The Sharks have ten players who played in Europe this season in six different countries’ elite series. While European Shark draft picks like Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Marcus Ragnarsson, Alexander Korolyuk, and Hannes Hyvonen include the Sharks’ present, some of these ten will be part of the Sharks’ future.
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Tero Määttä’s season is considered by some, at best, as merely the maintenance of his level of play last season. However, according to Hockey’s Future Finnish writer Pekka Lampinen, the primary reason for this lack of development by Määttä was that he had to serve his 360-day military service for his country, which reduced the amount of practice-time Määttä had this season. Määttä’s play was especially poor at the beginning of the season for Espoo of the Finnish Elite League, although the entire Espoo team struggled this season. Määttä finished 15th on the Espoo Blues in scoring, and fourth in defenseman scoring. (Teammates of Määttä included formers Sharks Jan Caloun and goaltender Jarmo Myllys, along with center Mike Stapleton.) The eighth-seeded Espoo Blues were promptly eliminated from the play-offs by Tappara.
Määttä’s season wasn’t an entire loss, as his play towards the end of the season
started to stand out and his play in the World Junior Championships for Finland was not
below previous Määttä standards. The Finnish team finished third in the tournament and
Määtä finished eighth in team scoring and tied for second in defensive scoring with Jyri Marttinen and Markus Seikola. (Those three were behind the highly rated Joni Pitkanen, who should go early in the first round of this year’s NHL Entry Draft.) Määttä’s +4 rating was third out of all Finnish defensemen. (behind Pitkanen and Mikko Viitanen)
Määttä’s 65 penalty minutes was good 54th in the league, with one five-minute penalty, one 20-minute penalty, and 20 two-minute penalties.
Outlook: Määttä is still a somewhat difficult read because of the effects of his military service this past season. Määttä is expected to remain in Finland for at least one more year, which should help indicate what where Määttä is truly at in regards to his development. The young Finn must still work on his footspeed, but he does have the tools to be similar to current Shark defenseman Marcus Ragnarsson. Määttä will need to improve significantly in order to catch Ragnarsson, but Ragnarsson entered the NHL at a late age, so a little patience and quality instruction should go a long way with Määttä, who looks to be a future fifth or sixth defenseman. Määttä will face stiff competition from other Shark prospect defensemen like Christian Ehrhoff, Jim Fahey, and Doug Murray to crack the Sharks’ line-up in the future. (And current Sharks Brad Stuart, Mike Rathje, Marcus Ragnarsson, Scott Hannan, and Jeff Jillson should be around for a while too.)
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Pasi Saarinen suffered, what Pekka Lampinen says, was his worst Finnish Elite League season yet. Saarinen missed many games due to injury, and even then he had trouble cracking the line-up and getting much ice-time with the eventual league champions. Saarinen has signed with HIFK Helsinki for next season, where he hopes to regain his old form, pitching in a little offense, but mainly playing his physical brand of defense.
Outlook: The 25-year old Saarinen is a physical defenseman who is a very strong 5’11” 198 pound defenseman. Although Saarinen had a less-than-desirable season with Jokerit this past season, Saarinen may still be an overage defenseman that San Jose may consider bringing over to Cleveland in the future. Saarinen would likely challenge Jesse Fibiger for his role if he were with the Cleveland Barons. However, Fibiger, Rob Davison, and Matt Carkner can probably rest easy, knowing that Saarinen will likely stay in Finland for now. It is probable that if Saarinen were to come to North America, he would have little trouble adapting to its physical style, and his sturdy build would also help this transition. Bringing Saarinen over when Määttä is brought over may be one measure the Sharks might want to take to help ease Määttä’s transition to North America some. (It’s difficult to know if fellow Finn Vesa Toskala will still be in Cleveland when Maatta is brought over, and Hannes Hyvonen is likely to stick with San Jose.)
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Of all of the Sharks’ European prospects, Christian Ehrhoff probably had the best season. Ehrhoff missed some games this season with a rather scary eye injury that left one of the biggest shiners the author has ever seen a picture of. But this eye injury was the only valley of Ehrhoff’s season. The 19-year old defenseman finished 3rd in defensive scoring for Krefeld Penguins, behind former IHL scoring defenseman Dan Lambert and former Quebec Nordique Mario Doyon, who also has a decent scoring record in upper level minor leagues. Ehrhoff’s efforts helped him finish 10th on the team in scoring overall. Ehrhoff and the rest of the Penguins led the team to the third best record in the regular season, and treated the Krefeld faithful to a 20-2-4-4 record at home. (Wins; Losses; Shootout-win; shootout-losses) The Penguins also finished 1st with a power play efficiency of 21.86%, which Ehrhoff was a contributor to.
Ehrhoff’s offensive statistics were good, but he’s also had a penchant for physical play. He finished 4th on the team in penalty minutes, and would have likely finished 3rd had he not missed games due to the eye injury. But the most encouraging parts of Ehrhoff’s season were not in Germany: they were representing his country.
At the DI WJC, at which Germany won the gold medal, which helped them advance to the top division in 2003, Ehrhoff was the 5th leading scorer, and led all defensemen in scoring by 5 points. (His nearest competitor was his teammate, Ottawa Senators prospect, Christoph Schubert.) Ehrhoff finished the tournament 12th in goals, 2nd in assists, and 4th in power play goals. Which translated to 3rd in goals, 1st in assists, 1st in points, and 1st in shots on the German team. (The second highest scorer was fellow Shark prospect Marcel Goc.)
At Salt Lake City, Ehrhoff was the youngest Olympian of all of the ice hockey players in the tournament. He may not have picked up any points, but Ehrhoff did a good job of moving the puck, but also showed a willingness to play physical and with a decent level of defensive awareness. The success of the German national team at the Olympics helped show the coachability of all the German players at the tournament, including the 19-year old Ehrhoff.
However, Ehrhoff would not be denied points at the World Championships. The young defenseman finished with two goals and three assists, which was good enough to tie with Eric Brewer of the Edmonton Oilers for 4th in defenseman scoring in the tournament. Both of Ehrhoff’s goals were power play goals, further displaying his power play prowess. Ehrhoff finished tied for third in team scoring for Germany with former NHLer Stefan Ustorf. Ehrhoff was also one of six players on the German team that finished with a positive plus/minus. The World Championships was definitely a solid cap to a solid season for Christian Ehrhoff, and also a successful season for the German national team, which finished 8th in both the Olympics and the World Championships and saw their Under 20 team promoted to Pool A. (Restructuring in the Under 18 group will see Germany in the First Division in that age group next season, but the German team is among the favorites to advance back to Pool A competition in 2004.)
Outlook: Based on Ehrhoff’s comments in an interview with Oliver Janz at Hockey’s Future, look for Ehrhoff to return to Germany for one last season, because it is unlikely he will crack the Sharks this coming season. (Ehrhoff said if he felt he had a legitimate chance to make the Sharks he would come over next season.) He could stand to further refine his game in the DEL, a league full of former NHL/IHL/AHL players, which should allow him to legitimately challenge for a spot with the Sharks in 2003, although it is likely that Ehrhoff will require some time in Cleveland. That said, Ehrhoff has the potential to be a solid two-way 3rd defenseman for the Sharks in the future. Ehrhoff has puckmoving abilities, defensive awareness, and is willing to play physically and at his size (6’2” 194 pounds, which he will likely add muscle to) he should make a difference in the future. It’s likely that, in the future, Ehrhoff will find himself on the second pairing with a defensive defenseman like Mike Rathje or Scott Hannan, and will play on the second power play unit, possibly with Rathje again.
Ehrhoff’s scoring pace with Krefeld was double what it was in 2000-01. The Sharks can only hope Ehrhoff builds off of a solid 01-02 season with a better 02-03 season. Krefeld still has to make its mark in the play-offs, after losing in the first round this season, so there are tangible goals for Ehrhoff and his teammates to work towards.
C- Marcel Goc
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While Christian Ehrhoff took off this season, Marcel Goc got stuck at the launching pad. (Not all German V2 rocket experiments were successes on their first attempts) On the financially struggling Schwenningen Wild Wings Goc only managed 11 points in 45 games. Interrupting his season with Schwenningen were the Division I World Junior Championships, which Germany won and Goc finished second in team scoring, behind Christian Ehrhoff, which was good for tenth among tournament scoring leaders.
Goc finished first on Germany in goals (seventh for the tournament), fifth in assists, second in shooting percentage (eleventh for the tournament) and third in plus/minus (tied for 20th in the tournament.) Goc was also one of the few players to score a shorthanded goal in the tournament, good for a tie for second place. Goc’s face-off percentage of 59.55 percent earned him tenth overall in the tournament, although he was fifth in face-offs for Germany at the tournament.
Goc’s face-off abilities are not limited to face-offs against players 20 and under, as his face-off percentage with Mannheim was 60 percent and 54 percent in his 45 games with Schwenningen.
A season-ending wrist injury did not allow Goc to play for Mannheim in the play-offs, in which Mannheim lost the championship to Köln. Goc has a valid contract with Mannheim that runs through the 2004-05 season and will be playing with his brother Sascha next season, as the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect (drafted by New Jersey) has decided to return to Germany.
Outlook: Goc, who was named as a reserve to the German Olympic team, but did not play, will definitely need to rebound after a less-than-stellar 01-02 season. The young German center is still among the Sharks’ top prospects and it is possible that in the future current Shark Marco Sturm and Goc will team together on what would likely be a 3rd line for the Sharks in the future. (Sturm and Goc together would require a Scott Thornton-like winger.) No doubt Marco Sturm could help mentor Goc as well, but that will only happen when Goc progresses to the NHL level, and that is not a certainty. Look for the Sharks to keep Goc in Mannheim for at least one more season and then bring him over to North America for some seasoning in Cleveland. (It is quite possible Ehrhoff and Goc will be brought over at the same time to aid them in their move to North America.)
G- Dimitri Pätzold
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Earlier during the NHL season, Stu Grimson wrote an article for The Hockey News titled “My Life on the Bench.” While Pätzold isn’t a fighting winger like Stu Grimson, he could offer a German goaltending version of the article to describe his season with Köln of the DEL. The seven games that Pätzold did appear in were not particularly noteworthy, although he could probably give a good analysis of Chris Rogles, the Kölner Haie’s (Cologne Sharks) starting goaltender. Köln won the DEL championship this year, but Pätzold did not appear in any of the games.
However, Pätzold’s season was not without one major highlight: the First Division World Junior Championships, in which Pätzold only gave up one goal in each of the games he played to help lead Germany to tournament championship, which promoted Germany to the top division for 2003. Pätzold finished the tournament tops in G.AA and also save percentage.
The young German goalie, who will be playing with Marcel Goc in Mannheim after recently signing a contract with the Adler, also made an appearance with Duisberg of the Zweite Bundesliga. (2nd Federal League) Pätzold’s games with Duisberg were good performances, and Duisberg could have used Pätzold the entire season, as the club was relegated to the Oberliga for the 2002-03 season following a dismal 01-02.
Outlook: Pätzold is among the top young goalies in Germany and will form a tandem with 22 year-old German Olympic goalie Robert Müller in Mannheim next season. The Sharks have many goaltending prospects, but Pätzold is not a prospect that should be overlooked by Shark fans. Given Warren Strelow’s ability to develop goalies for the Sharks, it is likely that if Pätzold were brought over to North America in the future, that he would develop into, at the least, a very good AHL goalie. One need only remember that Nabokov was brought out of relative obscurity from Kazakhstan over to North America. Pätzold is on the radar screen playing in the DEL. Pätzold also has a reasonable chance to continue to represent his country when he is older as well, perhaps even for Germany in the 2006 Olympics in Italy. (Although 22-year old goalies Müller and Markus Janka will likely be battling for Olympic spots in the future to, replacing the older guard of Kolzig, Seliger, and Kunast, as Klaus Merk before them has been replaced.)
Robert Jindrich, who not so long ago made a legitimate challenge for spot with the San Jose Sharks, but instead ended up in Kentucky and then Cleveland, returned to Europe this season. However, it was not back home to his old club of Plzen in the Czech Republic, rather it was off to Sweden to play for Timra in the Swedish Elite League.
Timra was hopeful that Jindrich would make an impact with the club, but as it turned out, Jindrich had a decent, but largely unremarkable season for Timra, the worst team of the twelve team Swedish Elite League. About the only things Timra had going for it was that Detroit Red Wing’s prospect Henrik Zetterberg played for the club. (Zetterberg is looking to play for Detroit next season.) Other Timra players North American fans may be familiar with are right wing Ed Ward and goalie Philippe DeRouville. Jindrich finished third in defenseman scoring (twelfth in team scoring) for Timra, although had he not missed seven games he might have led the team in defenseman scoring.
Outlook: Jindrich will have to do much better than he did this season to get another look from the Sharks or any other NHL team. Even the defensive depth charts of lesser NHL teams would likely be very difficult for Jindrich to crack and he would only serve as depth, meaning Jindrich can make more money in Europe playing in top elite leagues there, such as the Swedish Elite League. So unless Jindrich can put together some good seasons in Europe, his stint in North America will probably be limited to his experience with the San Jose organization.
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Pinc’s season started out on a disappointing note after failing to stick with Litvinov of the Czech Extraleague, and really only got worse as time went on. Pinc was assigned to Chomutov of the Czech First League, where he missed many games and did not play in the play-offs for Chomutov. Hockey’s Future Czech Republic editor Robert Neuhauser said in a correspondence that Pinc missed some of the 15 regular season games he missed due to injury, but many others, and during the play-offs, because he was a healthy scratch. Pinc had 16 goals and 46 assists for Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) along with 227 penalty minutes in 64 games in 2000-2001: now he’s a healthy scratch in the Czech First League.
Outlook: After two solid seasons for Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL, Pinc now faces a great deal of adversity/effort if he is to ever play in the NHL. At this point, he will have to first look to make become a regular for Chomutov, then a star for Chomutov, and then actually crack Litvinov and then try and attract the Sharks’ interest with some solid seasons there. Currently, Pinc would probably be assigned to the ECHL if he were in North America. (Considering Pinc’s struggles in Europe this past season, he may be more apt to accept a minor pro contract in North America in the ECHL or perhaps even the WCHL a la Rejean Stringer and Terry Friesen.) Pinc is a skilled player who can be aggressive, but often lacks intensity and he has a lot to prove to Chomutov, Litvonov, and the Sharks.
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Macho got off to a good start this season with Martin of the Slovakian
Extraleague, (top league in Slovakia) by averaging nearly a point per game. The Slovak center then represented Slovakia in the World Junior Championships, where he was the team’s best face-off man with a face-off percentage of 56%, taking nearly twice as many face-offs as any other Slovakian player. Macho was unable to score any goals though, and the Slovakian team finished 8th out of 10 teams, with only Belarus and France behind them. (France was relegated to First Division while Germany will advance to the top division)
Upon his return Macho missed a few games due to injury, but was able to return before the end of the season and help Martin avoid relegation to the Slovakian First League, finishing ninth out of the ten teams in the Slovakian Extraleague. Macho finished tied for 5th in scoring, but would likely have finished 4th in scoring had he played every game for Martin.
While Martin’s Extraleague team missed the play-offs, their Junior Extraleague team did make the play-offs, which Macho played for and led to a Slovakian Junior Extraleague championship. Macho recently signed a 4-year contract with the Slovakian Extraleague champions Slovan Bratislava.
Outlook: It’s probably safe to say that Macho will remain in Slovakia for a while, similar to former Shark prospect Michal Bros, who has stayed in Europe, but is a top player for Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraleague. (Bros is now property of the Minnesota Wild after an trade during the Expansion Draft, which allowed 2000-01 Calder Trophy winner Evgeni Nabokov to stay with San Jose.) Macho will remain a European prospect to continue to watch and for the Sharks to maintain on their European depth chart, but he probably will not be over any time soon.
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Jonas Forsberg, a journeyman Swedish goalie who played in Austria last season, played this season in the Norwegian Elite League for Valerenga, which dominated the NEL’s regular season. Forsberg’s regular season stats placed him 4th in the league in save percentage of the 11 goalies who played over 1000 minutes and 3rd in G.AA. Forsberg ended up injured part of the year, in which Tommy Lund filled in. Despite their extraordinary regular season, Valerenga was defeated by Storhamar in the play-offs, in which Forsberg played all four games, but not particularly well. The defeat was for Valerenga is especially tough, for as Lillehammer forward Glenn Detulleo said to me, Valerenga is the team in the NEL with the most money, as they are based in the favorable location of Oslo, the most populous city in Norway. Teams like Lillehammer only have 6 players who could be truly considered professional ice hockey players, as the rest of the players must hold down other jobs as supplement their ice hockey salaries. Valerenga is almost entirely professionals, and Jonas Forsberg was, coming into the season, one of the mostly highly regarded pros in the Norwegian Elite League. Inconsistency has plagued Forsberg’s career since juniors in Sweden, and after a decent season with Linz in Austria, this inconsistency appears to have resurfaced.
Outlook: It is unlikely that the Sharks will continue to maintain Forsberg on their European depth chart. Prospects like Marc Kielkucki, who played for the Dayton Bombers of the East Coast Hockey League and Dimitri Pätzold make Jonas Forsberg somewhat irrelevant/superfluous.
Thanks Go To:
Evan Andriopoulus: Hockey’s Future Norway Editor
Glenn Detulleo: HC Lillehammer forward (former Iowa State Cyclone scoring ace)
Oliver Janz: Hockey’s Future Germany Editor
Chapin Landvogt: Hockey’s Future Germany Writer
Tomas Egry: Hockey’s Future Slovakia Editor
Pekka Lampinen: Hockey’s Future Finland Writer
Robert Neuhauser: Hockey’s Future Czech Republic Co-Editor