Eight rookies have played for San Jose this season, including one of the NHL’s hottest netminders this season and an intriguing rotation of rookie defensemen. With a ninth rookie up with the team ready to play, goalie Seamus Kotyk, San Jose’s “rebuilding” has the team above .500 and battling for the Pacific Division lead after the season’s quarter pole.
The Sharks appear to have shaken off their early season rust with a November turnaround, thanks in large part to rookie goalie Vesa Toskala. Other rookies are also currently contributing, such as regular defenseman Rob Davison, as well as Tom Preissing, Christian Ehrhoff, and Niko Dimitrakos.
Having passed the quarter pole, Hockey’s Future looks at the impact these prospects have made with the Sharks so far this season.
Drafted by the Sharks in fourth round of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, the Finnish netminder has proven to be worth the wait.
First playing in North America for the now defunct AHL Kentucky Thoroughblades for the 2000-01 season, Toskala became the Cleveland Barons’ starting goalie last season and even played eleven games in San Jose. First he up because of holdout starter Evgeni Nabokov in October, and later in March when the since traded Miikka Kiprusoff went down to injury. While with the Sharks he recorded a 4-3-1 record with goals against average of 2.35 along with his first NHL shutout.
This season Toskala has played in eleven games, starting ten. Due to a groin injury to Sharks starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov on Nov. 21 against Phoenix, Toskala has replaced the former Calder Trophy winner and went unbeaten in November with five wins and three ties, including the relief victory against Phoenix . The Finnish netminder’s goals-against average of 1.92 is fifth in the NHL and his save percentage of .935 places Toskala second behind only Tampa Bay’s John Grahame.
Although Toskala lost his last start against Calgary, the Finn gave up one even-strength goal, a penalty shot to Shean Donovan, with Calgary adding an empty net goal. Often making key saves at critical times, Toskala has been a major catalyst in the Sharks November turnaround. One of the hottest goalies in the NHL right now, Toskala could afford to improve his puckhandling some.
Year to Date Grade: A+
A free agent acquisition in 2001, Seamus Kotyk was recalled on Nov. 22, his current role is backing up Toskala while Nabokov is on Injured Reserve. Depending on Nabokov’s injury status and the play of Toskala, Kotyk may not see NHL action in this stint with the team.
Year to Date Grade: Incomplete
The Sharks selected Davison in the fourth round of the 1998 Entry Draft and after five seasons of development the defensive defenseman cracked the Sharks last March when he played 15 games contributing a goal and two assists with a +4 rating.
This season Davison has played 21 games registering an assist and a -2 rating. The 6’3” 225-pound blueliner has been a strong physical force in the corners and in front of the Sharks net in one on one situations. Known for good position, Davison also is adept at clearing the puck out of the zone. Not known as a flashy player, Davison has generally played as a fifth or sixth defenseman on most nights, which also appears to be his upside. Davison leads team teal with 51 penalty minutes, often sticking up for the team’s skilled players.
Year to Date Grade: B
After finishing a successful senior year with Colorado College , the San Jose Sharks won the “Tom Preissing Sweepstakes” and signed the 24-year-old native of Minnesota last April.
Last season Preissing was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and was named to the NCAA All-First Team, leading all defensemen in collegiate scoring with 23 goals, 29 assists in 42 games.
This season the 6’0” 195-pound blueliner made the leap directly to the NHL, averaging nearly 18 minutes of icetime per game for San Jose. Preissing is deft passer and moves the puck well in the neutral zone with his offensive skills giving him time on the power play for team teal. Generally decent in his own zone, Preissing could use more size for physical battles, and has thus been a healthy scratch on seven occasions.
Year to Date Grade: B-
Chosen in the fourth round of the 2001 Entry Draft, Ehrhoff is perhaps the most exciting offensive defenseman prospect the Sharks have had since Sandis Ozolinsh. Last season in 48 games for Krefeld of the German Elite League he produced 10 goals and 17 assists for a total of 27 points.
This season Ehrhoff started the season with the Sharks and was sent to Cleveland on Oct. 22, where he played eight games tallying two goals and an assist. The 21-year-old German blueliner was recalled on Nov. 14 when Mark Smith was placed on Injured Reserve. In 11 games with team teal Ehrhoff has contributed one goal and four assists. He had his first muli-point NHL game on Nov. 26 against the Chicago Blackhawks with the winning goal and an assist.
“That was nice,” said Ehrhoff at the time. “It turned out to be the game-winner and put us in a good position. It was a great experience. I’ve had a lot of chances before, but I failed. I’m happy to have my first.”
Ehrhoff has demonstrated some talent for knowing when to join the rush and has very good speed, which he uses at both ends of the ice. Known in the DEL for his power play abilities, Ehrhoff also mans the point on the power play for the Sharks, but also has good positioning in the defensive zone once established. The 6’2” 185-pound Ehrhoff is not an overly physical player and can be out-muscled and duped in defensive one-on-one’s more experienced NHL players. Expect Ehrhoff to be returned to Cleveland if he finds his way out of the lineup for more than a few games.
Year to Date Grade: C+
Selected with the sixth overall pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Milan Michalek impressed in training camp not only his with skill, but with his size. After gaining 20 pounds of quality mass in the offseason, Michalek weighed in with 220 pounds on his 6’2” frame. The 18-year-old Czech’s training camp managed to win him a spot on the Shark’s opening night roster, scoring his first NHL goal in his first NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers.
After the game, Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson said, “He scored his first goal and he has proven himself to his teammates.”
During his second NHL game Michalek tore his ACL and has been out of action since and could be out until early February. “It (knee) feels pretty good,” said Michalek. “My leg keeps getting stronger.”
In the meantime Michalek has spent time improving his English skills and acquainting himself with the Bay Area. The adjustment has come along.
“It is different with the people and the food,” said Michalek. “The language is different and there are new things all around. It is good now, but it was hard in the beginning.”
Year to Date Grade: Incomplete
A fifth round pick by the Sharks in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Dimitrakos met and exceeded expectations when he played 21 games for San Jose in the final quarter of the season. In his time last season, the Somerville, Massachusetts native tallied six goals and seven assists for thirteen points, but logged a disappointing –7 rating.
Although cut from the Sharks roster out of training camp on Oct. 3, Niko Dimitrakos has found his way back to San Jose after putting up four goals and four assists in seven games with Cleveland and being named the AHL Sher-Wood Player of the Week Oct. 26.
The University of Maine alum has picked up some frequent flier miles this season, as he was recalled by the Sharks on Oct. 27, re-assigned to the Barons again on Nov. 12, only to be recalled again Nov. 20.
This season in San Jose Dimitrakos has a couple of goals and five helpers and a healthy +5 rating as the surprise team leader in plus/minus. In addition the 5’11” 200-pound right wing had his first two-point game of the season against the Hawks on Nov. 26 with a goal and an assist. Recently he’s been playing on the a line with Patrick Marleau and Vinny Damphousse.
Year to Date Grade: B
Both Lynn Loyns and Pat Rissmiller have had a cup of coffee with Team Teal this season. Loyns has played two games, Rissmiller played four games. Neither player tallied a goal or an assist in their games in San Jose, and both are currently assigned to Cleveland. Of note, neither player was drafted, both being free agent signings and Rissmiller became the first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (now known as the Atlantic Hockey Conference) player to play in the NHL.
Year to Date Grades: Incomplete