Neither Miroslav Zalesak nor Brad Boyes were on the San Jose Sharks opening night roster for the 2003-04 season. Both prospects played for team’s AHL affiliate in Cleveland while San Jose had a healthy roster. San Jose’s luck ran out March 5th against the Colorado Avalanche, as star forward Marco Sturm went down to a season ending ankle injury. With third line center Mike Ricci on the injured reserve list, Zalesak received his first recall this season, while Boyes was called up to the big club for his first NHL game March 7th, 2004 versus the Dallas Stars.
Fourth in AHL scoring upon recall from the Cleveland Barons, Boyes ranked second on Cleveland in scoring with 25 goals and 35 assists in 61 games. Previously considered more of a playmaker, Boyes was ranked third in AHL goal-scoring before his recall to San Jose. Boyes has tallied multipoint games on 16 occasions for Cleveland this season, generally a good omen for the Barons, as the team garnered a point in the standings in each game. Cleveland has gone undefeated in the five games Boyes has scored two goals.
Playing just over 13 minutes in his first NHL game, Boyes made a few nice passes during the game and looked at home with the puck behind the net. Failing to tally offensively or put a shot on net, defensively Boyes was called on a questionable interference call when veteran Stars forward Brendan Morrow got a step on the young forward and faked obstruction falling down while holding onto the NHL rookie. Lesson learned: don’t let speedy NHLers get a step on you.
Often playing with Boyes on the “third line” was his Cleveland teammate Zalesak. The Slovakian right wing, up in San Jose for the first time since he finished last season in San Jose with a goal and two assists in 10 games, found himself leading the AHL in scoring with 30 goals and 38 assists in 61 games. Having reportedly bulked up to over 200 pounds, Zalesak has avoided injury this season, after missing games due to a hip injury last season. A consistent contributor, Zalesak has 46 points in the previous 39 games, having scored at least one point in 31 of the contests. A natural goal-scorer in juniors and in the AHL, Zalesak was second in AHL goal-scoring upon recall and even scored on his first career NHL shot against St. Louis on March 11th, 2003.
Not known for his defensive play at the AHL, Zalesak again displayed a willingness to forecheck and backcheck hard in pursuit of the puck at the NHL level, but also failed to follow through on nearly all of his checks, circling away instead. Although Boyes demonstrated an ability to make smart plays, he often appeared rushed because he lacked the acceleration or speed to break away from Dallas defenders, notably against backchecking forwards. Boyes lack of size also became apparent watching the young forward on the ice, who does not appear to be either 6’0” or 190 pounds. To compensate for the two prospects’ defensive shortcomings, veteran center Wayne Primeau often centered the pair.
How many games the two Barons play in San Jose this season is yet to be determined. Should Zalesak and Boyes be returned to Cleveland, both are strong candidates to with the AHL’s Les Cunningham Award as the league’s most valuable player. In the two Shark prospects, Cleveland finds itself as the only AHL team with two 60+ point scorers.
Boyes and Zalesak’s odds of playing a full season in San Jose next season depend largely upon their performance while in San Jose, but also on whether or not unrestricted free agents Vincent Damphousse or Mike Ricci are re-signed. However, both are near the top of a short list of likely candidates to fill two or three open spots in San Jose next season, and could be contributors far into the future.
In the game after Marco Sturm went down to injury chasing down a puck, rookie defenseman Tom Preissing faced a similar situation inadvertently taken down by Dallas Star forward Brendan Morrow, who had dangerously put his stick in Preissing’s skates nearing the goal-line as Preissing raced to touch the puck for icing. Unlike Sturm, who was hauled off on a stretcher, Preissing managed to hobble to the bench added by Shark personnel. The extent of Preissing’s injuries are yet unknown, but defenseman Kyle McLaren is due to return to the team from the IR later this week.
In 56 games, the rookie defenseman out of Colorado College had two goals and 11 assists, and been generally receiving around 20 minutes of ice-time per game, firmly establishing himself as San Jose’s fifth defenseman, but often playing as the second defenseman with minor injuries striking other Shark blueliners.
Kevin Wey contributed to this article.