Free agency is in full swing for the San Jose Sharks, as ten restricted free agents remain to be signed, including a few Shark prospects, joining a shrinking list of prospects yet to be signed. The following is a report on prospects only.
Patrick Marleau: Signed
Patrick Marleau headlined Shark news on July 11 with the announcement that the 23-year-old center, already entering his seventh NHL season. The 6-2 210 pound center, who turns 24 Sept. 15, tied for the team-lead in goals last season with 28, and finished third in team scoring with 57 points as one of five Sharks to appear in all 82 games. The Sharks official website, sjsharks.com reports that the deal was for two years at around $2.4 million per season, which will currently places Marleau fifth on the Sharks payroll.
Among the fastest players in the NHL, Marleau has yet to establish himself as a consistent offensive threat. Unlike many NHL centers, Marleau appears to be more talented at finishing than creating plays, and as the Sharks likely first line center, the Saskatchewan native will have to continue to improve his face-off efficiency, which was at 47 percent last season and in 2001-02.
Marleau also represented Team Canada at the World Championships in April, where the speedster played some left wing as well as center, picking up only four assists in nine games, but also sporting a 59 percent face-off efficiency.
2002-03 Salary: $1,800,000
2003-04 Min: $1,980,000
Reported Deal: ~$2,400,000
Marco Sturm: Signed
Not known as a premier goal-scorer, Marco Sturm’s 28 goals tied him for first on the team in goals, although the German’s point total of 48 was not so surprising. The speedy 6-0 195 pound Sturm, known for his two-way play, was signed July 15 and will likely find himself on the first line again this year with Patrick Marleau and either Alexander Korolyuk or Niko Dimitrakos.
Known as a leader by example, Sturm will be called upon to mentor the Sharks’ young
German prospects, with the potential of Christian Ehrhoff and Marcel Goc seeing time in the NHL this season. Despite his goal total for the 2002-03 season, Sturm is not a true sniper nor a great playmaker, but a forward with speed and awareness who could be confused for any number of the Minnesota Wild’s playoff performers this year.
2002-03 Salary: $1,300,000
2003-04 Min: $1,430,000
Alyn McCauley: Signed
Acquired in the Owen Nolan trade, Alyn McCauley chipped in three goals and seven assists in his 16 games with the Sharks. Despite scoring 15 points in 20 games for Toronto in the 2002 Playoffs, McCauley found himself again as a fourth line forward, although receiving more time as injuries mounted in Toronto this year. Receiving nearly five more minutes of ice-time with San Jose at 17:29, McCauley responded as one of the Sharks’ best forwards down the stretch with his solid effort, awareness, and subtle playmaking abilities. Signed July 15, McCauley could be a bargain second line center who has more speed than the aging Vincent Damphousse and every bit as effective offensively and defensively.
2002-03 Salary: $951,700
2003-04 Min: $1,046,870
Despite his limited agility, Jonathan Cheechoo established himself as a checking winger throwing his body and chipping in nine goals and six assists. After a slow October, the 6-1 195-pound Cheechoo often found himself a scratch in November, and was assigned to Cleveland Nov. 22. After three goals and four assists in nine games with Cleveland, Cheechoo was recalled in mid-December. In his last 50 games, Cheechoo scored eight goals and tallied six assists, establishing himself as a third-liner for the Sharks down the stretch.
With Korolyuk re-joining the team, depending how things pan out, Cheechoo may find himself on the fourth line to start the season, but the Sharks do have a checking forward who can chip in offensively with his soft hands around the net while he attempts to improve his skating.
2002-03 Salary: $800,000
2003-04 Min: $880,000
Mark Smith: Signed
After two seasons in the AHL, a split season, and two full seasons with the Sharks, Mark Smith will still find it an uphill struggle to crack the Sharks everyday line-up in October. Marleau and Mike Ricci will certainly find themselves ahead of Smith, and the second line center could be Damphousse or McCauley, with Wayne Primeau battling Smith for the fourth line center spot. Despite having the Sharks best face-off average at 57 percent, and playing in 75 games last season, Smith, re-signed on July 15, may find himself as a depth center for San Jose.
Known for his decent speed and scrappy play, the 5-10 200-pound Smith tallied four goals and 11 assists averaging 9:20 of ice-time, all respectable numbers for a fourth line center in the NHL. Despite Smith’s satisfactory season, linemate Matt Bradley was traded for Smith’s potential replacement in Primeau, with it being quesitonable whether Primeau is really or an upgrade or was even really needed.
2002-03 Salary: $467,500
2003-04 Min: $514,250
Miroslav Zalesak: Signed
Previously listed as a 6-0 185 pound right wing, the Slovakian winger is now listed at 200 pounds, which, if true, could go a long way in helping Miroslav Zalesak mount a challenge to crack the Sharks line-up in 2003-04.
Zalesak, re-signed July 15, went a long way in establishing himself offensively in the final year of his three-year entry-level contract with 27 goals and 22 assists in 50 games with the Barons last season. Recalled by the Sharks Mar. 10, after returning from a hip injury that cost Zalesak an early February recall, Zalesak scored a goal in his first game against the St. Louis Blues going upstairs on Brent Johnson. In 10 games with the Sharks, Zalesak tallied one goal and two assists, averaging 9:27 in ice-time.
While with the Sharks, Zalesak showed a willingness to forecheck and battle for the puck, but often lost these one-on-one battles and had difficulty fighting through the checks of the NHL. Gifted with soft hands, Zalesak will have to add muscle (and perhaps he has) in order equal the performance of fellow Shark Niko Dimitrakos.
If assigned to Cleveland, Zalesak will provide the Barons with 184 games of AHL experience and find himself on the first or second scoring lines. Long-term, the 23-year old Zalesak is a long-shot to become an everyday NHLer, but could easily become a top offensive performer in a European elite league and possibly representing his native Slovakia in the World Championships and European tournaments.
2002-03 Salary: $510,000
2003-04 Min: $561,000
Scott Hannan was one of San Jose’s only two constants on defense this season, with Mike Rathje as the other. Averaging over 24 minutes of ice-time per game, Hannan’s offensive totals increased to three goals and 19 assists in 81 games. Called upon to team with rookie defenseman Jim Fahey after the Northeastern grad out-competed former first rounder Jeff Jillson, Hannan did the best he could on a blue-line without Marcus Ragnarsson (traded), Brad Stuart (injuries), and with Rathje altering his game to become more involved offensively. Down the stretch, with Stuart falling to injury again and Bryan Marchment since traded, Hannan routinely logged over 26 minutes of ice-time.
As the San Jose ownership attempts to keep the payroll below $40 million, Hannan would not be out of bounds looking to nearly double his salary from 2002-03. With Doug Wilson as the new general manager, it is hoped that a holdout can be avoided and Hannan is signed before training camp.
2002-03 Salary: $770,000
2003-04 Min: $847,000
Rob Davison: Signed
In the final year of his entry level contract last season, the 6-2 225-pound Rob Davison found himself as the Barons fourth or fifth defenseman entering the season before injuries ravaged the team. With only two goals and 10 assists in 184 AHL games, Davison was recalled by the Sharks Mar. 9 with then-Shark Dan McGillis out with a minor concussion to play against the Dallas Stars. The physical defensive defenseman never looked back, scoring a goal and adding three assists in 15 games while averaging 17:53 minutes of ice-time.
Known for his work ethic, defensive awareness and physical play, Davison will need to improve his speed in order to win the seventh defenseman spot over primary challenger Matt Carkner, who tore his ACL playing for the Barons in a Jan. 18 match against the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. At 6-4 230 pounds, one of the Barons assistant captain last season, Carkner found himself as one of the Barons top three defensemen last season and may find himself ahead of Davison come October.
The 23-year old Davison was rewarded with a qualifying offer and his signing announced July 11. Details of the contract were not announced.
2002-03 Salary: $450,000
2003-04 Min: $495,000
The 25-year old Jesse Fibiger may have represented Team Canada at the Sweden Games last season, but he still lost out in the eyes of Sharks coach Ron Wilson last season, as Davison was called upon over Fibiger at the end of the Sharks season. The former BCHLer and University of Minnesota-Duluth grad enters his third season with the organization with 138 games of AHL experience and 16 NHL games under his belt. Despite being recalled before Davison on Mar. 5, Fibiger ended up averaging only 6:04 of ice-time with the Sharks.
Despite possessing superior skating and stick skills than Davison, Fibiger will be hard pressed to crack the Sharks line-up in 2003-04 with incoming prospects such as Christian Ehrhoff, Tom Preissing, and Doug Murray, as well as Davison and Carkner, likely to get nods first. However, the 6-3 220 pound Fibiger should provide Cleveland with a good two-way defenseman as one of the team’s top four defensemen.
2002-03 Salary: $445,000
2003-04 Min: $490,000
A veteran of 208 AHL games over the course of four seasons, the 6-2 215-pound Robert Mulick has only accumulated eight assists, with no goals. Despite Mulick’s limited contributions on offense, his work ethic and leadership earned him a qualifying offer from the San Jose Sharks to return to the organization for a fifth season. Not a threat to crack the Sharks roster, the former captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) should return to Cleveland as the sixth or seventh defenseman.
Salary information not available
Miikka Kiprusoff: Signed
Called upon as the starting goalie to begin the season with Evgeni Nabokov holding out, Miikka Kiprusoff had a horrible start to the season with fellow Finn Vesa Toskala impressing in October before Nabokov returned to action Oct. 27. Despite his disappointing performance, Kiprusoff remained in San Jose, but did not get his season on track until 3-0 shutout against Vancouver Jan. 11.
The damage to Kiprusoff’s stats was done though, finishing with a .879 save percentage and a 3.25 goals against average. Missed the final eight games of the season with a knee injury, with Toskala once again impressing in net. In a market saturated with capable NHL goalies, Kiprusoff’s trade value is low. Signed July 15, the odds of Kiprusoff returning to Finland are now low, and San Jose may sport three goalies to begin the season, as it is unlikey that Kiprusoff or Toskala will be assigned to Cleveland with Seamus Kotyk and Dimitri Pätzold signed.
2002-03 Salary: $800,000
2003-04 Min: $880,000
Not Tendered Qualifying Offers
Conspicuously absent from Cleveland’s team list at its website, clevelandbarons.net, Eric Laplante is no longer in the Sharks’ plans after completing the third year of his entry-level contract. After Cleveland head coach Roy Sommer tired of Laplante’s lack of discipline, the left winger was, for all intents and purposes, released three games before the end of the season. A willing fighter who racked up penalty minutes in the AHL, Laplante never came close to matching his offensive numbers compiled in the QMJHL.
Has the upside to be a physical, pesky depth player for a NHL team, but would have to undergo a Mike Keenan-type tutelage in order to achieve this potential. At this time, Laplante’s future in pro hockey is up in the air, as he would not be a typical addition to any European elite league team, even in the more physical DEL. Look for Laplante to land in the ECHL in the meantime.
A former teammate of Fahey and fellow Baron Willie Levesque at Northeastern University, the 6-3 205-pound Graig Mischler will not return to Cleveland after two seasons as a third and fourth line center. Had an unlucky start to the season, as Mischler’s jaw was broken early in the Sharks’ training camp. Aside from a glut of incoming Shark prospects, Mischler’s demise in the Shark organization may have came after he failed to step up on an injury ravaged Barons team as the season went on. Aside from a hat trick Nov. 27 against Syracuse, Mischler’s season was quiet, with 12 goals and 24 points in 67 games, almost mirroring his production from his rookie season in the AHL in 2001-02.
The former collegiate standout could still warrant some attention from other NHL teams for his size and the fact his skill level is certainly of AHL caliber. The possibility does exist that Mischler could land in Europe, especially in Germany, where players of his type often go.
Signed as a free agent from the Air Force Academy, where the 6-4 200-pound Marc Kielkucki earned the 2000-01 College Hockey America Player of the Year Award, the young goalie never managed to make his way out of the ECHL. Still actively serving in the Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base to fulfill his five-year service requirement after graduation, Kielkucki has not been able to concentrate solely on hockey.
After putting up decent numbers for the Dayton Bombers in 11 games his rookie season, his second season with the Cincinnati Cyclones yielded mediocre results with a 9-9-2 record, a .896 save percentage, and a 3.30 goals against average. Kielkucki’s options remain limited due his service to his country, but the Minnesota native does appear to be a capable back-up goalie in the ECHL, who’s main importance to the Sharks became his inclusion on the Sharks unprotected list for the Waiver Draft last October.
Germans Advance West
After signing Ehrhoff and Patzold, center Marcel Goc was signed July 11 to complete the trifecta of German draft picks from 2001. Goc has an outside shot at landing a spot in San Jose, but will likely be assigned to Cleveland to acclimate himself further with the North American game. Similar to Marco Sturm in his maturity, Goc does not have Sturm’s elite speed, but is a good skater nonetheless. Turning 20 in August, Goc already has four years of DEL experience, first with the weak Schwenningen Wild Wings, and later with DEL powerhouse Mannheim.
Goc should find himself as the center of the Barons second line as his discipline should help him in a battle with Kris Newbury for ice-time in Cleveland.
Sharks Conclude Mini-Camp
The Sharks held a mini-camp for 18 prospects July 9 through the 12, with Saturday’s session open to the public. Onlookers were impressed with Milan Michalek’s skill, Doug Murray’s physical play, and re-assured that Steve Bernier’s skating is not a problem. Of note, Cleveland Baron fighter Yuri Moscevsky took exception to some defensive play by defenseman Tero Määttä slashing the Finn and knocking him unconscious for five minutes. Määttä was assisted by the training staff off the ice and was sporting a neckbrace afterwards.
Eighteen prospects made the trip, but noticeably absent were the unsigned Jon DiSalvitore and Nolan Schaefer, both of Providence College. DiSalvitore, if signed, should compete for a spot on the Barons’ second line, while Schaefer would provide great ECHL insurance in case Cleveland needs a goalie due to injury or recall. Highlighting this possibility was the fact second-year AHLer Seamus Kotyk was at the mini-camp, because if Kiprusoff is in Finland, Kotyk is one injury away from a recall.
Traveling Shark fans will have the opportunity to watch the Sharks prospects play again in the Los Angeles Kings’ prospect tournament between the prospects of the Sharks, Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks Sept. 2 through the 6 at the HealthSouth Training Center in El Segundo.
Notes: Correction on Määttä incident as he was not carried off on a stretcher as earlier reported.
Jesse Fibiger and Miikka Kiprusoff included after mistakenly being edited out. Alyn McCauley and Mark Smith also included.
Recaps on unrestricted free agents Teemu Selanne, Adam Graves, Mark Messier, John Jakopin, Ryan Kraft, Tavis Hansen, Jeff Nelson, and Scott Thomas are available via e-mail by e-mailing Kevin Wey.