Selecting a Czech and finding new faith in the QMJHL to address San Jose’s major needs at forward, the Sharks solidified their 2003 draft by adding additional Germans, USHLers, New England high schoolers, and its first 18-year old Swede in 10 years.
First Round — Milan Michalek: Buffalo Took Vanek
Although Austrian winger Thomas Vanek was the only prospect new general manager Doug Wilson mentioned by name leading up to the draft, Wilson ended up standing pat with the Sharks’ first pick of the draft and took Czech winger Milan Michalek with the sixth overall pick. The mention of Vanek led to speculation that Vanek was the prospect San Jose wanted with its first selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but the Sabres stood pat and selected Vanek with the fifth pick.
Michalek has drawn comparison to Ottawa Senators winger Martin Havlat, and even Dallas Stars left wing Jere Lehtinen, as a strong two-way player who can create plays. At 6-2 205 pounds, Michalek gives the Sharks a prospect with some much needed size, because entering the draft, the only Shark prospect forwards above 6-2 and 200 pounds were right wing Ryane Clowe and fighting winger Yuri Moscevsky.
Michalek is not known as a physical player, and could use his size more effectively to drive towards the net and get off shots, he can use his size to shield the puck some and succeed in the future in one-on-one battles. Michalek’s physical maturity, speed, and two-way play left many feeling that the Czech was the most NHL-ready player in the draft.
Michalek has represented the Czech Republic at the U-18 tournament twice, and the World Junior Championships this past season, putting up respectable numbers, but nothing close to Belorussian prospect Andrei Kastsitsyn, who was drafted with the tenth overall pick by the Montreal Canadiens. Also, Michalek’s limited production for Budejovice in the Czech Extraleague, in fact a decline from his rookie season, has created doubts as to Michalek’s offensive upside, and whether he really does have the offensive potential of Havlat, or is perhaps just a larger version of Marco Sturm.
Although Michalek may be the most NHL-ready prospect, he will be hard pressed to crack San Jose’s line-up this season with new additions and other prospects challenging for spots. That said, Wilson was happy with the pick: “This is a player that we really wanted to pick, a player who is very mature in his game and a player who brings something that this organization needs as it prepares to move forward.”
Those main things are speed, size, and a potential offensive upside. As a playmaker, the potential is there for Michalek to be setting up center Patrick Marleau in the years to come.
The Sharks traded up to get right winger Steve Bernier, sending the 21st, 66th, and 107th overall picks to the Boston Bruins for the 16th pick overall. At 6-2, 230 pounds, Bernier adds additional size that San Jose could use amongst its forwards on its prospect depth chart. As a big guy, Bernier is known for laying out some hits and using his size down low, but the Moncton Wildcat’s primary assets are his soft hands. With great stickhandling and a scorer’s touch, Bernier becomes San Jose’s most gifted sniper amongst its prospects. Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke called Bernier the most consistent player in the draft based on his game-to-game play and he “has great size and skill.”
Each rose has its thorn though, and Bernier’s was his conditioning. At the NHL Combine, Bernier scored very low in physical testing, which created a two-edged sword. A prospect with poor conditioning habits raises concerns of motivation and work ethic, but on the other hand, if Bernier could score 49 goals and 51 assists in 71 games, and pick up eight points in seven games for Team Canada at the U-18’s, what could he do in shape? TSN reporter Pierre Maguire noted during draft coverage that Bernier had reportedly already lost 10 pounds of fat since the testing in early June on a new conditioning regiment. However, in a press release at sjsharks.com, the Sharks’ official web-site, Burke maintains that Bernier has plenty of muscle and that the 18-year old Bernier just needs to lose some baby fat.
Another criticism of Bernier is that his first-step acceleration is poor, although this may be related to his poor conditioning as indicated by NHL Combine results. Bernier must also fine-tune his skating some, but Bernier has superior skating skills than Shark Jonathan Cheechoo, so at this point, all Bernier really needs to do is bring his conditioning up to standards. Once Bernier improves his conditioning, the Sharks can really see the caliber of power forward the team now has, and so badly needed. As a prospect drafted out of major juniors, Bernier will likely spend two more years in the QMJHL, as he is ineligible to play in the AHL until the 2005-06 season.
Second Round — Josh Hennessy: San Jose Trades Up Again
In order to select Josh Hennessy, San Jose acquired the 43rd pick from the New York Rangers for the 50th and 75th picks in the 2003 Draft. The selection of Hennessy helps add speed and skating proficiency to the Sharks prospect depth chart. Also considered a consistent performer, Hennessy compiled 33 goals and 51 assists in 72 games for the Remparts in 2002-03, second in team scoring. The Brockton, Mass. Native followed this up with six goals and nine assists in 11 playoff games.
Although, like Bernier, Hennessy will play two more seasons in major juniors, the swift-skating Hennessy projects to be a second line center for the Sharks, and continues a trend amongst the centers in San Jose’s future: speed. Patrick Marleau is one of the fastest skaters in hockey, while bit-center Mark Smith also has decent speed. Previously acquired prospects such as Marcel Goc, Grant Stevenson, Kris Newbury, Tomas Plihal, and Craig Valette all have good speed. Only Brad Boyes, acquired in the Owen Nolan trade, breaks this trend. However, Boyes has combination of playmaking ability and awareness not matched by San Jose’s other prospect centers.
Burke noted at sjsharks.com that the team had been following Hennessy for the past two seasons, probably even in Hennessy’s final season at Milton Academy, near Burke’s base of Boston, Mass, an area of the country where San Jose has selected many prospects since the 1999 Draft.
Second Round — Matt Carle: A Third Trade Forward
Entering Saturday, San Jose had six selections in the first three rounds of the draft, but after trading the 97th, 143rd, and 173rd overall picks to the Calgary Flames for the 47th pick overall, San Jose selected an outstanding two-way defenseman in Matt Carle. Carle, a native of Anchorage, was named the 2002-03 USHL Defenseman of the Year after a fine season with the River City Lancers, which also saw the Alaskan named to the USHL First All-Star Team and the USHL All-Rookie Team. The 6-0 190-pound Carle tallied 12 goals and 30 assists in 59 games, to finish fourth in defenseman scoring in the USHL, and third in the USHL with a +26 plus/minus rating.
At River City’s website, lancers.com, Carle said he was surprised to go so high, considering over 200 players were selected after him. Lancers head coach Mike Hastings noted San Jose talked trade with eight or nine teams in order to select Carle in the second round. This became a necessity after San Jose traded away its 50th pick to the Rangers to select Hennessy with the 43rd pick.
Carle is merely the latest defenseman in a developing line of overlooked, strong-skating, two-way defensemen that San Jose has been acquiring. Jim Fahey, a product of Northeastern University and St. Sebastian’s prep school (both in the Boston area), was the genesis of this Shark trend in 1998. Three years later San Jose selected German defenseman Christian Ehrhoff in the fourth round of the draft with the 106th pick overall, part of San Jose’s developing German contingency. Dan Spang continued the trend in 2002, when San Jose selected the Mass. native with the 52nd pick in the draft, much higher than where Spang had been projected by independent scouting services. Arlington, Mass. high school and Deerfield Academy product Tom Walsh, now at Harvard, is even less heralded, but still part of this trend. University of New Hampshire red-shirted defenseman Michael Hutchins also follows this trend, but will need to impress this season to remain a viable NHL long-shot prospect. Free agent acquisitions David Cloutier, Jesse Fibiger, Josh Gorges, and Tom Preissing are also further members of this trend.
Fahey has made the line-up, having displaced Jeff Jillson from the organization altogether. Ehrhoff and Preissing look to be the primary prospect to fill an open spot in the Sharks roster for 2003-04. Of the defensemen in this trend, only Ehrhoff, Cloutier, and Fibiger are over 6-0.
Carle has four years of college at the University of Denver before San Jose has to worry about signing him, which will give the organization time to see how its impressive crop of young defensemen develops. Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan and Fahey are already on the team, while Ehrhoff, Preissing, Doug Murray, Rob Davison, and Matt Carkner will make strong pushes again this fall. Other good prospect defensemen include physical defensemen Tim Conboy and Tero Määttä. Only a total failure in prospect development will result in San Jose having a poor blueline in the future.
4th round — Patrick Ehelechner: Das Lieblingsland die Sharks?
Patrick Ehelechner became the San Jose’s latest German draftee, a trend that had its genesis with the selection of Marco Sturm with the 21st pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. Selected with the 139th pick of the 2003 Draft, Ehelechner is a stand-up goalie with sound positioning and a good glove-hand, not unlike former Calder Trophy winner Evgeni Nabokov. Ehelechner has represented the German national team at U-17 tournaments, the U-18’s, and the World Junior Championships this past season in Nova Scotia, where Ehelechner earned Germany’s only victory, a 4-0 shut-out of Belarus, who featured a first line of Andrei Kastsitsyn, Konstantin Zakharov, and Vadim Karaga: all big-time scoring prospects.
Not just part of a German-trend, Ehelechner adds a little size to San Jose’s goaltending corps at 6-2, filling much of the net despite weighing only 175 pounds. In many regards, Ehelechner continues San Jose’s move away from flopping goalies such as Steve Shields, no doubt highly influenced by former teammate Dominik Hasek. Compared to Nabokov and Kiprusoff, the only goalie prospect San Jose has the scrambles much at all is Vesa Toskala, who can not be described as a true flopping goalie.
Receiving only limited ice-time the past two season in Germany with the Hannover Scorpions of the DEL, Ehelechner will see his first season of intensive duty in 2003-04 with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, which selected Ehelechner with the sixth pick in the CHL Import Draft. Ehelechner had discussed a move to Canada on his own website, ehelechner.com after his DEL season, in which he had to deal with four different head coaches during the 2003-04 season.
The 2003-04 season should prepare Ehelechner for life as a future starter in the AHL, and potentially the NHL later. Rarely utilized in the DEL, the 50 to 60 games Ehelechner could play during the regular season will provide the young German with a real challenge: consistency over an entire season. Ehelechner’s conditioning will be tested for a change this season.
7th round — Jonathan Tremblay: Attention Jody Shelley
When Brad Stuart missed the final 21 games of the season due to a concussion suffered from a series of sucker-punches from Columbus Blue Jacket pugilist Jody Shelley, it became evident that the Sharks needed somebody to stick up for teammates. Ordinarily, Stuart could stand up for himself, but not this time. On Saturday of the draft, San Jose traded the 163rd pick to the Colorado Avalanche for fighter Scott Parker. The next day San Jose looked towards this need in the future when the team selected Acadie-Bathurst Titan right winger Jonathan Tremblay.
Considered the best pure fighter in the QMJHL, Tremblay racked up 232 penalty minutes in the QMJHL last season, only 22nd in the league. However, great fighters don’t have a long list of willing combatants. While Tremblay can trade punches, he still is a major project as far as hockey skills are concerned. Skating is Tremblay’s primary need for improvement, as all skills in hockey are effected by one’s skating proficiency. Tremblay tallied only one assist last season in 62 games, as most starting goalies in the QMJHL equaled or surprassed Tremblay’s offensive “production.”
While Shelley may have been the inspiration for the acquisition of Parker and the drafting of Tremblay, Parker and Shelley at least had modest production in major juniors. Even former Shark fighter Craig Coxe put up good numbers in minor pro hockey with the Witchita Thunder later in his career.
Scott Parker addresses San Jose’s fighting needs now, Cleveland Baron Yuri Moscevsky provides a potential pugilist as well, and with a major investment in power skating lessons, perhaps Tremblay will pick up the fighting legacy in San Jose started by loose cannon Link Gaetz.
7th round — Joe Pavelski: Another USHLer in the Fold
Carle was San Jose’s first USHLer of the draft, and Waterloo Blackhawk center Joe Pavelski became the Sharks second USHLer of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft with the 205th pick. Pavelski was named the USHL Rookie of the Year, as well as to the USHL First All-Star Team and the USHL All-Rookie Team after compiling 36 goals and 33 assists in 60 games. The Wisconsin native led the Blackhawks in all offensive categories during the regular season, including registering a +26 rating, helping Waterloo win the USHL’s East Division handily and regain some of the respect Blackhawk hockey had lost with poor seasons in recent years.
Pavelski also led Waterloo in nearly every offensive statistical category in the playoffs with 5 goals and 7 assists in seven games. Only Pavelski’s +6 rating failed to top the team, but was good for second.
The former Stevens Point High School stand-out forward has committed to the University of Wisconsin, but will return to Waterloo for one more year of Tier I junior hockey. Pavelski possesses excellent awareness, great hands for scoring goals and creating plays, and a dedication to hustle and effort in all three zones. However, Pavelski’s speed could use some improvement, and is one prime reason why the best Blackhawk of 2002-03 will return to juniors.
While Pavelski isn’t in San Jose’s mold of speedy centers, he is similar to Brad Boyes in his awareness and offensive touch. San Jose has five years to let Pavelski develop in the USHL and then the WCHA with Wisconsin.
Pavelski joins not only Carle, but also 2002 selections Conboy and Hutchins as products of the USHL in the Sharks’ system.
7th round — Kai Hospelt: Operation Sharkarossa
Drafted with the 217th pick overall, German center Kai Hospelt became the latest addition to the Sharks’ stable of Germans, readying them for an eventual invasion of the NHL. Hospelt is speedy German center from the Cologne Sharks’ system, who led the German Junior League (DNL) in scoring in 2002-03 with 41 goals and 47 assists in 32 games, a few less games than most other top DNLers. The 6-1 187-pound Cologne native also played 21 games for the DEL Cologne Sharks, adding two assists in limited action. During the 2001-02 season, Hospelt tied for the league-lead in scoring with 51 goals and 55 assists in 40 games, while also having a six-game stint with the DEL Sharks, tallying one assist.
One of Germany’s top young forwards, Hospelt shined at the Division I Group A World Junior Championships for Team Germany, tallying a tournament-leading seven goals in five games along with three assists. Hospelt’s ten points placed him second in tournament scoring behind Denmark’s Martin Nielsen, a Dane playing in Sweden in Malmo’s system. Despite Hospelt’s performance, Denmark edged out Germany to take the tournament title and advance to the top level IIHF U-18 tournament in 2004.
Hospelt also played for Team Germany at the World Junior Championships in Nova Scotia, playing a defensive role for the German team despite his regular assignment of producing offense. To his credit, and the Sharks’ notice, Hospelt bought into the defensive system and did the best he could, which Burke claims helped sell the Sharks on Hospelt.
Still only 17 until August, Hospelt also represented Germany’s U-18 team as a 16-year old in 2002, playing all eight games as Germany finished tenth in the twelve team tournament in the top division, but still faced relegation to the First Division. Hospelt failed to score, but it did mark the beginning of the German’s appearance on the international scene.
The 2003-04 season should see Hospelt up with the Cologne Sharks for the entire season, although the German is hoping to attend the Sharks’ training camp in September according the Junior Sharks’ website junghaie.de. Unlike fellow German Shark forward prospect Marcel Goc, Hospelt has yet to make an impact in the DEL. However, cracking the perennially strong Cologne Sharks roster is a feat in itself. Cologne teammate Markus Kink did not opt into this year’s draft, but don’t doubt that Sharks scouts will consider drafting Kink in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, or possibly even ERC Selb (Öberliga: German third tier hockey) defenseman Frank Hordler to continue the German stockpile.
8th round — Alexander Hulth: Ten Years in the Making
With the 236th pick overall, San Jose selected its first Swedish prospect since Mikael Samuelsson was selected in 1998 with the 145th pick. However, unlike, Samuelsson, Hulth is not an established over-age prospect, making Hulth the first Swedish 18-year old drafted since goalie Jonas Forsberg in 1993. If the Sharks are fortunate, Hulth will follow in Samuelsson’s foot-steps, and not the footsteps of the ailing-back Forsberg.
Unlike Hospelt, Hulth has not represented Sweden at the U-18’s, or the WJC’s, but Hulth has had a decent young career with the HV 71 system. This past season Hulth finished fourth in HV 71’s Junior-20 team with 11 goals and 14 assists in 24 games. Had Hulth played in every game, he may have led the team in scoring, as the 6-2 205-pound center had the best points-per game average of all players who played over ten games. Hulth also made his first appearance in the Swedish Elite League for HV 71, just one game, as well as a five-game loan to Tranas of the Allsvensken League (Swedish second tier).
Hulth gives San Jose a center with some size, as well as a good work ethic and attitude, which translates into a solid two-way forward. Known as a decent drawman, Hulth projects as a solid second or third line Swedish Elite League or AHL center, but this development could take a few years. An extreme longshot to make the NHL, Hulth’s size and work ethic, mixed with some talent, gives reason for long-term hope.
9th round — Brian O’Hanley: Back to Boston
San Jose returned to Burke’s favorite breeding grounds with the 267th pick: Boston. O’Hanley, a defenseman for Boston College High School, led the Catholic Conference scoring as a defenseman with 22 goals and 21 assists and was named the conference’s Co-MVP with teammate Matt Greene. For the 2003-04 season, O’Hanley will attend Salisbury Prep, meaning the young defenseman will have five more years to develop before San Jose has to make a decision to sign him.
9th round-Carter Lee: Who?
San Jose returned to New England with its final selection in the draft, selecting Canterbury High School’s Carter Lee with the 276th pick overall. Despite Burke’s reassurance that Lee scored a fair number of goals for the Connecticut prep school in the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association’s Western Conference, he’s a relative unknown. Canterbury does have a claim to hockey fame in US Olympic goalie Mike Dunham, and current Shark Niko Dimitrakos comes from the same prep school league, playing for Avon Old Farms. Former Sharks Rich Brennan, Doug Friedman, Sean Haggerty, and notably Craig Janney and Jeff Norton, also are alumni of the NEPSIHA.
Lee still has one more year remaining at Canterbury, but Lee’s college plans appear to still be up in the air, as he is yet uncommited to a college.
O’Hanley and Lee are only the latest additions in a growing list of United States High School East draft selections by the Sharks. This trend began in 1998 with the selection of Jim Fahey in the eighth round from St. Sebastian’s. Mark Concannon of Winchendon followed in 1999 as a third round pick, who hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a third-round pick. Center Tom Cavanagh was selected in 2001 out of Phillips Exeter, and 2002 saw right wing Mike Morris (St. Sebastian’s), Spang (Winchester), and Walsh (Arlington HS) selected.
Plenty of other players with New England ties have been selected in recent drafts as well: Jeff Jillson (Rhode Island-native); Willie Levesque (Northeastern University, Mass. native); Dimitrakos (University of Maine, Avon Old Farms, Connecticut native); Murray (New York Apple Core: EJHL); Jon DiSalvitore (New England Wolves: EJHL), Hutchins (University of New Hampshire, New Hampshire native); and Hennessy (Milton Academy, Mass. native). One might point out that New England produces a lot of good hockey players, and while that’s true, since 1999 San Jose has selected a seemingly inordinate number of New Englanders, while drafting no Russians, (Kazakh-born German goalie Pätzold notwithstanding) and only nine players from major juniors.
Drafting in the Jeffersons’ Style: Moving on Up
San Jose entered the 2003 NHL Entry Draft with 15 picks, but ended up selecting 11. The Sharks did maintain their four picks in the first two rounds, trading up for the final three picks of the first day to get Bernier, Hennessy, and Carle. Burke said at sjsharks.com that Sharks got who they wanted in the first two rounds, but missed out on one guy in the mid-rounds because of the trades on the first day. However, Burke also said, “I’d rather miss in the middle rounds than in the first or second.”
The compensatory pick for Theo Fleury, the 66th overall pick, was traded to the Bruins, who selected left wing Masi Marjamaki out of Red Deer of the WHL. Stephane Matteau’s legacy will live on, as San Jose selected Hospelt with the compensatory pick allocated by the NHL for Matteau’s signing with Florida.
Overall, San Jose addressed some major needs in its prospect system: size, speed, offensive upside, and a fighter in Tremblay. The 2003 Draft was San Jose’s most diverse draft in years, as three QMJHL prospects (one from the United States), two USHL prospects, two German prospects, two New England high school prospects, one Czech, and one Swede were drafted.
San Jose’s selections from the “Q” were a turn in events, as the team had selected no QMJHLers since Clowe in 2001, and only seven in team history. Previous selections from the “Q” have had modest (understatement) results, headed by Slovak Miroslav Zalesak and incoming Baron Ryane Clowe. The other “Q” selections in Shark history include: Eric Bellerose (1992), David Thibeault (1996), Eric Laplante (1998), Eric Betournay (1999), and Michal Pinc (2000). However, Laplante was the highest drafted QMJHLer by the Sharks, taken in the third round, so it should not take much for Bernier and Hennessy to continue raise the Sharks’ opinion of the QMJHL as a source for prospects, as the team prefers to select its netminders from Germany instead of the traditionally strong QMJHL.
The Lone Russian Returns
The Sharks made other announcements leading up to and at the draft, including the return of Alexander Korolyuk to the Sharks after spending a season with Kazan in the Russian Super League. Korolyuk, one of the top offensive players in the RSL, had a falling out with head coach Vladimir Plyuschev, and was left off of Russia’s World Championships team by Plyuschev in favor of younger Russian forwards. These developments no doubt aided San Jose in re-signing the restricted free agent to a reported two-year contract. For the first time since the Darryl Sutter’s reign in San Jose began, Korolyuk was spoken of in positive terms when Doug Wilson said in an Associated Press release, “We’re pretty pleased to get him back because of our need for speed and talent.” Wilson did qualify the optimism saying Korolyuk still has “things he needs to work on.” Such things can probably be summed up by saying defense, but Korolyuk has a scrappiness to him and may be best off left doing his own thing buzzing around the ice with Marco Sturm as his fellow winger helping defensively.
German Takeover Enters Second Phase
Although scooped by Hockeyweb.de in their announcement, San Jose announced the signings of Ehrhoff and Pätzold to contracts and that the team is working on coming to terms with Goc. The Pätzold signing comes as a surprise, and leaves the status of prospect goalie Nolan Schafer in doubt, as well as two-year Baron Seamus Kotyk and ECHLer Marc Kielkucki. San Jose also still finds itself with one-too-many NHL caliber goalies with Nabokov, Kiprusoff and Toskala. Ehrhoff is expected to challenge for a spot in San Jose. Pätzold will likely find himself in Cleveland of the AHL after the goalie situation is resolved.
Finn Will Not Play for Fins This Season
Doug Wilson also mentioned that Määttä will spend another season in Finland for the Espoo Blues. The Finn finished the 2002-03 season on a high note after a couple disappointing seasons while fulfilling his military duties to his country. The announcement may bode well for restricted free agent Jesse Fibiger, who could have been the odd man out in Cleveland had Määttä been brought over. San Jose may still opt for somebody other than Fibiger, but the smooth skating two-way defenseman was a stabilizing force during an injury ravaged 2002-03 season for the Barons who did get a cup of coffee with the Sharks. Justly or unjustly however, Rob Davison won over coach Ron Wilson while Fibiger received less ice-time than the national anthem singer.
Prospects: The Gathering
On June 25 the Sharks announced that a team of Shark prospects will compete in a tournament at the Health South Training Center in El Segundo, Cal. The tournament at the Los Angeles’ Kings training facility will start Sept. 2 and will last four to five days with a team of prospects from the Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, and Anaheim Mighty Ducks also participating. The Shark team will likely be comprised of incoming prospects from college, major juniors and Germany, some current Barons, as well as prospects scheduled to play in major juniors this season, along with possibly Määttä, Hospelt and Hulth from Europe.