The 2002 NHL Entry Draft was certainly an interesting one for the San Jose Sharks, headed by GM Dean Lombardi and Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke
With seven picks in the draft, the Sharks chose five players from the US, a highly unusual route. In 2000, the Sharks went with a rather unusual theme, selecting Marcel Goc, Christian Ehrhoff and Dimitri Patzold, all out of Germany. In 1999, the Sharks went with the college theme, selecting Jeff Jillson, Willie Levesque, and Niko Dimitrakos. So far, both of those “theme drafts” have turned out positive for the Sharks.
Whether or not the high school theme of 2002 will enjoy the same success is impossible to tell from the outset.
Name: Mike Morris
Draft Spot: 1st Round: 27th Overall
Position: Right Wing
Size: 6’1” 185 pounds
CSS Final Rank: 57th among North American Skaters
Last Year’s Team: St. Sebastian High School (Massachusetts.)
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While there is no doubt that the selection of Morris is an intriguing one, it is important to note that Morris is not 2002’s version of Teemu Riihijarvi. Morris is a player with a good upside, and while many didn’t predict his selection until the second or third rounds, in this draft we saw many such players chosen earlier than expected.
Morris led St. Sebastian High School last year in all statistical categories, and was fourth in the Independent School League in scoring. In addition, he was his team’s captain, and won the MVP award in route to winning the ISL Championship for the second year in a row. Next season he will be attending Northeastern University, a college that has been the home of former Shark draft picks Jim Fahey and Willie Levesque, both of whom graduated last year and will likely play in Cleveland of the AHL next season.
Something the Sharks often look for in their draft picks are players who raised their stock throughout the course of the year, and Morris did exactly that. At CSS’s midterm ranking, Morris was ranked only 101st, raising his rank 44 spots.
Morris likens his game to that of Chris Drury of the Colorado Avalanche. Drury was also drafted out of high school, attending four years at Boston University before debuting with Colorado in 1998. Morris will likely follow the same route before making the jump to the NHL.
In some ways, Morris is somewhat reminiscent of former Shark fan-favorite, Jeff Friesen. Morris is a very quick skater, who gets to full stride very quickly. One of his best qualities is his ability to snag the puck away from opponents when they let it slip from their stick for only a second. He gets to full speed in only a couple strides, and once he does, is very hard to catch up to. He is also very good at getting the puck on net, not firing it wide, resulting in a turnover. He knows how to make a play, and is always aware where his help is on the ice, often resulting in the goalie falling out of the play.
Morris is also an excellent penalty killer and a very good two-way player, a skill that is a must under San Jose’s system of play. At only the first stage of his young career, he already possesses many of the assets of a NHL player, but must refine everything, which four years at Northeastern should accomplish. He has shown the desire and dedication to his game, now it’s a matter of expanding and improving.
Name: Dan Spang
Draft Spot: 2nd round, 52nd Overall
6’0” 205 pounds
CSS Final Ranking: 62nd among North American Skaters
Last Year’s Team: Winchester High School (Massachusetts)
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The Sharks traded up eight selections to select Spang, who only played six games last season because of a car accident in which he suffered a misdiagnosed concussion. In those six games, however, he had quite an impact, scoring 17 points and spending 14 minutes in the penalty box. His final ranking by CSS was 62nd, which raised 14 spots, despite not playing during that time.
Obviously by trading up to select Spang, they felt he would no longer be available by their own 60th pick, using a fifth rounder to move up. It is interesting to note, that despite only playing six games, Spang was the most recruited player out of high school last season, selecting Boston University to go to college at.
“This is a special player that you take a chance on,” said Burke. “If everything was equal and he played a full season, we probably don’t get the guy.”
While not an imposing force just to look at him, Spang is one of the strongest players you’ll come across. He is very aggressive on the rush, but yet at the same time, understands that he is a defenseman. However, Spang could beswitched to one of the forward positions next season. Next year will obviously be key for him to see how he rebounds from a season of hockey he would probably rather forget.
There is no doubt that Spang would have been looked upon much differently had he played a full season. His injury scared several teams off from selecting him earlier, but Spang could easily prove many teams wrong with a strong year next season. Many have listed Spang as an early favorite to win the Hockey East Rookie of the Year, and have listed him as a possible sleeper pick if he develops as Boston University expects.
Name: Jonas Fiedler
Draft Spot: 3rd Round, 86th Overall
Position: Left Wing/Right Wing
Size: 6’2” 175 pounds
CSS Final Rank: 74th among North American Skaters
Last Year’s Team: Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
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The Sharks traded up again in the third round, seven spots, to select Fiedler. He played his first season in North America last season, coming from the Czech Republic to play for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. San Jose’s again followed their trend of drafting players who raised their stock, as CSS ranked him 74th on the final ranking, up from his mid-term ranking of 149th.
Last year Fiedler was trying to find his way in a new country, a new league, a new rink, and an entirely new life. This no doubt contributed to a slow start to his season where he struggled in every aspect. However, as the season progressed he improved, earning more time in crucial situations. Perhaps it is his perseverance that was most impressive to his season, being the only player on the Whalers to play all 68 contests.
Fiedler is a player that uses his size to his advantage, but needs to bulk up. He’s a strong skater with a good stride, and knows how to get the puck to the front of the net. He plays well on both ends of the ice, but needs to get better at getting from Point A to Point B without losing the puck in the process.
Fiedler will have a chance to continue his improvement next season, as the Whalers stand to lose a few players, but yet much of the core of their team will remain the same. His most important off-season chore will likely be to pick up at least ten pounds in the upper body, allowing him to gain position easier. If he can continue the improvement he started this season, he can raise his stock. He will be watched closely at camp in September.
Name: Kris Newbury
Draft Spot: 5th Round, 139th Overall
Size: 5’10” 200 pounds
CSS Final Ranking-142nd in 2000 CSS Final Ranking
Last Year’s Team: Sarnia Sting (OHL)
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Of the seven players the Sharks drafted, it would not be surprising to see Newbury be the first of the group to wear a Sharks sweater. He could see Cleveland as early as next season and will likely be playing for a spot on the roster at training camp.
If he fails to make the Cleveland roster, he can still return to the OHL for one more season playing as an overage player, but given several departures, necessity may send him to Cleveland anyway.
The Sharks seem to have a trend of taking a chance on a guy in the fourth and fifth rounds, and they kept that trend alive this year. Newbury can score in bunches in the OHL, but there have been questions as to whether or not he can transfer his skills to a NHL rink. He could perhaps be compared to players such as Mark Smith, who were able to score in junior hockey, but then adjusted their game at the NHL level.
Newbury is a very good skater, with good speed, and good agility. He was the leading scorer for Sarnia last season, and fourth in the league. He’s not afraid to stick up for his teammates when needed, and is good in his end of the ice.
The chances of him scoring anything close to what he scored in the OHL is slim, but he could find himself playing on a third line in a couple years if he learns to use his body, and adjust his game in the right ways.
“We look at him as a good, two-way center who can score and grind,” said Burke. “He will stick up for his teammates. He’s an intense player who has improved every year in the OHL.”
There’s no doubt that Newbury has the skills to play professional hockey. What remains in question is whether the skills he possesses will be able to be used at this level. If he plays in the AHL next season, several answers could be known quickly.
Name: Tom Walsh
Draft Spot: 5th Round, 163rd Overall
Size: 6’0” 190 pounds
CSS Final Ranking: 149th among North American Skaters
Last Year’s Team: Deerfield Academy (High School- Massachusetts)
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With their second selection in the fifth round, the Sharks went conservative (as conservative as you can given this draft anyway) and selected Tom Walsh, a defenseman out of Deerfield Academy, a program that has developed several NHL players.
Walsh is a defenseman that is responsible in his own end, and is a very good passer. He is excellent at moving the puck out of his own end and pushing it forward, however, he struggles at containing players in the corners and along the boards. If he can learn to use his body better to get players off the puck, he could find a niche for himself.
Luckily for Walsh, he will have time to develop these skills, since the depth of the Sharks defense wouldn’t allow him a spot for quite some time anyway, and he likely will have four years of college eligibility to complete first. He is a perfect example of a player that we will have no clue as to his future for a minimum of a couple years.
Name: Tim Conboy
Draft Spot: 7th Round, 217th Overall
Size: 6’1” 205 pounds
CSS Final Rank: 146th among North American Skaters
Last Year’s Team: Topeka Scarecrows (USHL)
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In the seventh round, the Sharks traded up to acquire Conboy by trading their seventh round draft pick next year and their eighth round pick this year. Tim Conboy is a frightening presence back on defense. He led the USHL last season in penalty minutes, and was one of the most feared hitters.
Conboy doesn’t have much offensive upside, as he is content at staying at the redline and wait for the play to come to him, then flatten forwards who get near him. His skating is average, but he is solid positionally, and if players allow themselves to get into the open ice, they can be assured to be flattened in short order.
Something the Sharks liked about Conboy is something he’ll need to adjust before making the next step in his hockey career. He is reckless on the ice, hitting just about anything that moves, but that has cost his team several penalties. While the Sharks like his willingness to use his body, he will need to learn to play smarter and pick his chances.
Conboy will spend next season at St. Cloud State.
Name: Michael Hutchins
Draft Spot: 9th Round, 288th Overall
Size: 6’0” 195 pounds
CSS Final Rank: 103rd among North American Skaters
Last Year’s Team: Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
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Hutchins isn’t unlike Conboy in that he’s a physical defenseman who likes to play the body, and isn’t all that concerned with offense. Hutchins does have good passing ability, and can move the puck out of the defensive zone well though.
“We never thought he’d be there; had him rated in the fourth round,” said Burke of picking him so late.
Whether he’ll live up to the hype of being a fourth round pick remains to be seen, but he is another player who’s stock rose as the year progressed. At the midterm rankings he was ranked 146th, and raised his position 43 points in only a matter of months.
He has a long way to go before making it to the NHL, but given the Sharks’ success in the ninth round over the past, perhaps he has the best chance out of any of the seven.
It is easy to look at the 2002 draft for the Sharks and wonder what in the world they were thinking. However, given the success that Lombardi has had in his tenure with the Sharks, it is hard not to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“If you stay away from a kid because he’s only playing in high school, you’d pass on Brian Leetch, you’d pass on Mike Richter, Chris Drury, Tony Amonte, and Jeremy Roenick” said Lombardi of raised eyebrows over so many high school players selected.