Sharks 1999 draft evaluation

By Kevin Wey

Nearly five years have passed since the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, a period of time which allows a fair preliminary assessment of each NHL team’s success in the 1999 draft. San Jose drafted seven players in 1999, mostly New Englanders from the college ranks. Only three players in the 1999 draft have played NHL games for the Sharks thus far, with only one player still playing for San Jose. They have played a combined 269 NHL games, for an average of 38 NHL games per pick for the entire draft class. Two others are still in the system, with one still having a fair shot to crack the NHL.

The 1999 NHL Entry Draft can only be considered moderately successful for the Sharks, thanks in part mostly to picks taken in the second day.

The 1999 draft was San Jose’s third time positioned in the mid-section of each round, and the first by the Dean Lombardi regime.

Jeff Jillson

1st round, 14 overall (NCAA – University of Michigan)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 138

The Sharks first round pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft left the University of Michigan after his junior season to pursue his professional hockey career a year early in 2001. Jeff Jillson split his first pro season between San Jose and their AHL affiliate Cleveland Barons. The rookie was a weapon on the power play, but coach Darryl Sutter found the 21-year-old a liability in the defensive zone.

In Jillson’s second season, the 6’3” 220-pound defenseman found himself challenged by rookie Jim Fahey, a graduate from Northeastern University. Jillson started the season in San Jose, but Fahey eventually pushed Jillson out of San Jose’s plans as the blueliner was traded Jan. 23, 2003 to Boston with goaltender Jeff Hackett (a former Shark acquired from Montreal to complete a three-way trade) for defenseman Kyle McLaren and a fourth round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The North Smithfield, Rhode Island native played out the rest of the 2002-03 season with Boston’s AHL affiliate Providence Bruins.

Now 23, Jillson started the 2003-04 season with the Boston Bruins, but in a twist of fate was traded back to San Jose March 9, 2004 for prospect center Brad Boyes. Jillson was subsequently traded to the Buffalo Sabres with a 2005 ninth round pick for center Curtis Brown and defenseman Andy Delmore. Delmore was then traded to Boston for future considerations.

Already on his third NHL team, Jillson still needs to establish himself as a dependable NHL defenseman lest he find himself a variation of Delmore, a defenseman who contributes on the power play but little else.

Mark Concannon

3rd round, 82nd overall (USHSE – Winchendon HS)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Upon retrospect, Mark Concannon can be seen as part of the failure of the tendency of Sharks Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke to take Boston-area prospects. Drafted out of Winchendon high school, Concannon went on to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, where his first two seasons were shortened by injuries. With his injuries behind him, the strong Concannon became a contributor in his junior and senior seasons with Lowell.

After his 2002-03 collegiate season was done, Concannon appeared in three games for San Jose’s AHL affiliate Cleveland Barons, but the Sharks were apparently unimpressed and he was not signed by the Sharks to begin the 2003-04 campaign. Concannon signed on with Cincinnati of the ECHL, but was traded to the Greenville Grrrowl at the trading deadline. His 16 regular season games saw him put up 17 points, perhaps the beginning of a climb back to the AHL.

Willie Levesque

4th round, 111th overall (NCAA – Northeastern University)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Northeastern University is located in Boston. Willie Levesque is from Oak Bluff, Massachusetts. Another pick out of the Boston area.

Unlike Concannon, Levesque has been in the Sharks organization the past two seasons. Drafted after a decent freshman season for Northeastern, he followed up with an equal sophomore season and played for Team USA at the 2000 World Junior Championships. After a fine junior season, Levesque’s senior year at Northeastern saw a precipitous drop in his production.

Still, Levesque was signed by Shark organization and played all of the 2002-03 campaign with the Cleveland Barons, mostly as a fourth line right wing. Levesque entered the 2003-04 season nursing an injury and started the year with the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL and split the season with the Chiefs and the Barons. The upgraded Barons saw their roster depleted by injuries as an almost unrecognizable team suited up in the playoffs with Levesque appearing in seven games before eliminated in the second round by the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Putting up only modest production in the ECHL, Levesque’s weak skating precludes him from any consideration of playing in the AHL consistently, let alone the NHL.

Niko Dimitrakos

5th round, 155 overall (NCAA – University of Maine)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 89

Another collegiate pick, this Greek Bostonian has turned into a solid pick for the San Jose Sharks. Dimitrakos played four solid seasons for the University of Maine, with a notable 51-point senior season leading his team to the NCAA Finals, losing to the University of Minnesota.

Dimitrakos started his pro career in 2002-03 with the Cleveland Barons, quickly establishing himself as one of the most potent offensive forces on the Barons, playing in the AHL All-Star Game. San Jose also called upon him for 21 games, wherein the 6’0” 195-pound Dimitrakos contributed six goals and seven assists, outplaying most every other Shark forward in the neutral and attack zone.

Despite this offensive production, Dimitrakos was assigned to the Cleveland Barons to start 2003-04, first sulking for a couple games before being scratched by coach Roy Sommer. Dimitrakos reacted and after seven games was recalled by San Jose, playing on every line but the third in 68 games. San Jose’s foray into the playoffs also helped prove Dimitrakos’ worth offensively, putting up nine points in 15 games teamed with Patrick Marleau and Vincent Damphousse. But Dimitrakos also found himself a scratch for a game against Calgary as coach Ron Wilson attempted to find the combination to defeat the Calgary Flames.

Less individualistic in his play, Dimitrakos’ future with San Jose isn’t assured, as prospects such as Milan Michalek, Steve Bernier, Marcel Goc, Josh Hennessy and Mike Morris will eventually push for spots in San Jose. In the meantime, Dimitrakos appears to have been the Sharks best selection in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.

Eric Betournay

8th round, 229th overall (QMJHL – Acadie-Bathurst)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

After a season with the Laval Titans as a 16-year-old, center Eric Betournay played Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL in 1998-99 with decent production as Acadie went to the Memorial Cup playoffs.

Betournay moved to Chicoutimi for the 1999-00 season and played their through the 2001-02 season, culminating in a 103 point season his final year in the “Q.” With Chicoutimi eliminated early the “Q” playoffs, Betournay was signed by the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, playing in three playoff contests for the Philadelphia Flyers AHL affiliate. Betournay split the 2002-03 season between the Phantoms and their ECHL affiliate Trenton Titans.

A big scorer in the “Q,” Betournay’s offense did not translate to the AHL or the ECHL, and 2003-04 saw Betournay move to the Quebec Semi Pro Hockey League with Thetford Mines, tallying 62 points in 50 games in the same league that former Shark loose cannon Link Gaetz played in for 2003-04.

As an eighth round pick, it’s difficult to consider Betournay a poor selection, but he never played in the San Jose organization, making his worth to San Jose that of practice for media interns to create HTML tables while under the Future Sharks page for two seasons.

Doug Murray

8th round, 241st overall (EJHL – New York Apple Core)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Now 24 years old, defenseman Doug Murray has not yet appeared in an NHL game for the San Jose Sharks, but that may change in 2004-05.

Born in Bromma, Sweden, Murray made the trek to North America to play in North America, playing two seasons with the New York Apple Core of the Eastern Junior Hockey League before playing for Cornell University. Cornell would become a NCAA powerhouse during his tenure, and Murray would be named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker award as a junior in 2001-02. Murray’s Cornell Big Red made the NCAA Frozen Four in 2002-03 with Murray named a JOFA First Team All-Star and the ECAC Defenseman of the Year.

An early cut in training camp, Murray was sent to the Cleveland Barons for the 2003-04 season due mostly to skating deficiencies, not uncommon for a player 6’3” 245 pounds. Cleveland’s skating linebacker had a solid rookie AHL season with 22 points in 72 games, providing solid defense, physical play and a cannon from the point on the power play.

While Murray is not likely to crack San Jose out of training camp in 2004, lockout permitting, Murray could see action should San Jose see two or three of the top seven be injured at any given time. The likelihood that unrestricted free agent Jason Marshall will not be resigned and that Jim Fahey will be traded helps Murray’s cause. The addition of Scott Ford to the organization serves as a challenge however.

As the 241st pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Murray’s selection proved keen.

Hannes Hyvonen

9th round, 257th overall (Finland – Espoo Blues)
Status: Swedish Elite League Player
NHL Games: 42 games

After three full seasons with TPS Turku of the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga), winger Hannes Hyvonen moved to the Espoo Blues in 1998-99. In his best SM-Liiga season to date, Hyvonen put up 41 points in 52 games. San Jose decided to draft the gritty Finn as an overage selection, then awaiting his 24th birthday in August, in the ninth round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.

Hyvonen started 1999-00 with Espoo, but was traded mid-season to HIFK, where he also spent the 2000-01 season. San Jose decided to bring the Finn to North America for the 2001-02 season. Failing to crack San Jose out of training camp, Hyvonen was assigned to Cleveland where he put up 24 goals and 18 assists in 67 games with a Jarko Ruuttu-like 136 penalty minutes. Impressed, San Jose recalled Hyvonen for six games, but the Finn put up no points and was shipped to Florida in July and subsequently claimed off of waivers by Columbus in the Waiver Draft.

Starting 2002-03 in Columbus, Hyvonen left the Blue Jackets mid-season to play instead for Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien). Proving his point, Hyvonen put up 11 goals in 10 games for Farjestads to close out the Elitserien regular season, and five more in 14 playoff games. Amazingly, Hyvonen tallied no assists in these 24 games.

The Finn found Farjestad as his team again in 2003-04, putting up 28 points in 47 games as the Karlstad-based team’s fourth leading scorer. With 98 penalty minutes, Hyvonen is still one of the most penalized Euros in any European elite league.

While Hyvonen’s NHL time may amount only to 42 games, as a ninth round pick the Finn did not prove to be a poor selection, just not a lasting one for San Jose.

Summary

The 1999 draft is not a high point in Shark drafting history.

Jillson’s lasting legacy for San Jose will be that he was used to acquire Kyle McLaren and the fourth round pick traded back to Boston at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft used to trade up to draft Steve Bernier in the first round and then utilized once again to acquire Curtis Brown.

Only Niko Dimitrakos appears positioned to become a consistent contributor to the Sharks success in the next few seasons, although Doug Murray could eventually become a sixth or seventh defenseman if he improves his skating. That said, Murray faces immense competition amongst San Jose’s incredible prospect depth at defense.

Levesque is unlikely to be resigned after his entry level contract expires and will likely toil at the minor pro level throughout his career.

Most everybody in the hockey world raised their eyebrows when Concannon was drafted in the third round, and although he may be on an upward trend in the ECHL now, his selection is among the worst in Shark history, although not as drastically bad the Finn fiasco of 1995. A hard-working player, Concannon’s status as a bust comes down to poor Shark drafting in taking him so early as opposed to personal failure, and he should outdo Levesque over time.

Betournay’s pro career is in limbo, as he could leave the QSPHL to play minor pro, although the QSPHL is also a pipeline to French semipro hockey in the Super 16.

Hyvonen, a decent player, appears destined to play out the rest of his career in Europe, with the future considerations from Florida useful as a blurb in the “transactions” section of medium and large newspapers across Canada and the United States.