As many of the major developmental leagues reach their midway point in their seasons, the Sharks, like every other team, have prospects who have surprised and done well, and others who have struggled more than would be expected. This is a list of many of San Jose’s prospects, and their status. Next to their name is either a +, -, or = sign, signifying that they’ve either improved, declined or maintained their stock. Followed by vitals and statistical information. (stats as of 12-26-99 unless otherwise noted)
Eric Betournay = Center 4/30/81 6’1” 197lbs
Chicoutimi (QMJHL) 41GP 7G 18A 25PTS -13 32PIM
He may end out being a steal chosen in the 8th round, but still needs improvement. He simply doesn’t yet possess NHL skills, and needs to learn how to maintain control of the puck in traffic. He’s the type of player who needs strong players around him, or isn’t the most effective player. Playing on a weak Chicoutimi team is not helping.
Matt Bradley -/= Right Wing 6/13/78 6’2” 195lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 34GP 8G 9A 17PTS 44PIM +12
After a strong rookie year, he struggled around the net a lot the first portion of this year. He is starting to come around, and be more consistent in his scoring, but still unpredictable at times. Where he has been strong is on special teams, where he has been solid on the power play and killing penalties. He’s a very good skater, and can be surprisingly physical, he just needs to get back focused on the current task on hand, and not getting caught up in anything else but hockey.
Jan Caloun = Right Wing 12/20/72 5’10” 190lbs
HIFK (Finland) (as of 12-6-99) 23GP 22G 21A 43PTS 72PIM +10
I’m guilty of having just copied those stats down from the Sharks web site. He certainly has the offensive talent to play on any NHL team, but he lacks the defensive talent to be in the NHL. Caloun has been exposed to two expansion teams and a Waiver Draft, and not a single one of the 27 teams who could have picked him up chose to do so. Possibly the new franchises in Minnesota and Columbus may chose to take a chance on him, hoping he would at least provide excitement in the goal column.
Jonathan Cheechoo + Right Wing 7/15/80 6’1” 210lbs
Belleville (OHL) 29GP 16G 17A 33PTS 56PIM even
A lot of people were very surprised by his exclusion from Canada’s World Junior Team, some citing his exclusion as “just another thing wrong with Canadian hockey” as one person put it. His skating has steadily improved since recovering from sprained knee ligaments in last year’s Memorial Cup. In camp this year, he was struggling a lot in his skating, but showed a lot of improvement from the year before. He has learned some incredible moves, and has very good footwork, and his stickhandling has improved immensely from what I saw at camp. I stick by what I say in that if he can get his skating to average, he will be a very good player in the NHL for quite a few years. There is no reason to believe that his skating won’t improve either, since every year it has improved. The knee injury was a setback only in that it slowed down his off-season progress. There is no long-term damage to the knee.
Adam Colagiacomo – Right Wing 3/17/79 6’2” 206lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 21GP 3G 7A 10PTS 15PIM even
New Orleans (ECHL) 8GP 3G 6A 9PTS 6PIM -5
Colagiacomo has not begun his professional career as strong as everyone would have hoped. Where before, he was strong enough, and skilled enough to maintain his position in front of the net, and clear needed space, now he goes into those same situations, and is not nearly as successful. He often seems lost as to where the puck is going next, and once he does get the puck, he has looked lost at times. He has begun to show improvement, and perhaps next year, once he’s more accustomed to professional hockey, he’ll do more offensively. He has shown that he has the skill to play in the NHL, but has been having problems executing that skill. He was relied upon to put up strong numbers this year, and so far, he has not lived up to expectations.
Mark Concannon = Left Wing 6/12/80 6’1” 190lbs
U Mass-Lowell (Hockey East) 10GP 3G 0A 3PTS 8PIM
He’s a good physical player who is good with the puck in traffic, and likes to fight for the puck. He will be counted on to be more and more of a factor for Lowell as the years progress, and it will be very interesting to see how he develops into an NHL type player. As things stand now, he has a lot of the essentials to be a solid contributor in the NHL as a 3rd line player. I look forward to seeing how well he does in the 30th game of the year though, as I want to see how consistent he can be throughout the long-term of a season.
Rob Davison = Defense 1/5/80 6’3” 218lbs
North Bay (OHL) 32GP 0G 1A 1PTS 109PIM -3
–Alternate Captain of North Bay Centennials.
Obviously not in the mold of a Sandis Ozolinsh, Davison is a strong defensive specialist, who is good at clearing out bodies, and protecting his players. He has improved his defensive positioning from last year. Since he’s not the fastest skater, he needs to know where the puck is going, something he didn’t do well last year. He impressed me at camp, lasting longer than expected. More than anything right now, he needs to play against faster skaters than he sees in the OHL. Next year he should be playing in Kentucky of the AHL, giving a better indication of his NHL future.
Nicholas Dimitrakos = Right Wing 5/21/79 5’11” 195
U. of Maine (Hockey East) 9GP 1G 5A 6PTS 2PIM -2
There’s not much question that he has talent, the question is whether he can transfer that talent to professional hockey. He is a good skater, and scores some flashy goals, but isn’t very good in traffic, and hasn’t done a lot to get a lot stronger. He’ll need to round out his game to include more physical play, and grind things out more. If he’s going to make it, it’s going to be as a third line type player. He doesn’t have the skill to be a top line guy, and he doesn’t have the toughness to be on the fourth line.
Joe Dusbabek = Right Wing 5/1/78 6’1” 205lbs
Notre Dame (CCHA) 17GP 3G 7A 10PTS 20PIM +4
If he’s going to make it to the NHL, it’s going to be the long way. He’s a typical power forward, but one who doesn’t rack up the points. He’s good inside the neutral zones, but needs improvement in the offensive and defensive zones. This will be his last year at Notre Dame, at which point he may spend some time in the ECHL, then to the AHL. Depending on his development from there, he may see the NHL 2-3 years later. If he improves his offense and area deep inside his own zone better, he could make Kentucky’s lineup next year, as there very well may be call-ups to the San Jose Sharks next year at right wing. One problem, is that his stats has been marked “=” for a while now.
Jim Fahey + Defense 5/11/79 6’0” 215lbs
Northeastern U. (Hockey East) 15GP 1G 10A 11PTS 28PIM +1
10th in the league in assists. Chosen in the 8th round, he’s another very good player the Sharks acquired late in the draft, the 8th round in 1998. His team has an excellent chance of being the number one team in hockey next year or the year after. If their young team, led on defense by Fahey, continues to develop, they could crack the top ten as early as this year. Fahey has continued to improve his defensive play, and more importantly, his defensive choices like when to advance the puck, and when to maintain his defensive positioning. He has stepped up all other aspects of his game as well. I would like to see him develop a little bit more of a shot, since he is so good at getting the puck up ice. However, he is so good at making the pass into the offensive zone and in front of the net, he often doesn’t need to. In his quest to the NHL though, the addition of a good shot would obviously help. Watch him in future years, as he could turn into a solid NHL defenseman in 3 years or so. He’s a project, but one who so far is paying off—big time.
Terry Friesen – Goalie 10/29/77 5’11” 190lbs
New Orleans (ECHL) 12GP 4-4-1-1 3.77GAA .885Save%
His NHL future at this point has to be in serious question, as not only has he yet to earn even a backup job in Kentucky, he hasn’t even shown that he deserves the starting role in the ECHL. He has largely been sharing time with New Orleans’ goaltender Doug Bonner, but it is Bonner who has been called upon for the big games. He has been slow to react to play as it develops, and simply isn’t making saves that he needs to be making. His strength in the WHL was how quick of reflexes he had. Now it seems that the same quality that made him so good there, is one of his weaknesses now. He needs to step things up considerably before this season ends, or he could find himself looking for a job next year.
Scott Hannan + Defense 1/23/79 6’3” 215lbs
San Jose (NHL) 1GP 0G 0A 0PTS 0PIM +1
Kentucky (AHL) 32GP 3G 10A 13PTS 27PIM +10
He has continued to play his steady style of defensive play, similar to that of former Sharks defenseman Bill Houlder. He won’t shock you with some of the moves of Stuart or the shot of Heins, but at the same time, he won’t make the defensive miscues that they are often guilty of. This year, he has added more toughness to his game than in the past. At this point, Hannan needs to learn how to play against the faster, and more advanced systems in the NHL. I’m not sure the extent of the effectiveness of the AHL on his development anymore. You should see him in the NHL next year, as Jeff Norton will most likely retire or go elsewhere.
Shawn Heins =/+ Defense 12/24/73 6’4” 215lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 30GP 6G 20A 26PTS 115PIM -7
–Selected to play in AHL All-Star Game.
While Shawn Heins is certainly one of the best defensemen in the AHL, it is important to distinguish that it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the best defensive prospect on the Sharks. In fact, I put Jillson and Hannan above Heins on the depth chart. What Shawn Heins has going for him, is that he’s a strong straight ahead skater. When skating in a straight line, he’s very fast, and strong. He also has the hardest recorded shot in history, which is obviously an offensive threat, creating a lot of chances, especially on rebounds. However, his defensive play still needs a lot of work. Skating backwards has been an adventure, with the forward skater more often than not getting past him. He also often misses his assignments, allowing a player to get open in front of his net. He doesn’t seem to respond well, or predict where play is going. To make it in the NHL, he’ll have to improve in these areas. However, don’t be surprised to see Heins get the call if an injury occurs, as he could also be one of the Sharks’ most valuable trade assets, since he could be useful in some systems.
Johan Hedberg + Goalie 5/5/73 5’11” 185lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 16GP 8-4-3 2SO 2.53GAA .920Save%
He has provided a very strong tandem to go along with Miikka Kiprusoff. While Kiprusoff plays most of the bigger games, Hedberg has provided a very good backup so they don’t have to overwork Kiprusoff. At the age of 26, he may be too old to establish himself as a NHL starting goaltender, but he could turn into a reliable backup. He is very strong in the net, and quick reflexes allow him to make several saves in a row. Despite his play, I put him 3rd on the depth chart, behind Nabokov and Kiprusoff. He has progressed very nicely to the North American game, and has shown no signs of struggle to the different style. There’s a chance they may loan him to another team next year, similar to what they did with Nabokov this year. It may be hard though, given the limited number of teams to send him to. Don’t be surprised to see him traded around the trade deadline to a team in need of a goalie they don’t need to protect from the expansion draft.
Jeff Jillson + Defense 7/24/80 6’3” 219lbs
U. of Michigan (CCHA) 19GP 6G 18A 24PTS 44PIM +6
–Alternate Captain to USA’s National Junior Team competing in World Junior Championships. Named CCHA Player of the Week on December 6th.
2nd on the team in points and assists. 4th in the league in points, 3rd in assists. Leads all defensemen in both of those stats as well. The fact that he has a right handed shot makes him all the more attractive as well. He has shown the ability to dominate play at times, something he did not do last year. While he certainly controlled play, he didn’t dominate like he has at times this year. He is very good with the puck, and can get it anywhere, very accurately. He also maintains control of the puck very well through traffic. What he still needs work on is one on one situations, and situations where he’s skating along side of his opponent, fighting for the puck. He still has a tendency to get knocked off stride when he’s making his move. He has also shown a tendency to play a little weak in bigger games. That has not been a consistent trend though, so don’t worry too much about that quite yet. The more and more I see him; the more and more I like his play.
Robert Jindrich + Defense 10/14/76 5’11” 195lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 33GP 1G 5A 6PTS 23PIM +8
The best way I can describe Jindrich would be that he’s effective. He doesn’t have the size to punish his opponents and knock them out of the front of his net. He doesn’t have the speed to rush the puck up ice. Nor does he have the offensive skill to rack up offensive numbers. What he is very good at is timing. He knows exactly when to poke the puck away from his opponent, and is very good at timing his opponents’ pass, breaking up potential rushes. He knows exactly where to position himself, and has very good “hockey sense” knowing what’s likely to happen next. He has a lot of things that simply can not be taught. Jindrich went from being a nothing prospect, to being a very legit NHL prospect. He has a lot of skills that simply can’t be taught. He’s a very quick thinker, something that a lot of defensemen take too long to do. He needs work on his offensive skills, specifically, moving the puck deep in the offensive zone, but the things he needs work on, can be taught. If only he had a couple more inches, he would be a top prospect. As it is, he is built very well, but could use those extra inches.
Miikka Kiprusoff + Goalie 10/26/76 6’2” 190lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 19GP 11-6-2 1SO 2.17GAA .929Save%
–Voted the starting goaltender in AHL All-Star Game.
The question coming into this season for Miikka Kiprusoff was whether or not he could transition his game to professional hockey, and whether he would be able to transfer his incredibly smart, and predictive style to the smaller North American rinks. The answer has been a resounding yes. He has proven that he is more than capable of playing the AHL game, as he has been one of the top goalies in the league. Last year while playing in Europe, one scout referred to Kiprusoff as “the best goalie in Europe not playing in the NHL.” He is a very smart goalie, who doesn’t get faked out by moves, and responds only to the puck, not the man, something a lot of good NHL goalies are victims of doing. In some ways, he reminds me of Sharks goaltender, Mike Vernon in how he approaches the game. Both stay focused on the game. Many football fans refer to kickers as a different breed of players, Kipper is definitely fits this mold. He may be ready for spot backup duty in the NHL as early as next year, and as a consistent backup for the 2001/02 season.
Ryan Kraft + Center 24 years old 5’9” 181lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 1GP 1G 0A 1PTS 0PIM +1
Richmond (ECHL) 24GP 19G 25A 44PTS 12PIM +26
–Named player of the week December 20th and 27th.
One of, if not the best players in the ECHL. I’ve heard a lot of Kentucky fans wondering why he’s not with the T-Blades, and it’s a question worth asking. A very good skater with a good nose for knowing when and where the puck will be around the net. Weak defensively, but a good enough skater to cover many of his mistakes. Also a good stickhandler, who is very quick around the net, and can cut and turn very well. Should be up in Kentucky by next year at the latest. Don’t expect him around San Jose in the immediate future though. He simply doesn’t have the size, and often gets pushed around when his opponent can cover him. The big reason he’s so successful in the minors is because he’s quick enough to avoid those situations. In the NHL though, he won’t have the time to put on many of the moves that makes him so effective.
Eric LaPlante = Left Wing 12/1/79 6’1” 196lbs
Quebec (QMJHL) 21GP 14G 15A 29PTS 151PIM +13
Once he gets his head dislodged from a certain crevice in his body, he may turn into a solid NHL player. As things stand now though, he seems to have a big chip on his shoulder that will need to be knocked off. He has missed exactly half of Quebec’s season due to injuries and suspension, and being arguably their best player, they need him to be at his top. The Sharks offered him a contract to play in Kentucky of the AHL, but he declined the offer, choosing instead to return to the QMJHL. Unless you’re a top talent, when you get the chance to make the next step to professional hockey, you should take it. LaPlante was foolish not to in my opinion.
Willie Levesque + Right Wing 1/22/80 6’0” 195lbs
Northeastern U. (Hockey East) 15GP 4G 9A 13PTS 17PIM +1
–Selected to Team USA in World Junior Championships
. Leads Northeastern in points, and has been strong in important games. He has improved his skating not so much in his speed, but in how he gets there. Before, he skated in a way that made it a lot easier to knock him off the puck. His stance is now more compact, yet he hasn’t compromised speed to do it. He is very good all around, and has improved defensively, and on the forecheck as he has began to take his player out of the play better. He is quickly becoming more of a complete player, and one who could conceivably play on your 2nd-4th lines. Could be a solid NHL player in 3-4 years.
Robert Mulick -/=/+ Defense 10/23/79 6’2” 205lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 17GP 0G 0A 0PTS 14PIM even
My opinion on him has been totally split this year. In one sense, I’m impressed that he made the Kentucky T-Blades in the first place. He could have gone back to juniors, and play another year there, which would have done him a lot of good. Instead, he earned himself a spot on a professional hockey team. A spot which he wisely took advantage of (unlike LaPlante). However, in Kentucky, he’s only earned himself spot duty, often a healthy scratch. He has had trouble adjusting to faster professional hockey, and thus far, has not handled himself well with the puck. He has done a fine job of directing the skater to the corner, but his troubles start from there. He often loses his balance, loses the puck, and doesn’t cover his errors well. I think he made the right choice in choosing the AHL over going back to juniors, as what he needs to work on, he wouldn’t get so much in the WHL. This off-season will be important for Mulick, as he should condition himself to the professional style of play. We’ll then see how he adjusts from there.
Yevgeni Nabokov + Goalie 7/25/75 6’0” 180lbs
Cleveland (IHL) 19GP 11-4-4-3 2.77GAA .917Save%
When he was assigned to Cleveland of the IHL to make room for Kiprusoff and Hedberg, many people saw it as a demotion. Then, and still, I maintain that it was not. At this point in his career, Nabokov needs to face shots that resemble those of the NHL more than they do in the AHL. While the talent is better in the AHL, the IHL style of play is more like the NHL. Nabokov has a ton of skill, but he needs to maintain his control at times. He has a tendency to overreact to certain situations, making him prone to the rebound and secondary chances. He may be ready for spot backup duty right now, but over the long term, I wouldn’t be comfortable with him yet. He was called up for two games a couple weeks ago when Mike Vernon was placed on IR with the flu, but did not play, despite that the two games were back-to-back. He already has the God-given skill to compete in the NHL, now it’s more a matter of getting him more focused on the play.
Adam Nittel =/+ Right Wing 7/17/78 6’2” 225lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 23GP 2G 4A 6PTS 78PIM +4
He has one purpose on the T-Blades, to protect their main guys. In other words, he’s the Brantt Myhres of the T-Blades. He has been a healthy scratch several times this year, not so much because Roy Sommer has been unhappy with his play, but because he is simply not always needed. However, there have been times when he has been a liability. There have been times when he has tried to do more than what he is asked, or has the ability to do. In the OHL, he was a high scorer, largely because he was able to simply plow his way through. In professional hockey, that option isn’t there, as the players are a lot faster bigger, and stronger. Next year, you may see a bit more offensive from Nittel, as he becomes more familiar with professional hockey, but he’s a 4th line winger. Once he gets more comfortable in his own zone, he should be close to being ready for the NHL.
Mark Smith + Center 10/24/77 5’10” 192lbs
Kentucky (AHL) 35GP 13G 16A 29PTS 60PIM +12
–Alternate Captain of Kentucky Thoroughblades
Mark my words; in 3-5 years, Mark Smith will be one of the favorite players in San Jose. Smith is one of a few late round draft picks (9th round) that have panned out well for the Sharks. A former 100 point man in the WHL, I warned people not to think that he would be an offensive force once he reaches professional hockey. A couple years later, he’s 15th in the league in points, and a dangerous player anywhere on the ice. Myself, and a lot of other people who follow hockey, missed the boat on him. He’s already close to matching last year’s total of 18 goals and 21 assists in 78 games. He has learned how to change his game incredibly well, going from a player who used his quickness and speed to get out of tight situations, to using skill, knowledge of changes in play, and using his wings more. There are also a lot of areas in his game that are very underrated. He is very good in the face-off circle, often beating many of the Sharks top centers in training camp. He is very good at using his speed and agility to get back into the defensive zone, bottling up an oncoming rush. If for no other reason than his improved play this year, it is clear that more time in Kentucky could only do him good. He has made incredible strides in his game ever since he was drafted by the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. There is no need to rush him at this point, when it is clear that he can still get something out of the AHL experience. I would not hesitate, however, to call him up for a brief stint in San Jose at anytime, if nothing else, as a reward for his play in Kentucky.
Vesa Toskala + Goalie 5/20/77 5’9” 175lbs
Farjesstad (Sweden) (as of 12-6-99) 20GP 2.47GAA 12-3
(although put up in Swedish, I think it was his record at the time of the game I saw)
He’s the only guy who I’ve ever compared to Dominic Hasek in his style, but more and more, he has settled more into a standup style of goal. In previous years, he would drop to the ice early, often getting beat high in the corners. When opponents caught on to this weakness, he learned to stay on his skates more, covering the upper part of his net better. I’ve only seen him play once this year, but I have heard good reports. Apparently, he’s reading play better, and is starting to predict where the puck is going better. He was signed by the Sharks a few months ago, and returned to Europe late in camp. He will likely make his North American debut next year, resulting in an interesting question: who goes? Don’t be surprised for Toskala and Hedberg to be dangled as trade bait to teams in need of a backup goalie in a couple years.
Miroslav Zalesak + Right Wing 1/2/80 6’0” 185lbs
Drummondville (QMJHL) 33GP 29G 34A 63PTS 14PIM +22
–Offensive player of the week for Week 3 and 11. Will represent Slovakia at WJC.
Zalesak has shown a great amount of improvement in the last couple years. He has consistently hovered around the top 10 in the QMJHL in scoring, and has improved defensively. When drafted, the report on him was that he had more offensive talent than most in the first round, but that his defense was non existent. While I certainly wouldn’t say he’s “good” defensively, he has at least learned to hold his own. He certainly has the speed to cover the ice as well. Don’t be at all surprised to see his stock rise even more in the coming months, especially if he does well in the World Junior Championships. In terms of star potential among forwards, Zalesak probably leads the group