Although San Jose’s drafts have been comprised largely of collegiate players in the past few drafts, the Sharks still had five prospects playing in major juniors this past season, with all five seeing action in the post-season as primary contributors.
The 6-2 205 pound Ryane Clowe was traded mid-season to the Montreal Rocket, enabling the native of St. John’s, Newfoundland to play in the post-season as Rimouski finished last in the Frank Dilio Conference of the QMJHL, while Montreal finished fifth in the Robert Lebel Conference to face fourth-place Sherbrooke in the playoffs. Montreal took the Castors to seven games, but lost Game Seven 5-4 in double-overtime, with no team winning on the road in the series. Clowe failed to tally in the first game, but managed three goals and seven assists in the final six games, placing the right winger second in Rocket playoff scoring behind draft eligible Cory Urquhart.
As reported by the Halifax Daily News, Clowe signed with San Jose last September to a three-year contract worth $400,000 a season in the NHL, and $50,000 in the AHL with a $200,000 signing bonus. Despite signing, Clowe returned for one final season in major juniors, despite turning 20 on Sept. 30, four days after he signed with the Sharks. Currently one of San Jose’s bigger forward prospects, Clowe’s future in the NHL will likely be as a fourth line checking winger who can chip in some goals. Known as a player with good hands and successful along the boards, Clowe also drops the gloves from time to time, and will be a solid addition to the Cleveland Barons roster next season, likely as a third-liner. While in Cleveland, Clowe will have to improve his acceleration and fine-tune his skating to play at the next level.
|Ryane Clowe 2002-03|
Jonas Fiedler entered the season as San Jose’s least-accomplished prospect in major juniors, but will enter the 2003-04 season on a higher note after a decent playoff performance for the Plymouth Whalers. The 6-3 177-pound Fiedler played most of the season on the third line, receiving only semi-regular shifts on the power play, tallying only seven goals and 21 assists in 63 games.
However, in the first round of the playoffs against seventh seed Owen Sound, Fiedler lit it up, scoring four goals and adding four assists as the Whalers swept the Attack in four games. Fiedler’s four-point performance in game three earned made him the First Star of the game. In the second round against the London Knights, Fiedler only tallied one goal and one assist, but the Whalers won that series after winning Game Seven 4-2. In the OHL Championships, the Whalers gave the Kitchener Rangers all the could handle, but lost the series with a Game Seven 1-3 defeat. The 18-year-old native of the Czech Republic managed three assists, two of which game in a 4-7 defeat in Game Six in which Fiedler was named the Third Star. With 14 points in 18 games, Fiedler found himself fourth in Whaler playoff scoring and third in plus/minus at a +4.
The Sharks drafted Fiedler in the third round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft based on what they perceived as a potential upside. Although Fiedler must work on his acceleration and speeed, and bulk up, the now 19-year-old Fielder was tendered an offer on May 30, showing the Sharks will sign the left winger. Even if Fiedler does sign the offer, because he was drafted out of the OHL, the improving Czech will still have to play one more season with Plymouth because he does not turn 20 before Dec. 31. One of San Jose’s project players from the 2002 Draft, Fielder has finally given reason for Shark fans to believe Fielder really does have an upside. That said, it still appears to be a tall order to expect Fiedler to make the NHL someday.
|Jonas Fiedler 2002-03|
Of all of the Sharks major junior prospects, the undrafted Josh Gorges probably had the most impressive season. Signed last September after impressing in training camp, the 6’0” 180 pound Gorges returned to Kelowna of the WHL Still only 18, having been passed up in the 2001 and 2002 Entry Draft, Gorges was an eligible free agent whom the Sharks pounced on. One of the WHL’s top offensive defensemen, Gorges missed 17 games with a torn MCL, the first major injury of the young blueliner’s career. Despite missing 18 games, one more while in San Jose for training camp, Gorges finished with 11 goals and 48 assists in 54 games.
The WHL playoffs saw equal success for Gorges, as the Kelowna Rockets followed up their regular season championship by defeating the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL championships in six games. Kelowna swept both Vancouver and Spokane in the first two rounds of the playoffs, in which Gorges tallied one goal and five assists, and named the First Star in Game One against Vancouver, scoring the one goal and two assists he’d score all series.
The Seattle Thunderbirds managed one victory against the Rocket juggernaut, while Gorges added four assists as Kelowna continued its domination. The second-place Rebels couldn’t contain Gorges, as the blueliner busted out for a power play goal and eight assists, including three on the power play. Gorges’ three-assist performance in Game One earned him the status of First Star, while another three-assist effort in Game Two saw Gorges deemed the Third Star of the game. In total, Gorges tallied three goals and 17 assists in 19 games, fourth in WHL playoff scoring, and second in power play assists at ten, total assists, and plus/minus at +17.
Kelowna’s WHL Championship earned them a spot in the Memorial Cup, but the Rockets were defeated by QMJHL champs Hull in their first game, and by Kitchener in their third game. Host-team Quebec kept it close, as the Rockets won by the score of 3-2 in Kelowna’s second game of the tournament. In the third-place game, Hull defeated the Rockets yet again 2-1, leaving the Rockets disappointed after a dream season in the WHL and the WHL playoffs. Gorges failed to tally any points, reflecting Kelowna’s difficulties in the CHL championship tournament.
Like Fiedler, Gorges will have to play 2003-04 in major juniors because of his age, but there is little doubt that Gorges will make an impact for the Cleveland Barons in 2004-05 as an offensive defenseman. Whether Gorges can make a push to play in the NHL someday will depend largely on how much more muscle the Kelowna-native can add to his thin frame. Gorges may play on a strong WHL team, but the assistant captain is not just a benefactor of playing on such a strong team, he’s a large part of what made the Kelowna Rockets such a good team. Defense-partner Tomas Slovak, a highly-regarded Nashville Predator pick, has credited Gorges in helping the Slovak blueliner steady his own game and meet his potential.
|Josh Gorges 2002-03|
Sarnia Sting center Kris Newbury was signed just before the June 1 signing-deadline, which would have made the 21-year old an unrestricted free agent. Instead, the Cleveland Barons get to look forward to one of the OHL’s top scoring threats this past season, as well as one of its scrappiest players. The 5-11 192 pound Newbury tallied 34 goals and 58 assists in 64 games for the Sting, placing the centerman ninth in OHL-scoring and eighth in assists, and eighth in plus/minus with a +36 rating. Newbury’s 149 penalty minutes earned him 26th in the OHL’s penalty minute totals.
The Sting finished third in the OHL’s Western Conference, but the Guelph Storm ended Sarnia’s postseason early in six games. Although Newbury’s postseason was disappointing from a team standpoint, Newbury continued to make his mark with four goals and four assists in 6 games, as well as 16 penalty minutes.
Where Newbury starts with Cleveland next season will depend largely on whether or not Brad Boyes or Marcel Goc, or both, make the Sharks in October. In all likelihood, Newbury will find himself centering the Barons third line, providing offensive spark and energy. At the AHL-level, Newbury will have to discipline his game some, and will likely become similar to current San Jose center Mark Smith, only with a little more offensive upside, but not quite as good defensively or on face-offs.
|Kris Newbury 2002-03|
Kootenay Ice center Tomas Plihal found himself unable to match his regular season scoring in this year’s playoffs. In Kootenay’s first series against the Kamloops Blazers, Plihal picked up two power play goals and three power play assists, all in the final four games of Kootenay’s 4-2 series victory. Plihal also managed to tally another assist on the power play in Kootenay’s first game in their series against the Seattle Thunderbirds, but Calgary Flames prospect goalie Brent Krahn was able to limit the Ice to only five goals in five games as Seattle took the series 4-1, including shutouts in Games Two and Three.
Plihal’s two goals and four assists in Kootenay’s 11 playoff games placed him fifth in team play-off scoring, third in playoff assists, and fourth in playoff penalty minutes with 18, as the 6-3 192-pound Czech continued his fine compilation of obstruction-type penalties.
Signed after the Sharks training camp in 2002, Plihal was assigned to his major junior team for another season, but should be in Cleveland for the 2003-04 season. Whether Plihal ends up playing center or not will depend on how he fairs in competition with other prospective Baron centers. Most likely, Plihal will end up a wing instead, with Boyes, Grant Stevenson, Newbury, Craig Valette, and Goc (yet to be signed) gaining the most consideration at center.
|Tomas Plihal 2002-03|
Craig Valette: The Sixth Major Junior Prospect
Center Craig Valette was signed April 4 after Valette’s playoffs with the Portland Winterhawks came to an end after a 2-4 loss in game seven to the Spokane Chiefs. The speedy Valette led the Winterhawks in all playoff scoring categories, highlighted by five goals and four assists and +3 rating. Danny Lapointe was second on the Winterhawks in playoff-scoring with five points, and only Atlanta Thrasher first round draft pick Braydon Coburn equaled Valette’s plus/minus. Even in a 3-4 overtime loss, Valette was named the Third Star of the Mar. 26 game with two power play goals and an assist. Known for his consistent effort, Vallette tallied a goal or an assist in every game of the series except the Winterhawks 8-3 Mar. 29 loss.
Valette finished third on a weak Winterhawk team with 30 goals and 26 assists in 71 games. Also known for his scrappiness, the 6-0 192-pound Valette’s 192 penalty minutes were only one penalty minute behind team-leader Matt Fetzner, and good for 21st in the WHL penalty minute standings.
Utilized on both the power play and penalty kill, Valette’s 10 power play goals placed him second on the Winterhawks, while his five shorthanded goals placed him first on Portland and ninth in the WHL.
Along with Boyes, Doug Murray, Tom Preissing and Stevenson, Valette attended a small fitness testing camp in mid-May, as none of the five players had been tested prior to the camp by the Sharks. Of the five, Valette has the least upside as longshot to make the NHL. However, Valette should provide the Sharks AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Barons, with a good fourth line/depth center next season as the Barons look to be well-stocked at center for the 2003-04 season.
|Craig Valette 2002-03|
* = Playoffs
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