Sharks Top 10 List

By Mike Delfino
As the 2001 NHL Entry Draft has now concluded, teams look at their
prospects to determine where they stand in depth, skill, and overall
strength of their prospects.
The requirement for being on this list is simple: 25 games played or
less at the NHL level. I rank the players on two categories: 75% of
their ranking is obviously based on skill and 25% based on how quickly
the player will make an impact on the roster. After the player review
is listed where the player will likely play in 2001, followed by when I
expect them to be a regular on the Sharks.


1st:
Remaining atop the list of Sharks prospects is Jeff Jillson,
however, his lead is not as wide as it was last year. While Jillson has
done nothing to reduce his standing, others have improved theirs,
getting within arms reach of the top spot on the Sharks depth chart.
The winner of the CCHA Player of the Week for October 23rd, Jillson led
Michigan’s defense to second place with ten goals and 20 assists in 35
games, finishing the year on an impressive note in his offense. He
recorded a +17 on the season, and spent 74 minutes watching the game
from the penalty box.
While his offense has been down at times, the upside is that Jillson has
been playing a much smarter game than 99/00 and has been more
responsible defensively. He has refrained from committing the types of
penalties resulting of him not reading the play quick enough, then being
forced into a penalty to prevent a goal.
The main reason Jeff Jillson returned to Michigan last season was
toimprove his consistency and work on his power play performance. In
his defensive zone Jillson has been far more consistent. In 1999/00, it
wasn’t unusual for him to play stellar against the top teams and then
struggle against weaker teams. Last year he maintained his level of
play, not suffering the peaks and valleys.
In addition, Jillson improved his power play performance. While his
offensive production from last year was down, his performance on the
power play improved as he controlled the puck and the entire unit much
better than he did in the past. He’s not afraid to carry the puck and
knows when to shoot or pass the puck into traffic.
The only area where Jillson struggled last year was his offense, which
should come around under the tutelage of coaches like Roy Sommer in
Cleveland of the AHL. There is no doubt that he has the ability to be a
top scorer among defensemen, now it’s more of a matter of executing than
finding the ability.


—2001 Destination:
Cleveland of the AHL/San Jose Sharks of the NHL.


—Sharks Debut:
Late 2001-early 2002.


2nd:
Coming in second is goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. He has done
nothing but improve his standing the last two seasons, raising the
eyebrows of scouts throughout hockey. The Sharks drafted him in the
fifth round in 1995 and brought him along slowly, but there has been
nothing slow about his rise through the ranks.
Entering last season Nabokov and Kiprusoff were slated to battle for the
backup job to Steve Shields. With the battle an apparent draw, there
were thoughts of keeping both, but the final decision was to send
Kiprusoff to Kentucky.
While there, Kiprusoff did everything asked of him and then some. While
Vesa Toskala shared many of the minutes in Kentucky, it was Kiprusoff
who they called upon for key games. In 36 games there, Kiprusoff had a
record of 19-9-6 with a GAA of 2.24 and a save percentage of .926. In
addition, he was named the starting goaltender to the American Hockey
League All-Star Game for the second season in a row. With San Jose
Kiprusoff had a 2-1 record in playing five games, had a GAA of 1.95 and
a save percentage of .902.
In hindsight, Kiprusoff’s extra time in Kentucky didn’t hurt him at
all. Last season he had an opportunity to refine parts of his game that
were still lacking at times. He now does a much better job of playing
the puck, where previously he would overreact to some shots; he has not
done that this season.
His play in Kentucky convinced the Sharks that they could trade Shields
along with Jeff Friesen for superstar Teemu Selanne, leaving Kiprusoff
to be the backup to Nabokov. Next season Kiprusoff should see more
minutes, and don’t be surprised to see another goaltending controversy
next season if Kiprusoff gets off to a hot start.


—2001 Destination:
San Jose Sharks of the NHL.


—Sharks Debut:
On roster.


3rd:
A player steadily improving in the Sharks organization is right
wing Jonathan Cheechoo. What was most impressive about Cheechoo’s
season was that while he had his share of ups and downs as would be
expected from any rookie in any league; he was always able to rebound
and contribute in some fashion.

With 32 goals and 34 assists in 75 games for Kentucky last season
Cheechoo was an integral part of the team’s offense. Cheechoo was named
the AHL’s Rookie of the Month for February, a month where he scored 10
goals and 6 assists in only 11 games. Cheechoo was also named to the
AHL All-Star Game, the youngest player in the game.

Although Cheechoo was an important member of the offense, there were
times when they couldn’t rely on him producing. Particularly at the
start of the season there were times when one week he would be
unstoppable, and then the next week virtually invisible. However, as
the year progressed he gained more consistency in his offensive.

Even when Cheechoo’s offense wasn’t effective, he was not a liability,
but rather more effective in other areas. Perhaps what was most
impressive was his defensive play and willingness to use his body.
Cheechoo has turned into a very well rounded player very quickly. He
has improved the much maligned skating to the point where he would no
longer be the worst skater on the Sharks, which was not the case a year
ago. He still has plenty room for improvement, but it has improved a
great deal.
Cheechoo is expected to start next season in the AHL, but could easily
find himself with the Sharks if he comes to camp and impresses. With a
few holes to fill on the San Jose forward lines he could easily enter
camp and win a spot on the roster.


—2001 Destination:
Cleveland of the AHL/San Jose of the NHL.


—Sharks Debut:
Early 2002.


4th:
The 2001 draft certainly had a German flare for the Sharks as they
chose Marcel Goc with the 20th selection in the first round. This
selection by the Sharks immediately became known as a pick to follow
closely for the next few years as several teams behind the Sharks in the
order let it be known that they would have selected Goc.

I have compared Goc to a forward version of Scott Hannan. He doesn’t
have any particular weaknesses, although he has areas that he can work
on. His skating is a bit of a mystery as there are times when he
appears to skate as well as anyone, then times when he appears to
struggle with it. While he doesn’t initiate contact, he’s not afraid of
it, but he will need to step up his physical game.

One of the most attractive qualities about Goc is that his presence
under fire is remarkable for a player so young (he was the second
youngest player selected in the NHL draft last June). He seems to be
able to step up his game when it is needed most, and not unlike
countryman Marco Sturm is a player who can play in any situation. He
has a very good scoring touch with soft hands, forcing the goalie to
work for every save. In 58 games Goc scored 13 goals and 28 assists
with 12 penalty minutes, a large improvement from the previous year when
he only scored one goal and four assists in 62 contests.

“Marcel is a very complete player with very little weaknesses,” said
Brian Burke, Director of Amateur Scouting. “He has the potential to be
a number one center.”

I see Goc being more of a solid 2nd line center, but one with the
ability to play on the top line when needed. I often compare Goc to
being similar to Scott Gomez of the New Jersey Devils in what he can
accomplish. Goc is a bit of a project, more so than Gomez was, but this
is a pick that will be closely followed by the NHL for a while.


—2001 Destination:
Schwenninger of the German Elite League.


—Sharks Debut:
2003


5th:
It is easy to overlook Tero Maatta, the Sharks 2nd round draft pick
in the 2000 draft. Playing in Europe, fans in America don’t hear his
name as often as they hear players in the AHL, college or juniors.
Maatta will never be an offensive force in the NHL as evidenced by his
totals of four goals and four assists in 44 games for the Espoo Blues.
However, he is an excellent defensive player who can be used in any
situation. At 6’1″ he doesn’t have the height advantage over many of
his opponents, but is strong enough to force them off the puck.
Sharks scouts were not pleased with Maatta when he came to training camp
out of shape, resulting in him still finding his game while opponents
were at the top of theirs. However, when the Sharks told Maatta to
improve he rose to the challenge.
During the World Junior Championship in December, Maatta helped Finland
to a silver medal with his defensive play. In seven games he had no
points, was +3, and during all the time he was on the ice only one goal
was scored against his team.
He is a very smart player who knows how and when to play the angle, and
how and when to play the body. He is good with the puck and is able to
control it through heavy traffic. If he made scoring more of a part of
his game he would put up better numbers, but it would be at the cost of
his defense. He’s not a great skater, but he’s good enough to make it
back on the blueline.
Last season Maatta did an excellent job of refining his play. In 99/00
he often went for the hit too early causing an odd-man rush or taking
himself out of the play. He became more patient and the result was that
he rarely got beat.
Maatta is a project that must be taken slowly. In Finland all men must
serve in the military, a fulfillment that still must be finished. In
all likelihood he will spend the 2001/02 season in Finland then make his
AHL debut sometime in 2002.


—2001 Destination:
Espoo Blues of Finish Elite League


—Sharks Debut:
Late 2003.


6th: Vesa Toskala
is in a bit of a Catch-22 situation on several fronts. He
didn’t get a chance to be the starting goalie until late in the season
when Kiprusoff became the backup to Nabokov in San Jose, despite that he
would surely have been the starter on just about any team. In fact
Toskala is probably good enough to be the backup on several NHL teams,
but due to the depth of Sharks goaltending is still in the AHL.

When Toskala took over the goaltending last season his performance
dropped slightly, but then rebounded as he got into more of a rhythm of
playing night in and night out. Toskala backed up for his first
professional game during the playoffs last season when Nabokov was
scratched due to a lower back injury.
Toskala played in 44 games last season, with a record of 22-13-5, a GAA
of 2.77, and a Save Percentage of .911. Toskala is an athletic
goaltender who for a long time lacked any style at all. In recent years
Toskala has settled more into a butterfly style of goaltending, although
he is known to stay on his skates depending on the situation.
It was rumored that several teams asked about Toskala at the trade
deadline last season, but the Sharks traded Johan Hedberg who surprised
everyone by how well he played for Pittsburgh. Next season Toskala will
have his first chance to be the starting goaltender in Cleveland of the
AHL, and it will give him a true chance to prove his worth. He may see
limited time in San Jose if Kiprusoff or Nabokov fall to injury at some
point as he is next in line for that spot.
The winner between Kiprusoff and Nabokov for the starting job in San
Jose should be determined just in time for Toskala’s NHL debut sometime
during the 2002/03 season. However, if the right deal comes across,
Toskala could easily be one of their most tradable assets due to his
skill and the team’s depth at the position.


—2001 Destination:
Cleveland of the AHL.


—Sharks Debut:
2002/03


7th:
Last season Matt Bradley had a spot on the Sharks roster and it
was up to him to lose it, and that’s exactly what he did. In 21 games
with the Sharks last season he scored only one goal and one assist with
19 penalty minutes. Too often Bradley looked lost on the ice with no
idea of what to do next.

In terms of talent Bradley has a tremendous amount of it. He’s an
excellent skater who not only has speed but power as well. However, he
was hesitant to use that speed to get to loose pucks and hesitant to
carry the puck through the neutral zones. He is also a good physical
player, but once again he made every effort to avoid physical contact in
games last season with the Sharks.

When the Sharks assigned Bradley to Kentucky midway through the season
his troubles continued, only scoring five goals and eight assists in 21
games played. His play was often described as uninspired. While it was
clear that he had the skill, he just wasn’t using it for some reason.

The biggest fear about Bradley’s development is that he has probably
accomplished all he can at the AHL level. There must be questions about
how much development Bradley has left.

Next season must be considered a make-or-break season for Bradley. He
now has competition for that final roster spot in Jonathan Cheechoo. If
Bradley wins that competition he may then earn back the spot on the
roster that he lost last season. If he fails, the label of “bust” will
likely be stuck on Bradley resulting in him either being part of a
package deal to another team or simply known as a career minor league
player.


—2001 Destination:
San Jose of the NHL/Cleveland of the AHL.


—Sharks Debut:
Made last season, perhaps again in 2001.


8th:
The expression “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”
couldn’t be truer for the Sharks goaltending. Playing for Providence
College, Nolan Schaefer took the team’s goaltending by storm, taking the
starting job away from Boyd Ballard. It wasn’t expected for Schaefer to
take that job until the 2001/02 season when Ballard would have graduated
and Schaefer would be in his Junior year, but his play dictated
otherwise.

In 25 games Schaefer had a record of 15-8-2, a GAA of 2.47, and a Save
percentage of .915. He won the Defensive Player of the Week award three
times, for the weeks of 11/2/00, 1/8/01 and 2/5/01. He finished 4th in
the league in GAA and saves, and 2nd in Save percentage and shutouts.
To put it in perspective, the top 10 goaltenders in most statistical
categories in Hockey East are all held by Juniors or Seniors, Schaefer
was a Sophomore last season and was in the top 10 in all categories.
Schaefer capped off his season an All-American selection.

Next season Boyd Ballard will have graduated, leaving the starting job
solely in Schaefer’s hands giving him a chance to prove that he is one
of the top goaltenders in collegiate hockey. While they have a several
regulars not returning next season, their top players will be back
giving Providence a chance to win the Hockey East title with Schaefer as
the number one goaltender.

A fifth round pick of the Sharks in the 2000 draft, it wasn’t expected
that Schaefer would be considered a key part of the Sharks’ future until
at least next year. The timing for Schaefer is good given that by the
time he’s ready for duty with the Sharks, answers as to the skill of
others ahead of Schaefer will be answered. The fact that he raised his
stock so quickly is amazing and adds another name to the list of Sharks
goalie prospects.


—2001 Destination:
Providence College of College Hockey East.


—Sharks Debut:
2004 sometime.


9th:
Jon DiSalvatore from Providence College had his share of peaks and
valleys last season. The WJC are a chance for young players to prove
that they have been overlooked. It’s often a chance for a fourth round
draft choice like DiSalvatore to jump a few spots on a prospect list.
DiSalvatore did exactly that, finishing third in points and second in
goals with six and three assists in seven games. Despite playing for a
weaker United States team, he finished ahead of prospects such as Jamie
Lundmark, Vaclav Nedorost and Jason Spezza.
However, Disalvatore’s numbers have gone in streaks. In 36 games he had
nine goals and 16 assists, with a -2, along with 29 minutes in the
penalty box. Unfortunately, those points have not come on a consistent
basis as he struggled upon his return from the WJC. However, his
overall game has improved as he is turning into a well-rounded player
who can be relied upon to contribute on the score sheet, defensively, or
leading his team. However, he has yet to make all these elements a
factor at all times.
He has the ability to be one of the top scorers in Hockey East, but has
struggled at times in finding the net and taking advantage of
opportunities. However, he has two years left of his college
eligibility to improve that consistency.
When he was playing for Team USA he had a chance to play against faster
and better players than he was playing in college. It will still be a
few years, but when he makes his debut in the AHL he will have that
chance to play with the faster teammates.


—2001 Destination:
Providence Friars of College Hockey East.


—Sharks Debut:
2004


10th:
Perhaps the Sharks prospect that epitomizes much of what the
Sharks are all about is right wing Willie Levesque from Northeastern.
There isn’t anything flashy about Levesque, but one way or another he
manages to get the job done. He has a fair amount of offensive ability
and is good in his own zone, earning him a spot to the 2000 World Junior
Championship based on that skill.

In 35 games last season Levesque scored 13 goals and 16 assists, with a
-6, and 62 penalty minutes. The longest Levesque went without recording
a point is only three games, showing the consistency that has been a
part of his game.

In his junior year at Northeastern Levesque not only elevated his game
to being more consistent, he also took on a leadership role. Next year
will be the true test for him in his leadership abilities, as there will
be several seniors not returning, including Alternate Captains, Brian
Cummings and Mike Jozefowicz. Next season, Levesque will join Sharks
prospect and team Captain, Jim Fahey in their Senior seasons.

The only thing holding Levesque back is his size. At 6’0″ his size is
fine for the college level, but given his style of play it could be an
issue at the professional level. At 200 pounds though, he has the
strength to compete, something he will have to get used to doing more
often.

Where Levesque will either make break at the NHL level is his defensive
play. He is a good two-way player who has an excellent ability to read
plays. He will need to rely on that even more at the NHL level in
addition to incorporating his consistent all around play. If Levesque
can make certain adjustments, don’t be surprised to see him on the
Sharks 3rd line inside 2-3 years.


—2001 Destination:
Northeastern of the College Hockey East.


—Sharks Debut:
2003.


Honorable Mention:


Jim Fahey:
A close 11th on the list, Fahey does whatever necessary to
get the job done. His style isn’t pretty or flashy, but is effective.
He was named Northeastern’s team captain last season, and recorded four
goals and 23 assists in 36 games back on defense. The Sharks have had
remarkable success in late rounds and Fahey, an 8th round selection in
1998, may follow along that trend.


Niko Dimitrakos:
This Junior forward had a strong year in Maine. In 29
games he had 11 goals and 14 assists, +1 and 41 penalty minutes. He
struggled some in consistency and will need to round out his game a bit,
but he has offensive ability.


Miroslav Zalesak:
In 60 games he only had 14 goals and 11 assists, but
he started to show more offensive ability as the year progressed. Next
year will be big as we’ll see if he is able to make the necessary
off-season adjustments. Don’t be surprised to see him near the top of
the AHL in scoring with his ability.


Ryan Kraft:
Led Kentucky in goals and points. In 77 games he had 38
goals and 50 assists with a +17. He has a lot of ability, but likely a
journeyman player at the NHL level. He lacks the size or style to
transfer that ability, but he has a ton of heart

This year’s ranking was harder than any in the past. The order for the
top spots was pretty easy, although Cheechoo and Goc could have
flipped. However, there are at least seven or eight players who could
have made it anywhere in the eighth-tenth slots including the four
players listed directly above along with recent draft picks Christian
Ehrhoff and Dimitri Patzold in the fourth round and Tomas Plihal in the
fifth round. The Sharks also made two free agent signings that may make
impacts in goaltender Seamus Kotyk a former fifth round pick of the
Boston Bruins and defenseman Matt Carkner a former second round pick of
the Montreal Canadians.

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