Sharks collegiate prospects update

By Kevin Wey

In recent years the San Jose Sharks have often looked to Junior A and prep school players heading into college at the NHL Entry draft, providing the team with a number of their current players and pro prospects. This year, continuing this trend, San Jose had seven prospects playing NCAA Division I hockey, highlighted by a first round pick, two former second round picks, and a former sixth round pick who has pleasantly surprised.

Matt Carle

A surprise second round draft pick by the Sharks with the 47th pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Matt Carle has responded with an impressive freshman season for the Denver University Pioneers.

The 6’0” 190-pound Anchorage, Alaska native started the season pairing with Jussi Halme for Denver’s first 11 games, including an exhibition game against the USA U-18 team. Carle did not tally a point until his fifth game, scoring a power play goal and a shorthanded assist against Northeastern University October 17th. In his next five games, the former River City Lancer added a goal and two assists before suffering an ankle injury November 14th in front of family and friends against the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

Carle missed ten of Denver’s next 11 games, with an abortive attempt December 5th against Wisconsin. The 19-year-old’s first season was highlighted with two nominations as the WCHA Rookie of the Week October 20th and November 10th.

The blueliner’s return to action was for the Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Finland. Pairing with Corey Potter on the team’s third pairing, Carle had a goal against Sweden December 30th, but otherwise had a mediocre tournament, largely remembered for getting beaten wide twice against Team Canada a registering a -2. Despite a disappointing personal game, Carle received a gold medal as the United States beat Canada 4-3, thanks in part to Canadian goalie Marc-Andre Fleury bouncing a pass attempt off of Canadian defenseman Braydon Coburn into his own net.

Missing four more games for Denver while at the WJC’s, Carle was on fire the second half of the season. Scoring only one assist in five January games, Carle managed two goals and 13 assists in the Pioneers’ final eight games. Carle’s 19 points in 20 games placed Carle first in the WCHA in defenseman scoring in conference games, fifth in WCHA rookie scoring, despite missing eight of Denver’s WCHA contests.

Needing an addition to the trophy cabinet, Carle was named the Rookie of the Week three consecutive weeks (Feb. 16, Feb. 23, and Mar. 1) to be named the WCHA Rookie of the Month for February. Carle also managed to win another nomination for Rookie of the Week February 2nd.

Carle’s Pioneers managed an overall record of 23-10-5, and a fourth place finish in the WCHA regular season on a 13-10-5 record. Heading into the playoffs, Denver was ranked fifth in the United States College Hockey Online (USCHO) poll, and sixth on the USA Today poll.

Pairing with senior defenseman Ryan Caldwell for most of the second half of the season, Carle now has the inside track towards becoming Denver’s top defenseman as a sophomore. Known for strong skating abilities and keen awareness on offense and defense, Carle could become a Hobey Baker candidate before his college career is over, not unlike Shark rookie defenseman Tom Preissing, to whom Carle’s play is quite similar.

Matt Carle
SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIMPPGSHGGWG
2003-04DenverWCHA245172223201
Tom Cavanagh

An unheralded sixth round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Tom Cavanagh has developed into one of the ECAC’s best two-way forwards. Centering Harvard’s first or second line game-in and game-out, Cavanagh led the Crimson in regular season scoring with 13 goals and 14 assists in 29 games. Cavanagh also picked up a power play goal and two assists to open the season in an exhibition game against Guelph, a Canadian collegiate team.

Cavanagh’s best weekend of the season was at the Coffee Pot Tournament in Providence, Rhode Island December 27th and 28th. Harvard opened the tournament against St. Cloud State, losing 6-4, but Cavanagh was the second star of the game with a goal, two assists ad a +1 rating. The Crimson tied Clarkson 3-3 in the third place game, in which Cavanagh was named the first star of the game after tallying a power play goal, a short-handed goal and an assist. Equally impressive, Cavanagh managed 12 shots on net. The ECAC rewarded Cavanagh’s six-point weekend by naming him a Co-Player of the Week December 29th.

The 5’11” 190-pound center normally found undrafted senior star Billy Pettit on one of his wings, with stints with Dennis Packard on the left wing early in the season, with Pettit paying left wing the final two-thirds of the season. Right winger Tyler Kolarik played right wing on Cavanagh’s line midseason, and freshman Ryan Maki on the right wing for most of the final third of the season.

Despite Cavanagh’s contributions, and solid group of forwards, Harvard went 12-14-3 for the season and 10-10-2 in ECAC contests, finishing sixth in the conference, falling from a second place finish in 2002-03.

With one season remaining at Harvard, Cavanagh should find himself with the Cleveland Barons throughout the 2005-06 season, and has a legitimate shot of becoming a strong fourth line center for the Sharks in the future, but faces competition from a number of centers in San Jose’s system.

Tom Cavanagh
SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIMPPGSHGGWG
2003-04HarvardECAC2913142720411
Tim Conboy

After putting up three goals and 12 assists in 31 games for St. Cloud State in his freshman season, the soon to be 22-year-old Tim Conboy’s production slipped to five goals and five assists in 31 games for the 2003-04 regular season. Conboy’s production might have been higher, but the blueliner missed four games in January catching up on academics to become academically eligible again after a busy 21-game schedule (including an exhibition game against the Canadian St. Clair University), and was scratched for the Huskies’ October 31st game against Princeton. The physical defenseman’s production was primarily hurt by a 12-game pointless streak from November 8th until December 28th at the Coffee Pot Tournament against Providence when Conboy tallied a goal.

Conboy’s defense partner varied early in the season with T.J. McElroy, Casey Borer, and Grant Clafton, but settled down to pairing with Justin Fletcher on the second pair until Conboy was against paired with McElroy the final four games of the season. Known as one of the USHL’s premier fighters before moving to the college ranks, the 6’2” 210-pound Conboy led St. Cloud in regular season penalty minutes with 60.

At the end of the regular season, St. Cloud State found itself sixth in the WCHA with a 12-12-4 conference record, and a 18-14-4 overall record, which found the Huskies placed 15th on both the USCHO and USA Today Polls.

One of San Jose’s few overtly physical prospect defenseman, Conboy will be called upon to first lead the physical charge for the Cleveland Barons after finishing his collegiate career, and likely finding time on the team’s second power play unit. Lacking the defensive awareness of Sharks rookie Rob Davison, Conboy, a seventh round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, does have superior offensive potential to Davison, but will have to gain 15 pounds of muscle to equal Davison in size.

Tim Conboy
SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIMPPGSHGGWG
2003-04St. Cloud StateWCHA31551060100
Michael Hutchins

Redshirted by the University of New Hampshire for the 2002-03 season, defenseman Michael Hutchins also failed to become a regular on UNH’s roster in 2003-04.

Drafted in the ninth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft after playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, the 5’11” 197-pound blueliner played on the third pairing when he played at all, and had a remarkable propensity to pick up large numbers of penalty minutes despite limited playing time with 34 penalty minutes in 19 regular season games.

Hutchins’ limited time, compounded by his time inspecting the penalty box, limited the blueliner to one goal and no assists in 19 games, with his goal coming against Northeastern February 22nd. With a -6 rating in 19 games, Hutchins’ plus-minus was among the worst on the team, which had an overall record of 18-12-6, good for tenth on both the USCHO and USA Today polls at the end of the regular season. The Wildcats managed to go 10-8-6 in Hockey East conference play, placing the team fourth.

The Wolfeboro, New Hampshire native’s college career could improve however, as senior defensemen Tim Horst, Mick Mounsey and Mike Lubesnick will all graduate after this season. Sophomore Brian Yandle and freshman John Doherty will likely find themselves as the team’s first pairing next season, but Hutchins should find a regular spot on the team’s second or third pairings next season, depending on how then senior defenseman Robbie Barker looks next fall.

With three seasons of eligibility remaining, time is on Hutchins side before the Sharks have to decide whether or not to sign the defenseman.

Michael Hutchins
SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATP+/-PIMPPGSHGGWGSH
2003-04New HampshireHE19101-63400013
Mike Morris

Known for surprise picks on the first day of the draft, right winger Mike Morris may be the Sharks biggest first round surprise to date. Taken with the 27th overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Morris appears as if he will pay dividends.

The sophomore managed 10 goals and 20 assists in 34 games, placing the 6’0” 190-pound Morris second on Northeastern University scoring to Jason Guerriero. In Hockey East conference play, Morris managed seven goals and 13 assists in 24 games, good for 15th in HE conference scoring and tenth among HE assists leaders. Morris’ 20 points placed him fifth among all HE sophomores and his 83 shots in conference play placed him seventh.

Morris kicked his offense into overdrive in late December with a goal and two assists against Colgate December 28th and an assist December 29th against Mercyhurst, earning Morris a spot on Hockey East’s Honor Roll December 29th. The strong-skating winger put up four goals and five assists in his next seven games and again earned a place on the Hockey East Honor Roll Jan. 26. The Hockey East Honor Roll also listed Morris March 1 after Morris scored two goals and an assist in a 6-3 win against Boston University February 28th and named the second star of the game.

A strong two-way player, like many other Shark prospects, Morris’ contributions could not help the weak Northeastern team make the HE play-offs, finishing ninth with a 5-13-6 record. Northeastern’s overall record of 11-16-7 tied the Huskies for sixth with the Boston University Terriers for overall winning percentage in the Hockey East conference.

Given his speed and strong two-way play, Morris may be able to make the jump to the NHL in 2006-07 after he graduates from college play, likely on San Jose’s fourth line. This possibility is all the more plausible considering Morris will be 23 at the time, unlike fellow Shark prospect Milan Michalek who cracked San Jose’s line-up as an 19-year-old just out of the draft.

Mike Morris
SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATP+/-PIMPPGSHGGWGSH
2003-04NortheasternHE34102030+314413113
Dan Spang

After surprising the draft with Mike Morris in the first round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, San Jose surprised again by selecting Dan Spang in the second round with the 52nd pick.

Spang, drafted after suffering a concussion and other significant injuries in a car accident cutting short his senior season at Winchester, the blueliner has recovered and progressed with the Boston University Terriers. After a solid freshman season, the 5’11” 200-pound defenseman followed up with five goals and nine assists in 34 games in his sophomore season. Notching two goals and a plus three rating in a 6-4 win over Providence College October 24th, Spang was rewarded by being named to the Hockey East Honor Roll October 27th.

Normally pairing with freshman blueliner Kevin Schaeffer, Spang tallied four goals and four assists in BU’s 24 HE conference games, placing the Winchester, Mass. native 20th in HE defenseman-scoring, fifth among all sophomore defenseman in HE. Despite a blueline boasting Spang, Schaeffer, Ryan Whitney and Bryan Miller, BU barely made the HE play-offs with a 6-13-5 record, one point ahead of Northeastern. The Terriers’ overall record of 10-15-9 also left much to be desired.

Despite being short by NHL standards, Spang’s physical fitness and strength should help the 20-year-old defenseman crack the NHL in the future as a good two-way defenseman a la Tom Preissing, although Spang could excel in one-on-one battles better than Preissing. However, like most every defenseman in San Jose’s system, Spang is likely bound for a season or two of service for the Cleveland Barons after finishing college.

Dan Spang

SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATP+/-PIMPPGSHGGWGSH
2003-04Boston U.HE345914+81020059
Tom Walsh

While San Jose’s top prospect on Harvard is Tom Cavanagh, the Sharks have another prospect on the Crimson in2002 fifth round draft pick Tom Walsh.

A 20-year-old sophomore defenseman who turns 21 in April, Walsh still found himself scratched for five contests, compiling a goal and four assists in 24 regular season games. Walsh’s two assists Jan. 2 versus Union College earned the 6’0” 195-pound defenseman a spot on the ECAC’s Honor Roll Jan. 5. All of Walsh’s points came in the Arlington, Mass. native’s 17 ECAC contests, placing him third amongst Harvard’s defensemen in conference scoring.

Walsh’s playing time should increase in 2004-05, as both of his regular partners for the season, Kenny Smith and Dave McCulloch, graduate from college hockey, allowing Walsh to likely become the team’s fourth defenseman next season behind Noah Welch, Ryan Lannon and Peter Hafner, although freshman Dylan Reese could find himself ahead of Walsh.

With two more seasons of college hockey remaining, Walsh should find himself in the AHL in time, but may have to start his pro career in the ECHL, especially considering the number of defensemen Walsh will likely find as competition in 2006-07 in the San Jose organization. One of a number of Sharks Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke’s Boston-area prospects, Walsh may have Sharks politics on his side come contract time.

Tom Walsh

SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIMPPGSHGGWG
2003-04HarvardECAC2414524000
Overall

Few NHL teams have looked to college hockey for prospects as much as the San Jose Sharks, with most such prospects playing in or near Tim Burke’s hometown of Boston. Regional favoritism aside, most of these prospects are panning out well and becoming strong contributors at the AHL level, along with those currently still in college.

Ironically, San Jose’s top former collegiate rookie isTom Preissing, a free agent signed from Colorado College. Part-time NHLers Niko Dimitrakos and Jim Fahey both hail from the Boston area, although Dimitrakos played for the University of Maine.

Five of San Jose’s seven current collegiate prospects have legitimate shots of becoming NHLers, while others in the AHL like Garrett Stafford, Doug Murray, Jon DiSalvatore, Grant Stevenson, Pat Rissmiller and Nolan Schaefer also have fair odds of becoming NHL regulars in by 2005-06 or 2006-07. Only Rissmiller is not an AHL rookie amongst this group.

The Sharks collegiate ranks will grow in 2004-05, as Waterloo Black Hawk (USHL) center Joe Pavelski will join the University of Wisconsin, right winger Carter Lee of Canterbury Prep attending Northeastern University, and defenseman Brian O’Hanley of Salisbury Prep attending Boston College.