If I had to predict where Colagiacomo would be picked if he were in the draft this year, I would predict he would be going somewhere in the later part of the 1st round, possible early second. If my prediction turns to be true, the Sharks got themselves a steal in Colagiacomo. Next year, expect him to play in Kentucky of the AHL to learn the faster and more intense game. Look for him in San Jose for the 00/01 season. He will need to be signed before the draft, as he would be eligible to re-enter. I can see this as a possible sticking point, given that Colagiacomo will demand more money than the average 4th round pick, and the Sharks may be more hesitant to give it to him. Look for him to be signed none the less though.
With the Sharks next pick, in the 5th round with the 107th overall selection, the Sharks chose RW, Adam Nittel out of Erie of the OHL. Nittel has been one of the toughest players in the OHL throughout his stay. This year, he started the season with Mississauga, an expansion team, and recorded very impressive numbers there. In 34 games there, 15 goals and 16 assists and 235 minutes in the box to lead the OHL at the time. He was then traded to Sault St. Marie in mid-January, and finished the year with 17 goals and 22 assists in 52 games. Don’t let those numbers fool you. If Nittel makes it to the NHL, he will NOT be a 20 goal scorer. If he makes it, his job will be clearly defined, that of a 4th line checker. That’s not a knock on him, but that’s his game. The only reason he had so many points while with Mississauga is because he’s the ONLY player they had on that team, and it was either him or no one pretty much. His Junior eligibility is over, and I’m not certain of his future with the Sharks. If he signs, he will be playing in Kentucky or Richmond of the ECHL.
In the 7th round, with the 163rd pick of the draft, the Sharks stuck with the RW position and chose Joe Dusbabek out of Notre Dame University. Dusbabek’s biggest problem has been his consistency. He’s never been known for being a prolific goal scorer, but has always held his own in both ends of the ice. His biggest asset has always been his ability to lead, and skate with the puck. He is more on the defensive side than a rushing forward, even though he will in fact pull up high. Right now, his future with the Sharks is still a little bit up in the air. He was the only non-CHL player chosen in the 97 draft by the Sharks, and they still have a couple years to decide what they want to do with him. If the Sharks decide to sign him in a year or two, expect him to play for a while in the AHL. Dusbabek very well may turn out to be the kind of role player who you would sign for the sole purpose of helping out your farm team though, which may turn out to be worth the 7th round draft pick.
In the 8th round, with the 192nd pick, the Sharks chose LW Cam Severson out of Prince Albert of the WHL. This year, playing for Spokane, the worst thing possible happened to Severson. When not injured, Severson was often a threat on the ice, but those times were very scattered. Severson spent the entire year plagued with ankle injuries. When his season in Spokane ended, the Sharks made no effort to bring him to Kentucky or Richmond for their playoff drives. I fear that it may spell the end for his future in San Jose. I have to admit I dropped the ball on Severson, as I was impressed with his play in previous years, at one time, having him in my top 10 of Sharks prospects. I heard that he was playing in a professional league somewhere, and playing quite well, but I’m afraid I don’t have any specifics. I suppose there’s a chance he’ll be picked up during the off-season, if not by the Sharks, perhaps by another team willing to take a chance on him.
In the 9th round, with the 219th pick, the Sharks chose center Mark Smith out of Lethbridge of the WHL. Meaningless pick right? Probably just a favor pick right? Will probably never see the AHL let alone the NHL right? Wrong, wrong, and wrong… Perhaps the biggest surprise of Sharks seven picks in 97 is Mark Smith. In his draft year, Smith recorded 19 goals and 34 assists in 62 games, the next year however, he recorded 42 goals and 67 assists in 70 games-a huge jump from the year before. From there, Smith went to Kentucky this year, and in his rookie season, put up impressive numbers again, recording 18 goals and 21 assists in 78 games. Perhaps more impressive than that however, is that he has been sporting the letter “A” on his sweater, as he was named an Alternate Captain of the TBlades earlier this year. That is saying a lot for a rookie, chosen in the 9th round of the draft. At 5’10” 190lbs, he may not be the tallest force on the ice, but he won’t be pushed around either. He holds his own in all aspects of the game, and more impressively, he has shown that he can transfer his skills from Junior to the professional game. A lot of good players have a lot of trouble doing that, but Smith has made the transition very nicely. I will be watching very closely next year to see how Smith (and fellow rookie Matt Bradley) will take on more of a role in Kentucky. I predict that Mark Smith may be one of the cult heroes in San Jose along the lines of Alex Korolyuk, who’s not very big, and the fans love him for it. I’ve said that Smith’s role with the Sharks would most likely be that of a 4th line grinder. I’ve now changed that opinion to possibly a very effective 3rd liner. If he continues to impress, who knows… So far, he’s continued to improve every year, so next year will be interesting to see if it levels off any. Given that the Sharks only gave up a 9th round draft pick to get him, it would be safe to say that this particular pick was a successful one.
In 1997, the Sharks would not touch Europe with a 10,000 mile pole… Two years before, the Sharks had what was probably the worst draft any team has ever had in the NHL. The “Finnish Phonebook Draft” in 1995 where 9 of their 12 picks came from Europe, including 1st round pick Teemu Riihijarvi, none of whom who have played a second in the NHL. The next year in 1996, the Sharks chose Andrei Zyuzin from Russia with their first pick, which everyone understood, it was the obvious choice. But then they traded up to pick another European in the first round, from that hockey bed of Germany-Marco Sturm. Even though trading up to get Sturm certainly has paid off, not many fans realized it at that time, fearing another “phonebook draft.” In 1997, I don’t think the Sharks would have picked Olli Jokinen, even if they had the 3rd pick. They probably would have gone with Luongo, or traded down, as I doubt the Sharks would have wanted anything to do with Europe, fearing the wrath of the fans in San Jose. They went back to Europe in the 4th round of the 1998 draft however, picking Miroslav Zalesak.
Either way, Europe or North America, I think that there’s no question at this point that the Sharks’ best draft so far in their existence has been in the 1997 draft. They picked up a potential superstar center in Marleau, a very good #2 d-man in Hannan (my liking of Hannan has been well documented), a player who may turn out to be a very good second line player in Colagiacomo, and a pleasant surprise in Smith, all of whom are very legitimate NHL prospects.