Space Opens Up For Shark Prospects: Let the Games Begin

By Kevin Wey

San Jose Sharks General Manager Dean Lombardi was busy the week leading up to the trading deadline earlier today, dealing away their captain, a defenseman who laid out big open-ice hits for five seasons, a defenseman acquired earlier this season for Shark workhorse defenseman of over seven seasons, and a young scrappy right wing drafted by the Sharks in 4th round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft


The Trades

March 5: The Sharks trade captain Owen Nolan to the Toronto Maple Leafs for center Alyn McCauley, prospect center Brad Boyes, and a 1st round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

March 8: Defenseman Bryan Marchment is sent to the Colorado Avalanche for a 3rd round pick and a 5th round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

March 11: Right wing Matt Bradley is traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for center Wayne Primeau.

Defenseman Dan McGillis is traded to the Boston Bruins for a 2nd round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Prospects Getting a Chance

Through trades and injuries, the Sharks have had a few prospects get their chance with the big club. The chances started first with Niko Dimitrakos being recalled Feb. 10, although fellow Cleveland Baron Miroslav Zalesak was expected to be recalled, but injured a hip. Zalesak missed the rest of the Barons’ Feb. 7 3-2 overtime-loss to the Rochester Americans. In 10 games with the Sharks Dimitrakos has tallied four goals and earned four assists playing mostly second-line duty. The former Maine Black Bear missed the Sharks’ Mar. 9 games against the Dallas Stars with an injured leg suffered blocking a shot against the Phoenix Coyotes the night before.

The next Baron to be recalled was defenseman left wing/center Chad Wiseman on Mar. 3, while Owen Nolan, Scott Thornton, and Mike Ricci all questionable due to injuries. When recalled, Wiseman was one of four Barons to have played in all 63 games, compiling 15 goals and 29 assists, good for second on the team in points behind Jeff Nelson and Niko Dimitrakos at the time. (Zalesak has since passed Dimitrakos and Wiseman.) The six-foot 205-pound Wiseman is a speedy winger who can contribute in all areas of the ice, and has the physique to manage the NHL’s board battles and physical play. In four games with the Sharks, wearing number 49, Wiseman did not tally any point, but did manage to earn respectable ice-time levels in his final three games: 11:35 vs. Montreal, 9:23 vs. Phoenix, and 9:58 vs. Dallas. Wiseman is a player who could fill in on the 4th line full time if needed next season, but Wiseman is back down in Cleveland, sent back down on Mar. 10.

Shortly after Wiseman was recalled, defenseman Jesse Fibiger was recalled on Mar. 5. The defensive-defenseman had compiled three goals and 11 assists in 59 games in his second AHL campaign, missing a few games while he represented Team Canada in the Sweden Hockey Games in the second week of February. Fibiger made his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens in the Sharks’ 4-3 win, picking up limited ice-time as Brad Stuart and Jim Fahey were out with concussions. The 24-year old defenseman did not play in the Sharks’ next game (Mar. 8, 6-4 come-from-ahead loss to Phoenix) but was re-inserted into the line-up against Dallas as Marchment was traded after the game. Wearing the number 53, Fibiger, a 6-3 220-pound defenseman, will have Shark fans doing double-takes.

Cleveland lost its captain to the Sharks Mar. 6 when Ryan Kraft was recalled for his second NHL stint this season by the Sharks. Kraft, who has 13 goals and 22 assists with the Barons in 43 games, was up with the Sharks in late Nov. and early Dec, when he played five games, earning one assist against St. Louis in his second NHL game. This time around, Kraft played in the Montreal game and the 0-3 Dallas loss, in which Kraft logged 10:28 minutes of ice-time, his highest game-total to date. Number 41 (Kraft) was sent back down to Cleveland Mar. 10 with Wiseman, giving the Barons a fair portion of their offense back. Kraft, a diminutive 5-9 185-pound 27-year old center, continues to provide quality depth for San Jose and scoring punch for the Barons.

Like Dimitrakos, another casualty of the Phoenix game was Dan McGillis, who was sucker-punched in the back of the head by former Shark 1st round pick Andrei Nazarov. McGillis missed the Dallas game with a concussion, which prompted the Sharks to recall 1998 4th round draft pick Rob Davison. Davison, a 6-2 220 pound physical defensive defenseman, recalled Mar. 9 and made it in time for the Sharks’ game against Dallas. In his NHL debut, Davison picked up 12:11 minutes of ice-time. With Brad Stuart still out with a concussion, Davison continues to find himself in the line-up, as he and Fibiger will battle to be the Sharks’ 6th defenseman for the rest of the season, as fellow Barons John Jakopin remains out with post-concussion syndrome and Matt Carkner is out rehabbing a torn ACL. The 22-year old Davison, wearing number 38, is known for his hitting as well as his willingness to drop the gloves. Known as a hard-working player, Davison could crack San Jose full-time because the Sharks could use a fighter, even though Fibiger is the better all-around defenseman. In the final year of his three-year NHL entry-level contract, Davison will give it his all to return to the organization.

As Wiseman and Kraft were returned, Slovakian winger Miroslav Zalesak was recalled Mar. 10 to make his NHL debut against the St. Louis Blues. Zalesak, the Barons top goal-scorer with 27 goals in 50 games, (along with 22 assists) will attempt to convince the Sharks to keep him as well, as he’s in the third-year of his NHL entry-level contract like Davison. Should the 23-year old Zalesak impress, the Sharks could find themselves with a delightful dilemma: too many good forward prospects. One difference between Zalesak, Dimitrakos, and Wiseman, is that Zalesak is a bit slighter at 6’0” 185 pounds, and there concerns whether he’ll be able to battle through NHL checks and board battles. Number 46 (Zalesak’s number) is now getting his chance after nearly three seasons of AHL development, having developed into a consistent AHL scorer.

Looking Towards 2003-04

The composition of the Sharks is still in the air, as Vincent Damphousse, Teemu Selanne, and Adam Graves are all players with player options who could be unrestricted free agents. Ryan Kraft is the only Group II restricted free agent who may not return, as Kraft could fetch a higher salary in Europe, likely in Germany. (Switzerland is another high-paying alternative) Other Group II free agents are Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm, Mark Smith, and Miikka Kiprusoff.

Goaltending 2003-04

There is no reason to believe Evgeni Nabokov will not be the starter again next season for San Jose. Back-up is in the air, as Vesa Toskala will likely pick up the MVP award for the Cleveland Barons this season, aided by the fact many Barons have been injured and/or recalled by San Jose for periods of time. That said, while David Cloutier currently remains as the only Shark-contracted defenseman in Cleveland, Toskala and back-up Seamus Kotyk deserve a great deal of credit for any win Cleveland earns. Kiprusoff is a Group II free agent, and it is possible that San Jose won’t re-sign their back-up of 2002-03. The 26-year old Finn will have to finish the rest of 2002/03 strong in order to fend the 25-year old Toskala.

Also potentially joining the Cleveland fold is Providence college number 1 goalie, who fended off freshman Bobby Goepfert down the stretch for the Friars. If Kotyk is with the Barons again next season, Schaefer will face a tough battle. It’s possible that Cleveland will have Toskala, Kotyk, Schaefer, and Marc Kielkucki to choose from next season. On the other hand, Toskala could always choose to return to Finland if he doesn’t nab the Sharks’ back-up spot. Or, Kiprusoff or Toskala could be dealt. (There were rumors leading up to the trading deadline that San Jose was shopping Kirpusoff: obviously there were no takers this time around.) At this point, it looks likely that Cleveland will feature Kotyk and Schaefer, with Kielkucki in the ECHL again. German goalie Dimitri Pätzold will likely remain in Germany for further development with the Eagles of Mannheim.

Defense 2003-04

Barring no further acquisitions over the summer, the Sharks’ defense could be quite young next season as Christian Ehrhoff now has a spot opened up; his for the taking as Marchment and McGillis were dealt at the deadline. (Mike Rathje, Kyle McLaren, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, and Jim Fahey have firm holds on the top five spots) College grad Doug Murray could also challenge for a spot with the Sharks next season, however, assuming Ehrhoff nabs the sixth spot, conventional wisdom is that the Sharks send Murray to Cleveland to start off 2003/04. (And, quite possibly, like Fahey, Murray could find himself in San Jose sooner rather than later.) The battle for seventh will be fierce, between veteran John Jakopin, Jesse Fibiger, Rob Davison, and the rehabbing Matt Carkner. The outlook is favorable for Davison at least returning to the organization next season.

David Cloutier will be back in Cleveland and could easily be joined by Finnish defenseman Tero Määttä. Määttä has seen an increase in playing time recently with the Espoo Blues, and the added confidence heading into another summer of training may make now the perfect time for San Jose to bring the 21-year old 6’1” 215-pound Finn over. Angel Nikolov and Pasi Saarinen will likely remain in Europe (Finland), while Josh Gorges plays one more year for Kelowna in the WHL, and Tim Conboy, Dan Spang, Tom Walsh, and Michal Hutchins remain in college hockey. (Well, here’s hoping Hutchins plays next season for UNH, it looks favorable.)

Center 2003-04

Damphousse, who also plays some left wing, is viewed as a long-shot to return next season, as the Sharks appear to officially be in the rebuilding zone, although the youngsters give reason for optimism.

If Teemu Selanne can be convinced to not bolt for Anaheim, or some other destination, the chances of Patrick Marleau having a successful season increase greatly. If not, Marleau could find himself in the odd spot of being a leader at forward for the Sharks. Mike Ricci was not dealt at the deadline, so, unless he is traded over the summer, Ricci should return. Alyn McCauley plays center and wing, and his poor face-off percentage may doom him from playing center for San Jose. Mark Smith should return as the 4th line center next season, although it’s possible he could have an expanded role.

San Jose also has two major challengers next season: Brad Boyes and Marcel Goc. Boyes is an intelligent center with good awareness at both ends of the ice, a good work ethic, and good hands, who could wind up as the Sharks second or third line center next season. On the other hand, Goc, who will be 20 next season, could also find his way onto the Sharks line-up. Goc is a good all-around player; probably a slightly inferior version of Marco Sturm. The German is quite young though, despite having played against many NHL vets since he was 16 years old, and his awareness and maturity could land him a spot on the roster. Boyes will be 21 next season, but Goc’ transition to North America could actually be eased by remaining with German prospect Christian Ehrhoff for mentoring by Marco Sturm. (Darth Vader might say,”It’s Goc’ destiny.”)

Kraft may or may not return to the Sharks organization. If Kraft does not return, then there’s an emphasis on keeping Jeff Nelson for next season. Scrappy OHL scoring-ace Kris Newbury should also join the fold next season in Cleveland, and should not be underestimated or ignored. Chad Wiseman can play both left wing and center, and prospect Tomas Plihal is a center, although it’s difficult to know if he’ll maintain this position in Cleveland his first year or move to a wing. Graig Mischler will likely round out the field at center for San Jose next season.

Slovakian Michal Macho is enduring his most frustrating season in Slovakia, after going from a major piece with Martin to a 4th-liner with Slovan. The time may be right to bring Macho over and start the two-way center out in the ECHL to regain his confidence for recall to Cleveland later as injuries and suspensions will happen in San Jose, which affect Cleveland, as well as Cleveland itself.

Tom Cavanagh will be in his junior year at Harvard next season and continue to make an impact there.

Wings 2003-04

Why doesn’t each wing have it’s own category? Because many of San Jose’s forwards can play all sorts of positions.

Exhibit A is Marco Sturm, who can play all three. Hopefully Sturm will form San Jose’s first line with Marleau and Selanne next season. (Barring major acquisitions in the summer.) Scott Thornton should return as San Jose’s premier power forward, while Dimitrakos looks set for the second line. Alexander Korolyuk could return as well, which would add speed and offensive creativity to the Sharks’ line-up. As noted above, McCauley could easily find himself on a wing next season, as will Jonathan Cheechoo and Todd Harvey on either the third or fourth line. It’s possible that Adam Graves will return to San Jose, but the author doesn’t view it as probable, as younger, cheaper Sharks are doing well. Recent acquisition Wayne Primeau will also likely find himself on the third or fourth scoring line.

Primeau is another player who could end up at center as well, but he’ll have to battle hard to win down a spot at center. Although Primeau was compilmented by Ron Wilson as a defense-oriented center before the St. Louis game, his team leading –30 for Pittsburgh suggests his effectiveness as a defense-oriented center is suspect. That said, Primeau found himself subjected to all 70 Pittsburgh games before his trade, although fellow center Kent Manderville was a –16 in 70 games, although with less ice-time as the 4th line center. Regardless, Primeau will get a fresh start with San Jose, at either center or wing.

“Waves Upon Waves of Demented* Avengers…”: Then comes Miroslav Zalesak, Chad Wiseman, Lynn Loyns, and possibly Eric Laplante to battle for a spot/spots as well. Loyns is a speedy left wing who’s a tenacious player committed to forechecking and backchecking, but not a major scorer in Cleveland, let alone the NHL. Laplante is a pesky player, willing to fight, but also known for taking stupid penalties. That said, San Jose has no fighters in the line-up, unless Davison cracks the line-up, and it’s unlikely that San Jose hopes Scott Thornton reverts back to his Montreal days. Like Zalesak, Laplante is in his third year of his NHL entry-level contract, so, he may not be with the organization next year.

Cleveland will be strengthened by the addition of Jon DiSalvitore and Ryane Clowe, and of course Plihal may find himself on a wing. Established Barons who should return are Pat Rissmiller and Willie Levesque. Scott Thomas and Tavis Hansen’s status is unkown, as the Sharks may chose to stock Cleveland with mostly prospects, and not as many veterans players. (San Jose has many prospects that could fill these spots.) Yuri Moscevsky will return to fighting duties and attempt to develop the rest of his game and it’s possible (the author finds hopeful) that Mark Concannon will be signed to add depth for Cleveland. Concannon is a strong player physically who is good along the boards and has a certain level of natural leadership, which would be useful for a young Baron team, even if Concannon is technically a rookie next season.

Meanwhile, Mike Morris will hold down the fort in Boston for Northeastern in his sophomore season at right wing, while Jonas Fiedler will attempt to climb from above the third line in Plymouth of the OHL.

And of course, San Jose finds itself with plenty of draft picks in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, which will only add more players to the list.

*Does not imply that Zalesak, Wiseman, Loyns, or Laplante are demented, merely playing off of a lyric by Roger Waters in Pink Floyd’s song “Sheep.”