Sharks: Training camp preview, forwards

By Kevin Wey

With Owen Nolan and Teemu Selanne names of the past, San Jose will call upon young veteran forwards and young prospect forwards alike to steer the Sharks back into the playoffs this season.

The Veterans

Heading up San Jose’s list of veteran forwards are Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm. Marleau and Sturm both scored 28 goals playing in all 82 games last season and will be counted upon to increase their production. P>

Likely to join Marleau and Sturm on the first line is returning Russian Alexander Korolyuk. The speedy winger played last season for Kazan of the Russian Super League and finish fourteenth in league scoring with 14 goals and 17 assists in 46 games. Known for also playing a scrappy game, Korolyuk’s defensive awareness has been questioned in the past, meaning the Russian will have to convince coach Ron Wilson he’s committed to the defensive zone.

The second line will likely feature Alyn McCauley, Vincent Damphousse and a right wing to be determined. Acquired from Toronto in the Owen Nolan trade, McCauley had 10 points in 16 games as well as a face-off efficiency of 50 percent. Damphousse will turn 36 in December and despite finishing second on team scoring with 23 goals and 38 assists in 82 games, the veteran center is slowing, meaning a switch back to left wing may be in the cards. Damphousse, who still boasted a 51 percent face-off efficiency, started his career at left wing and would provide the second line with a secondary face-off presence if McCauley does center the second line.

Last season San Jose’s exemplary third line faced problems, as Mike Ricci battled a herniated disc in his back while Scott Thornton was limited to 41 games due to various injuries. The visibly less effective Ricci will hopefully be back to his normal gritty self, while the Sharks would love to see Thornton return his 26-goal 2001-02 performance. Who will join Ricci and Thornton as the third line’s right wing is also in the air.

One likely candidate is 23-year-old Jonathan Cheechoo, who scored nine goals in 66 games last season, but also proved to be a hard-hitting winger. Despite limited agility, Cheechoo was one of the few Shark forwards initiating heavy contact last season. With limited skating ability, Cheechoo may fall to the fourth line though.

Scrappy forward Todd Harvey, who had only three goals in 76 games last season could battle for a third line spot if he returns to his pre-Sharks form when Harvey put up decent numbers with Dallas and the New York Rangers in his first five seasons. However, with a $1.3 million contract, Harvey is the most likely veteran forward to be exposed by San Jose in the waiver draft.

Trade deadline acquisition Wayne Primeau finds himself a likely candidate to play on San Jose’s fourth line. Acquired to add size up the middle at 6’3” 220 pounds, Primeau’s 45 percent faceoff efficiency in his seven games with San Jose puts him well behind Shark center Mark Smith’s team-leading 56 percent. The scrappy Smith may find himself on the outside looking in however, as the fourth line could include a prospect, Primeau and right wing Scott Parker.

Parker, acquired at the draft to add an enforcer to the team, will be called upon to improve his game to be utilized as a true fourth line player. The 6’5” 225-pound Parker scored only one goal and three assists in 43 games for Colorado last season, averaging just over six minutes of ice time per game.

The Challengers

Heading San Jose’s list of challengers is right wing Niko Dimitrakos. Recalled in February after establishing himself as an AHL All-Star in his first pro season, the 5’11” 200-pound Dimitrakos managed six goals and seven assists in 21 games: reasonable numbers for a potential second line right wing.

Although not a headline acquisition during the summer, Swedish winger Nils Ekman is also a candidate to play on the second, third or fourth line. Acquired from the Rangers for prospect forward Chad Wiseman, the 5’11” 185-pound winger led the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL in scoring last season, after finishing second in team scoring for Djurgarden in Sweden during the 2001-02 season. During the 2000-01 season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ekman scored nine goals and 11 assists in 43 games for a weak Bolt line-up. Mixed with his scrappiness, Ekman could be a surprise contributor in San Jose this season.

In his fourth season in the Sharks organization, Slovakian right wing Miroslav Zalesak finally enters a season as a strong candidate to crack San Jose’s opening night roster. Having demonstrated his soft hands at the AHL level, the 6’0” 200-pound Zalesak displayed tenacious forechecking in his NHL recall last season. If Zalesak can display improvement in his ability to fight through traffic and win one-on-one battles, he will have a strong chance to crack San Jose’s third or fourth lines.

Making San Jose’s line-up to begin the season last year was left wing Lynn Loyns. The speedy Loyns played 19 games for San Jose last season, although with limited offensive contribution besides a two goal performance against Los Angeles Nov. 5. Known as a good forechecking winger, Loyns could find himself as a depth forward to start the 2003-04 season.

Center Marcel Goc, already impressing at the Prospect Tournament in El Segundo, may be on his way to cracking the Sharks line-up in 2003-04. The 20-year-old German is known for his good awareness, strong skating abilities, decent speed, and faceoff prowess. The Sharks first round pick in the 2001 Draft could pay NHL dividends in 2003, after playing in the German Elite League since he was 16.

Czech winger Milan Michalek, a prospect of even higher profile than Goc, could also crack San Jose’s line-up less than three months after being drafted with the sixth pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Like Goc, Michalek has a strong sense of awareness, good speed, and strong passing skills. Although Michalek may have a higher offensive-upside than Goc long-term, Goc appears to currently have more adept at creating offense. At 6’2” 205 pounds, Michalek has a size advantage over all other challenging forwards and could find his way onto the third or fourth line.

The final legitimate challenger is AHL All-Rookie Team member Brad Boyes. The 6’0” 181 pound Boyes has good two-way awareness, like Goc and Michalek, but does not have their speed or size. The 21-year-old center will have to impress with his playmaking skills if he is to crack San Jose’s line-up, but appears more likely to be Cleveland’s first line center to start the season.

Should enough of these challengers impress in training camp, veterans Harvey, Primeau and Smith could find themselves on the way out.

The Rest

One of three Barons to play all 80 games last season, veteran right winger Tavis Hansen leads “the rest.” Hansen will be relied upon as the veteran leader of Cleveland’s corps of forward, scoring 23 goals and 21 assists last season.

Rookie professional Jon DiSalvitore was signed with San Jose late in the summer, but still enters the 2003-04 season as a strong candidate to play on Cleveland’s second or third lines. Known for his strong two-way awareness and decent speed, DiSalvitore was named Providence College’s Team MVP last season as well as a Walter Brown Award finalist as one of the top New-England born NCAA DI collegiate players. The 6’1” 190-pound DiSalvitore scored 19 goals and 29 assists in 36 games for the Friars last season and should impress at the AHL level this season.

Another strong collegiate prospect is center Grant Stevenson. Signed last April by the Sharks after his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota-Mankato, Stevenson brings to Cleveland speed, an offensive touch and a touch of scrappiness. However, the 5’11” 180-pound WCHA First Team All-Star pivot will have to add size before cracking the NHL. Finishing fifth in the NCAA DI scoring last season with 27 goals and 36 assists, the 22-year-old (in October) will likely provide the Barons with some offense as well.

After earning a contract at camp last season as a free agent out of Holy Cross, Pat Rissmiller continued to surprise when he stepped up for an injury-ravaged Barons team with 14 goals and 26 games in 72 games. With a strong rookie AHL season, Rissmiller could find himself anywhere from Cleveland’s first or third line, depending on what line combos coach Roy Sommer decides upon. The lanky 6’3” 205-pound forward could earn a call-up during the season though if San Jose finds itself with injury problems.

Having already bonded with fellow Czech Milan Michalek, forward Tomas Plihal comes to Cleveland on the strength of a 35 goals 42 assist season in the WHL with Kootenay. Picking up a lot of obstruction calls with Kootenay, Plihal will need to give a more consistent effort to impress in the AHL. Plihal’s good hands complement Michalek’s passing abilities, and a second line of Michalek-Goc-Plihal isn’t out of the question for the Barons to start the 2003-04 season.

Maritime prospect Ryane Clowe looks to had size, physicality and a good set of hands to Cleveland. Clowe signed last September, but returned to juniors to put up 26 goals and 49 assists in 60 games in the QMJHL last season. A mid-season trade to the Montreal Rocket reduced his production slightly, after starring for the weak Rimouski Oceanic, but Clowe’s reward came in the form of a playoff appearance, in which the 6’2” 205-pound winger scored three goals and seven assists in seven games. With his size, ability along the boards, and willingness to occasionally drop the gloves, Clowe figures to be Cleveland’s “power forward” for 2003-04.

Portland Winterhawks center Craig Valette did not figure to be a major signing when he was added April 4, but the 6’0” 200-pound center has already made an impact. After impressing with his speed, scrappiness and tenacity, Valette appears to have made Sarnia Sting center Kris Newbury expendable, as the Sharks released the 5’11” 195-pound pivot Sept. 10. Scoring 30 goals and 26 assist for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL last season, Valette’s production was far less than Newbury’s 34 goals and 58 assists. However, Valette’s five goals and four assists for a weak Portland Winterhawks team in the WHL playoffs could be cited as the beginning of an ascent for Valette, who’s quite similar to Lynn Loyns, only scrappier.

Likely to find himself on Cleveland’s fourth line this season is second-year right wing Willie Levesque. Levesque came out of college as a player similar to former Shark Ulf Dahlen in his ability along the boards, two-way awareness and a strong work ethic. Last season with Cleveland, the 6’0” 210-pound Levesque managed only four goals and five assists in 64 games, far from Dahlen-like. A return to health and an improve Barons roster should help improve Levesque’s production.

Rounding out San Jose’s forward corps is fighting forward Yuri Moscevsky. The 6’3” 220-pound left winger compiled 172 penalty minutes in 65 games for the Barons last season, with only one goal and two assists. Signed as a free agent last season, Moscevsky will have to show an ability to contribute more offensively to challenge Scott Parker as San Jose’s enforcer of choice.

Back to Juniors

Steve Bernier entered training camp as San Jose’s highest rated major junior player. Despite disappointing at the Prospect Tournament, the 6’3” 228-pound Bernier is still expected to be a leading scorer in the QMJHL for Moncton and potentially a member of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship team. Blessed with great hands, Bernier still needs to improve his first step quickness and commitment to defense.

Josh Hennessy, an 18-year-old QMJHLer like Bernier, may not have Bernier’s size at 6’0” 190 pounds, but Hennessy can fly. Hennessy’s game draws from his speed and skating ability, along with a decent set of hands. However, the Massachusetts native does need increase his commitment to defense and reduce his tendency to circle and glide. With two seasons of major juniors left before he can play AHL hockey, Hennessy should be able to round out his game after a decent prospect tournament.

With a qualifying offer on the table, Czech winger Jonas Fiedler can sign at any time with the Sharks. The 6’3” 180-pound Czech saw primarily third-line action for Plymouth this season with 28 points in 63 games. Despite his modest regular season production, Fiedler managed 14 points in 18 games in the playoffs, meaning San Jose’s project third round pick from the 2002 Draft does have some upside.

Taken in the seventh round of this year’s draft was Acadie-Bathurst Titan right wing Jonathan Tremblay. With one assist in 62 games, Tremblay will not be confused with Mario Lemieux, Alexandre Daigle, or even Yannick Tremblay. Considered the premier fighter in the QMJHL, pick any skill, besides throwing punches, that a hockey player might need to improve at, and it applies to Tremblay. he’s a major project who could pay dividends if developed, for most players don’t have the knockout punch the 6’3” 240-pound Tremblay has.

Back to Europe

Slovakian center Michal Macho came to San Jose for training camp for the first time since being drafted in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. After two solid season with HC Martin Macho played for the Slovakian Extraleague champs Slovan Bratislava. While Slovan had a great season, Macho didn’t, falling from the third line to the fourth line.

Despite a poor 2002-03 season, the 5’11” 175-pound Macho is a strong two-way player with good awareness and strong face-off abilities. After a week in San Jose Macho was returned to Slovakia, but not due to poor play.

“He had a great camp,” said Doug Wilson. “I was impressed how he played.”

Tryout Forwards

San Jose’s top tryout forward this year is Saginaw Spirit center Geoff Platt. They 18-year-old pivot impressed at the Prospect Tournament with his speed and his scoring prowess. Platt led the weak Spirit in scoring with 32 goals and 22 assists as a 17-year-old, but at 5’9” 175 pounds, size is a concern for Saginaw’s top player. Undrafted, Platt could be signed as a free agent by the Sharks out of camp similar to defenseman Josh Gorges last season. Like Gorges, Platt has at least two more seasons of major juniors to complete before going pro.

In their search for fighter, the Sharks have looked to Glen Olson with a tryout contract. The Cowichan Valley Capital has the size at 6’4” 230 pounds to be physically imposing and has superior hockey skills and awareness than Tremblay. Unfortunately, Olson broke his hand in a fight at the Prospect Tournament and will be out for a few weeks.

Offseason Subtractions

Headlining San Jose’s subtractions is veteran left winger Adam Graves. The 35-year-old Graves played in all 82 games for San Jose last season and scored nine goals and nine assists. Once considered a premier NHL power forward, Graves’ 6’0” and 205-pound frame is now average by NHL standards, with nagging injuries and age catching up to the Toronto native.

General Manager Doug Wilson complimented Graves, known for his locker room presence and leadership, saying, “I will always surround myself with people like Adam Graves.”

After battling his way as a top scorer in the ECHL, to a top scorer in the AHL, Ryan Kraft managed seven games with the Sharks last season, earning an assist in his second NHL game. The speedy Kraft’s production had dropped the last two seasons, as the Barons struggled to equal the Kentucky Thoroughblades’ accomplishments (San Jose’s previous AHL affiliate). The Barons captain finds himself moving to the New York Islanders organization, but will likely find himself in Bridgeport. At 5’9” 190 pounds, Kraft’s size is a concern at the NHL level and may preclude him from being more than a top AHL center.

Other veteran forwards not returning to Cleveland include Jeff Nelson and Scott Thomas. Nelson played in all 80 games for the Barons last season, leading the team in scoring with 12 goals and 48 assists while the top point-producers were recalled by San Jose or injured, or injured before being recalled to San Jose in Zalesak’s case. One of the forwards falling to injury early was Thomas, who managed only 23 games last season, with seven goals, but only three assists.

After his three-year entry level contract expired, the Sharks decided to not offer left wing Eric Laplante a qualifying offer. The 6’1” 195-pound physical forward tallied a team leading 240 penalty minutes for the Barons, along with eight goals and 10 assists in 76 games. Laplante lacked the speed to be a Tyson Nash-type player and did not have the discipline, work ethic or leadership of incoming prospects Ryane Clowe and Craig Valette, who will fill similar roles.

Another prospect leaving the organization is center Graig Mischler, who played for Cleveland the last two seasons. Mischler’s season got off to a rocky start when his jaw was broken in Sharks training camp. Despite this setback, Mischler still managed to play 67 games and tally 12 goals and 12 assists. At 6’3” 195 pounds, Mischler provided some size up the middle and good two-way awareness. However, the glut of prospect centers entering the Sharks system this season led to Mischler’s exit.

Released

Released along with Newbury on Sept.10 was left wing Mark Concannon, who had a three game tryout with the Cleveland Barons last season after finishing his senior year for the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Concannon’s ten goals and 11 assists in 36 games last season were again modest totals for the former third round draft pick. At 6’1” 215 pounds, Concannon is a strong player who, like Levesque, excels along the boards and offers a strong work ethic. In their press release, the Sharks said they released the players this early in order to give both Concannon and Newbury the opportunity to sign elsewhere. Concannon will likely end up in the ECHL.