Sharks Top 20 prospects

By Kevin Wey

Few NHL teams develop prospects as well as the San Jose Sharks, demonstrated by the fact that 14 of San Jose’s 24 players to play for the team in the 2004 playoffs were drafted by the organization, with former first round pick Marco Sturm absent from the playoffs due to ankle injuries. The Sharks new top 20 prospects contains five first round picks and three second round picks, with one other second round pick just outside the top 20.

San Jose’s top 20 also contains five undrafted prospects, demonstrating the Sharks relentless pursuit of quality undrafted prospects to supplement their own drafted prospects.

Confident in their own drafting and prospect development system, none of the Sharks top 20 prospects were acquired from other NHL teams. In fact, no prospect currently in the Shark system was acquired from another NHL team.

Already containing one of the top defense corps in the NHL, San Jose’s top 20 contains seven more quality defense prospects, with two others just outside the top 20. With one of the top goaltending duos in the NHL, San Jose can look forward to quality goaltending well into the future with four goalies in their top 20, three of which come from Germany.

San Jose is not devoid of quality forward prospects, as five of its top six prospects are forwards, with nine forwards in the top 20, and five others just missing the cut, all with ratings above 5.0.

Generally overlooked because it lacks a large number of hyped prospects, a result of San Jose drafting tendencies, San Jose’s prospects depth chart is quite impressive upon detailed review.

1. Milan Michalek, LW

Drafted with the sixth pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Milan Michalek looked set for a fine rookie season in North America, before it came apart at the ligament seams.

After an impressive training camp, the 6’2” 220-pound winger cracked the Sharks line-up as a 19-year-old, scoring a goal in his first NHL game playing nearly 11 minutes. Midway into his second game, Michalek injured his right knee falling awkwardly after being checked.

With an original timetable of four to five months, Michalek made his return Jan. 23, this time with AHL affiliate Cleveland Barons. The Czech sat out the Barons game the following night, but went on to play in the Barons next five games. In his seventh game with the Barons Feb. 7, due for recall to San Jose the next day, he re-injured his knee while completing a common hockey stop. Michalek’s season was over with two goals and two assists in seven games for Cleveland, and a goal in two games for San Jose.

Considered the most NHL ready prospect in the 2003 draft due to his combination of skill and physical maturity, Michalek’s injuries came unexpectedly. As long as the knee returns to 100 percent, or close, he should become a future first or second line forward providing two-way awareness, needed playmaking and some goal-scoring as well. Michalek will probably start 2004-05 in Cleveland, especially considering there may be an NHL lockout.

Rating: 7.5

Info regarding Michalek’s injury and rehab obtained from an interview at www.hokej.cz

2. Steve Bernier, RW

Despite being cut from Canada’s World Junior Championship team, right wing Steve Bernier is still worthy of his first round selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

After missing the Moncton’s first four games while in San Jose for training camp, Bernier played in all of the Wildcats remaining games in both the regular season and postseason. His 36 goals in 66 games placed him 10 in the QMJHL, while his 82 points placed him 13. Known as a power forward, the 6’2” 228-pound sniper finished 11 in the QMJHL with 169 hits. Playing for a strong Wildcats team, Bernier’s +39 rating was fifth in the QMJHL.

Moncton’s strength brought them to the QMJHL Finals against Gatineau, but the Olympiques defeated the Wildcats in five games. After missing most of the 2003 QMJHL playoffs due to injury, Bernier managed 17 points in 20 games in 2004, placing him seventh in QMJHL playoff scoring and tied for first on Moncton.

Despite winning to team awards, Bernier was named to the QMJHL’s Second All-Star Team, recognizing his value as one of junior hockey’s most dominating power forwards.

Bernier still projects strong second line power forward, but could still become the first line power forward that every NHL teams wants with Jarome Iginla furthering establishing the value of dominant power forwards. Bernier will be hard-pressed to approach Iginla however, lacking the Calgary Flame winger’s speed.

Rating: 7.5

3. Christian Ehrhoff, D

A fourth round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Ehrhoff split the 2003-04 season between San Jose and the team’s AHL affiliate Cleveland Barons, but he still remains as the team’s most talented defense prospect.

Ehrhoff’s NHL experience saw the 21-year-old tally a goal and 11 assists in 41 games, a scoring pace behind only that of Brad Stuart among Shark defensemen. A weapon on the power play, his talent was recognized by the NHL when he was selected to play in the Young Stars Game at the NHL All-Star Weekend.

Assigned to Cleveland three times during the season, once for an eight-game stint in October and November, and for a three-game weekend in mid-February following the All-Star Weekend, Ehrhoff was assigned to Cleveland for the rest of the season Mar. 12 for Cleveland’s remaining 16 games. In 27 AHL games, he accumulated four goals and 10 assists, as well as an impressive +14 rating.

The AHL playoff saw Ehrhoff’s production skyrocket to two goals and six assists in nine games, but his defense suffered, finishing at a team worst -9 for the playoffs.

Already a dangerous power play weapon at the NHL weapon, Ehrhoff’s defensive awareness and positioning is not poor. However, the 6’2” 195-pound defenseman must put on additional muscle to win more one-on-one battles along the boards and in front of the net at the AHL and NHL level. San Jose’s future power play quarterback currently projects as a third defenseman, as Ehrhoff will not be called upon to be a top penalty-killer considering the vets and other youngsters in the organization’s depth chart.

Rating: 7.0

4. Marcel Goc, C

While Ehrhoff started the season in San Jose, Goc finished it in San Jose, proving himself to be ready for NHL assignment in 2004-05 if the team is willing to subtract a couple veteran players.

Known for his smooth skating, solid two-way play and faceoff abilities, Goc compiled 16 goals and 21 assists in 78 games for the Barons, leading the team in games played. Called upon more for penalty killing than power play duty, his AHL production appeared lackluster.

However, Goc was recalled to San Jose for the playoffs with Marco Sturm out and both Alyn McCauley and Scott Thornton battling injuries. Called upon for game five against St. Louis in the first round, he assisted on Mark Smith’s game-winning goal to win the series. The Sharks did not call upon Goc again until Game 6 against Colorado, whereupon the 20-year-old scored the game-winning goal as San Jose moved on the Western Conference Finals.

Goc played three games against Calgary, tallying no points, but playing solid two-way hockey nonetheless on the Sharks fourth line, proving himself worthy of a spot on the roster.

Depending on which free agents are re-signed, Goc could play as the Sharks third or fourth line center, or possibly sent to Cleveland again. Goc’s NHL future appears certain as a future third line center who can fill in on the second line when needed. The last Shark to show such defensive maturity at such a young age was fellow German Marco Sturm.

Rating: 6.5

5. Josh Hennessy, C

A Massachusetts native playing for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, center Josh Hennessy impressed more than just the Sharks this past season.

After missing three games for Quebec while playing for San Jose in training camp, Hennessy got off to a moderate start in the “Q” with only three goals and five assists in his first 10 games. With an eight-game point streak Oct. 19 through Nov. 13, Hennessy’s season really caught fire with a six-point performance against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies Nov. 23. Named the QMJHL Player of the Week Nov. 24, Hennessy was named such again Dec. 8 and was named the QMJHL Player of the Month in December with 12 goals and eight assists in nine games.

Hennessy’s season came to an abrupt end Feb. 26 when he suffered a shoulder injury against the Acadie-Bathurst Titans. Missing the Remparts eight remaining regular season games, Hennessy still finished first in Rempart scoring with 40 goals and 42 assists in 59 games. The 19-year-old’s 40 goals placed him fifth in the QMJHL, while his 18 power play goals was good for third.

Missing the playoffs due to his shoulder injury, Hennessy’s season starts again in August when he will attend the U.S. Junior National Evaluation Camp in Grand Forks, North Dakota with 41 other players to determine Team USA’s roster at the 2005 World Junior Championships, also to be played in Grand Forks.

Known for his speed and his skating, Hennessy has increased his offensive production (points per game) in each of his three QMJHL seasons and appears set to become a future second line center for the Sharks, eventually replacing current Shark Alyn McCauley. Hennessy’s rating will increase to a 7.0, or perhaps even a 7.5, depending how he does at training camp, how his QMJHL season progresses and whether he makes the U.S. WJC team.

Rating: 6.5

6. Lukas Kaspar, RW

Displaying their enthusiasm for this Czech winger, the San Jose Sharks traded up to select Lukas Kaspar in the first round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Playing much of 2003-04 with Litvinov of the Czech Extraleague, the 18-year-old tallied four goals and two assists with the big club. Kaspar also played 23 games for Litvinov’s junior team in the Czech junior league scoring 21 goals and 14 assists as well playing for the Czech Republic’s WJC team in Finland, adding three assists in six games.

Born on Sept. 23, 1985, Kaspar is like Michalek in that he was nearly eligible for the draft the year before and thus has a more mature 6’2” 205-pound frame than many other prospects. Known as a sniper with a hard shot, be it wrist, snap or slap shot, Kaspar has also shown he can play a physical North American game.

Kaspar’s ability to play a physical game will help him in 2004-05, as the Czech was selected by the Ottawa 67’s in the CHL Import Draft. The 67’s also selected Litvinov juniors teammate Jakub Petrazulek in the Import Draft, hoping to capitalize on the chemistry between the two Czechs who were adamant that they play together should they come to North America.

A first or second line forward in style, the fact the Kaspar has not put up impressive numbers for the Czech Republic at the U-18’s or WJC’s keeps limits his rating for the time being.

Rating: 6.5

7. Matt Carle, D

With a strong freshman season at Denver University, this 19-year-old defenseman has proven worthy of his second round selection by the Sharks in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Carle’s season was highlighted by the fact he won a gold medal with the U.S. World Junior Championship team in Helsinki, and his Denver University Pioneers won the NCAA Championship. Carle put up five goals and 21 assists in 30 games for DU, and was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team, and was also named DU’s Rookie of the Year.

Missing 10 games due to an ankle injury before the WJC’s, Carle would have put up even higher numbers in his rookie season. For now, he looks like a safe bet as a future two-way fourth defenseman at a 6.5 rating. Carle should equal, if not surpass 2003-04 rookie Shark defenseman Tom Preissing, a Colorado College grad and Hobey Baker top ten finalist.

Rating: 6.5

8. Dimitri Pätzold, G

San Jose’s youngest pro goalie in 2003-04, Dimitri Pätzold acquitted himself well in his first North American season after transferring from Mannheim of the German Elite League.

Part of the Sharks “German Draft” of 2001, the fourth round pick was assigned to Cleveland to begin the year as Seamus Kotyk’s back-up. Earning a shutout in his first start for the Barons, Pätzold proved to be the least consistent of the Barons three goalies in 2003-04, and was assigned to Johnstown of the ECHL in March after Nolan Schaefer took the starting spot and Kotyk returned from injury.

Despite this apparent set-back, the 21-year-old Pätzold showed flashes of brilliance, leading the Barons with three shutouts. Pätzold also compiled a respectable .915 save percentage and 2.88 goals-against average for Cleveland. While in Johnstown, Pätzold went undefeated in eight games, compiling a save percentage of .908 and a goals against of 2.71.

Having excelled for Team Germany at U-18 and U-20 tournaments in the past, as well as serving as a back-up goalie in the DEL, Pätzold’s accomplishments are impressive, especially when compared to other Shark goaltenders. Shark starter Evgeni Nabokov was brought to the AHL as a 22-year-old, with mixed results in his rookie season. Vesa Toskala’s first season in the AHL was comparable statistically to Pätzold’s, but done as a 23-year-old. Miikka Kiprusoff’s rookie AHL season exceeded Pätzold’s, but was also done as a 23-year-old, while Pätzold did not turn 21 until March.

Considering his DEL pedigree and accomplishments on the international stage, Pätzold’s upside may be similar to that of Toskala. For now, the German projects as a solid back-up goalie, but he could become more.

Rating: 6.5

9. Patrick Ehelechner, G

Nearly cornering the market on top-rate German goaltending prospects, the Sharks have another solid netminder in the lanky Patrick Ehelechner.

A fifth round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the 19-year-old Ehelechner made the move to North America after being selected by the Sudbury Wolves in the CHL Import Draft. In a common Shark goaltending theme in 2003-04, Ehelechner earned a shutout in his first start for the Wolves. Ehelechner would go on to start 54 more times for the Wolves, appearing in 56 games overall in the regular season. Sporting a OHL fifth-best save percentage of .915, Ehelechner helped propel a weak Sudbury team into the OHL playoffs.

As the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Wolves faced the top seeded Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, proceeding to take the Majors to seven games. Eliminated by the Majors, Ehelechner did manage to garner two shutouts, aiding the German to an OHL fourth-best playoff goals against average of 2.15.

Named to the OHL Second All-Rookie Team, Ehelechner was also named to the OHL Second All-Star Team and Sudbury’s nominee for the Emms Family Award as the top OHL rookie. Requiring an addition to his trophy case, Ehelechner also was also named Sudbury’s Regular Season MVP, Playoff MVP, top rookie and recipient of the Molson Cup.

Fourth in the OHL in minutes played, Ehelechner’s numbers might have been higher had he not played for Team Germany at the Division One Group A World Junior Championships in Berlin. Ehelechner was named the top goalie of the tournament, leading Germany to the gold with a .924 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against average.

Like Pätzold, Ehelechner currently projects as a back-up goalie, but the 6’2” 175-pound netminder could improve precipitously in subsequent seasons, as 2003-04 was Ehelechner’s first season as a starter since playing for the Mannheim Junior Eagles in the fourth tier German Regionalliga in 2000-01. After two seasons of sparse duty with Hannover of the DEL, Ehelechner has proved to be a fourth round steal so far.

Rating: 6.0

10. Mike Morris, RW

A former first round pick, Mike Morris was healthy for all of the 2003-04 season for a struggling Northeastern University Huskies team.

The winner of the Husky Radio Award as the most exciting player during radio broadcasts, Morris put up 10 goals and 20 assists in 34 games, good for second on the team. Morris was 15 in Hockey East conference scoring with 20 points in 24 games, and figures to be a team leader again in the 2004-05 season for Northeastern.

Putting up decent numbers on a weak team, the 21-year-old Morris is a speedy forward with good two-way awareness who should become a future third liner for the Sharks, earning a 6.0 rating.

Rating: 6.0

11. Dan Spang, D

The Sharks second round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, sophomore defenseman Dan Spang had a good season for the Boston University Terriers.

Playing in every Terrier game, Spang put up five goals and nine assists in 38 games and was named BU’s Most Improved Player. Spang also won the Clifford P. Fitzgerald Scholarship as BU’s Most Outstanding Freshman or Sophomore Defenseman.

Known as a physical strong defenseman at 5’11” 200 pounds, the 20-year-old Spang provides San Jose with another solid two-way defenseman, with a 6.0 rating as strong fifth defenseman down the road. While stronger than Carle, Spang’s offensive upside does not appear equal to Carle’s. Spang could prove to be a smaller, lesser version of veteran Shark defenseman Scott Hannan.

Rating: 6.0

12. Josh Gorges, D

The top of a crop of undrafted Shark prospects, defenseman Josh Gorges has overcome the odds to become one of the best defensemen in major juniors, leading his team to the promised land.

Ineligible to be assigned to Cleveland because of his age, the 19-year-old return to the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL as the team’s captain. Named one of the Three Stars of the Game in 14 of his 62 games, Gorges was third in Kelowna team scoring with 11 goals and 31 assists, ninth in the WHL in defenseman scoring.

Gorges’ offensive output soared in the playoffs thanks to an eight-point four-game series against Kootenay in the first round of the WHL Playoffs, which saw Gorges named the WHL Player of the Week Mar. 22. Eliminated by the Everett Silvercaps in the WHL Semifinals, Gorges finished with two goals and 13 assists in 15 games, second in Kelowna playoff scoring behind his defensive partner Shea Weber.

Although not the WHL champions, the Kelowna Rockets played in the Memorial Cup as the hosts of the tournament. Defeated in Memorial Cup play in 2003 after winning the WHL championship, the Rockets overcame the odds and won the Memorial Cup, beating out the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, the Guelph Storm of the OHL, and the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL. Gorges managed two assists in four games in Memorial Cup play, finishing his junior career on the highest note possible.

Gorges’ season also included being named to Team Canada’s WJC roster, the first time the Kelowna native had represented his country in international play. Team Canada came away with a heart-breaking silver medal, but Gorges had a successful tournament with three assists in six games.

The Kelwona Rocket blueliner’s season did not go unrecognized, as Gorges was named the WHL Western Conference Defenseman of the Year, as well as a member of the WHL Western Conference First All-Star Team. To no one’s surprise, the Rockets also named Gorges as their top defenseman of the year.

Winning a silver medal for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, the first time he had donned the red maple leaf jersey, and winning the Memorial Cup, Gorges’ stock continues to rise. Once thought to be too small, or not quite fast enough, Gorges perseveres, and currently projects as a future fifth defenseman, likely being a team’s third puckmoving defenseman. At 180 pounds, Gorges will need to put on additional muscle to win battles against NHL forwards.

Rating: 6.0

13. Shane Joseph, LW

Signed to an amateur tryout contact by the Cleveland Barons Mar. 17, left winger Shane Joseph signed an NHL contract, announced just prior to the NHL Entry Draft.

Joseph’s season got off to a hot start with four points against St. Clair University in an exhibition game and three points the first weekend of the season against Providence College. Scoring only two goals in his next seven games, the 5’9” 170-pounder caught fire in mid-November putting up six goals and 12 assists in the Mavericks next 11 games, going pointless in only one game. After a six-point weekend against Denver Dec. 19-20, including a hat trick Dec. 20, Joseph was named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week Dec. 22. College Sports Television named Joseph its National Student Athlete of the Month in December.

The Mavericks team captain finished his collegiate career in style with four goals and five assists in his final five games for MSU. Leading the Mavericks in scoring with 19 goals and 24 assists in 39 games, Joseph was named the Team MVP and the BW3 Star of the Year Award with the most selections in home games. The 22-year-old was also named an All-Academic and a WCHA Third Team All-Star.

After signing with the Barons, Joseph put up four goals and five assists in 12 games playing primarily with ex-Minnesota State teammate Grant Stevenson and Nick Bootland. Joseph’s playoff production was even more impressive with five goals and four assists in nine games.

Should Joseph ever make the NHL, he could be a Lady Byng candidate, picking up one minor penalty his entire season with either the Mavericks or the Barons, an unsportsmanlike against Wisconsin Jan. 23. A speedy winger with good hands, awareness, tenacity and a willingness to venture into traffic, the Sharks can only hope they have the next Martin St. Louis. More likely Joseph will become a third line player capable of playing on the second line when needed.

Rating: 6.0

14. Garrett Stafford, D

Undrafted and then unsigned by both the Los Angeles Kings and the Dallas Stars, the San Jose Sharks stole one when they signed defenseman Garrett Stafford in December.

Signed by the Barons to a tryout contract to start the season, San Jose signed the puck-moving rearguard Dec. 9, 2003. Stafford responded further with three goals and 13 assists in 15 games in January, to be named the AHL Rookie of the Month for January. Stafford represented the Barons in the AHL All-Star Game in February and went on to finish the season with 12 goals and 34 assists in 73 games. The 24-year-old blueliner’s production placed him seventh in the AHL in rookie scoring, first among all rookie defensemen, and seventh in AHL defenseman scoring.

Stafford’s playoffs became memorable for the wrong reasons when involved in a stick-swinging incident with Hamilton Bulldogs forward Alexander Perezhogin, which left Stafford with a third degree concussion, facial lacerations, and a few missing teeth.

Tallying no points in six playoff games, Stafford was still named to the AHL Second All-Star Team, as well as the AHL All-Rookie Team.

The 6’0” 190-pound Stafford has now firmly established himself as an NHL prospect after an impressive rookie AHL season. An overager out of college, Stafford is not as far from his upside as a younger defenseman out of major juniors might be, thus Stafford does not project to be a big-time NHL defenseman. Instead, Stafford projects more as a future fifth defenseman, the third puckmoving defenseman who’s decent in his own zone that all NHL teams need for success.

Rating: 6.0

15. Doug Murray, D

An eighth round draft pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, former Cornell Big Red defenseman Doug Murray continued to prove he was a second day steal for the Sharks.

Cut early in Sharks training camp, the 6’3” 240-pound monster defenseman got off to a slow start in Cleveland as well, but gradually impressed coach Roy Sommer enough to become one of the Barons top defensemen. Playing in all situations by mid-season, Murray went on to collect 10 goals and 22 assists in 72 games. At his massive size, Murray can be dominating along the boards or in front of the net and is willing to play a physical game, but the Swede generally keeps his play disciplined, picking up only 75 penalty minutes.

With a hard point shot, Murray is a weapon on the power play, with five power play goals during the regular season and all three of his points being power play goals in the playoffs.

Still needing to further improve his lateral mobility and acceleration to become a sure-fire NHL defenseman, Murray should eventually become a fifth or sixth defenseman in the NHL and should serve as one of San Jose’s first recalls at defense in 2004-05 if needed.

Rating: 5.5

16. Thomas Greiss, G

A third round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, German goalie Thomas Greiss needs to have a good 2004-05 season to warrant his first day selection.

Playing for the Cologne Jr. Sharks of the German Junior League (DNL), Greiss put up a .910 save percentage and 2.61 goals-against average in 1286 minutes of action. Greiss also dressed as the DEL Cologne Sharks back-up goalie for 11 games and received a start in November that ended with a lackluster four goals on ten shots, pulled after the first period. Having dressed in 12 games, Greiss did establish himself as Cologne’s third string goalie behind veterans Chris Rogles and Leonhard Wild.

Greiss also played for Team Germany at the DI Group A WJC’s in Berlin as Patrick Ehelechnher’s back-up, starting in the first game of the tournament making nine saves on ten shots in a 9-1 victory over the outmatched Hungarian team. The odds on favorite to be Germany’s starting goalie at the DI Group B U-18 tournament, Greiss broke his hand a month before the tournament and returned to action just in time for international play. However, Youri Ziffzer received more playing time and Greiss disappointed with a .867 save percentage and a 3.43 goals-against average.

Of note, Greiss did the opposite in the 2003 U-18’s, upstaging starter Danny aus den Birken with a .955 save percentage over two games, allowing a goal in each game.

At 6’1” 192 pounds, the 18-year-old Greiss has decent size and is known for his quick glove, lateral movement and patience. On the other hand, the Sharks say Greiss needs to improve down low.

Despite a lackluster DEL debut, Cologne has called upon Greiss to be their back-up goalie in 2004-05, although how much playing time Greiss receives will be determined. Greiss also enters 2004-05 as the odds on favorite to be Germany’s starting goalie at the WJC’s in Fargo. Greiss could reward the Sharks unconventional selection with a strong WJC performance similar to those of Pätzold and Ehelechner.

Rating: 5.5

17. Nolan Schaefer, G

Providence College grad Nolan Schaefer started the year in Fresno of the ECHL, but by the end of the year, he was Cleveland’s No. 1 goalie, re-establishing himself as a legitimate NHL prospect.

In 12 ECHL games, the 24-year-old Schaefer compiled a 6-5-0, a save percentage .910, and a G.AA of 3.12. Like Pätzold in Cleveland, Schaefer got a shutout in his first start of the year with the Falcons.

When Cleveland starter Seamus Kotyk was injured, Schaefer was recalled and quickly established himself as the number one goalie in Kotyk’s absence. When Kotyk returned, Pätzold was sent to Johnstown of the ECHL, but Schaefer retained the No. 1 spot he had earned and went on to lead Cleveland in goals-against at 2.34 and tied with Kotyk for top save percentage at .925, earning two shutouts on the way.

Schaefer played every minute for the Barons in the playoffs, compiling a .927 save percentage and a 2.51 goals-against in nine games.

Having established himself as San Jose’s third goalie in 2003-04, Schaefer should begin the 2004-05 season as Cleveland’s starting goalie, with the potential for recall to San Jose should Evgeni Nabokov or Vesa Toskala fall to injury, or hold out, as both are restricted free agents. Already in his mid-20’s, it’s difficult to know how much better Schaefer will become, but it appears that he could become a back-up goalie in the NHL if given the chance.

Rating: 5.5

18. Ryane Clowe, RW

A consistent contributor in his rookie pro season with Cleveland, Ryane Clowe did little to diminish the enthusiasm the Sharks have for this big winger.

One of San Jose’s bigger forward prospects at 6’2” 215 pounds, Clowe displayed his willingness to forecheck, battle along the boards, and lay down hits with the Barons. Compiling 97 penalty minutes, he also showed his offensive talent with 11 goals and 29 assists in 72 games. Able to play either wing, Clowe kept his consistency with three goals and one assist in eight playoff games, as well as nine penalty minutes.

Clowe has an outside shot of cracking San Jose’s roster out of training camp, as he would provide needed size and physicality as a fourth or fifth line winger. At 21 years of age, he is younger than many of the Barons other forwards, making his season all the more impressive. The St. John’s, Newfoundland native projects to become a solid fourth line winger, and appears certain to be in San Jose by 2005-06, making the 2001 sixth round pick a keen selection.

Rating: 5.5

19. Scott Ford, D

Another undrafted prospect, San Jose signed this Brown University defenseman to a contract March 31 after a stellar senior season.

Putting up modest numbers with six goals and nine assists in 31 games, Ford’s largest contributions came in his own zone, named as the ECAC Defensive Defenseman of the Year. Ford was also named to the All-Ivy First Team, an ECAC Honorable Mention, and to the All-Academic team. Brown awarded Ford the Patrick S. Jones Memorial Award as the player who “generates the most spark and enthusiasm in building team spirit.”

Brown’s 6’3” 225-pound captain should be a force for the Cleveland Barons in 2004-05, and projects to become a fifth or sixth defenseman who could contribute some offensively, utilizing his strong point shot on the power play. Ford’s strong work ethic and defensive awareness earns the 24-year-old blueliner a 5.5 rating.

Rating: 5.5

20. Grant Stevenson, RW

Leaving Minnesota State University-Mankato after only two seasons, the undrafted Grant Stevenson proved he was ready for AHL with a solid rookie season boosted by an old friend.

Signed as a free agent by the Sharks in April 2003, Stevenson was assigned to Cleveland for 2003-04, and like many of the rookie pros San Jose sent to Cleveland, got off to a slow start. By mid-season Stevenson was receiving regular ice time, displaying his tenacious forechecking with regularity as well as chipping in offensively.

The 5’11” 180-pound forward received reinforcements March 17 when the Barons signed former MSU-Mankato teammate Shane Joseph to a tryout contract. In the 14 games after Joseph was signed Stevenson compiled five goals and 11 assists, many tallied when teamed with Joseph and big winger Nick Bootland. Stevenson finished the season with 13 goals and 26 assists in 71 games, and a +17 rating, tied for second on the team with defenseman Robert Mulick.

The Stevenson-Joseph connection extended into the playoffs with Stevenson compiling seven assists in nine games while Joseph tallied five goals and four assists.

With his speed and willingness to forecheck, the 23-year-old Stevenson projects to be a solid fourth line energy forward with the offensive ability to fill in on the third line if needed.

Rating: 5.5

Just Outside the Top 20

Selected in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, center Torrey Mitchell is bound for the University of Vermont in 2004-05. The 5’11” 185-pound pivot potted 25 goals and 37 assists in 25 games for Hotchkiss prep school, named to the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association DI West All-Star Team along with fellow Shark prospects Carter Lee and Brian O’Hanley. Mitchell is known as a speedy center with good hands who has an excellent work ethic, typical for a Shark prospect center and receives an initial rating of 5.5.

The Sharks second fourth round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Halifax Mooseheads goalie Jason Churchill adds to the Sharks impressive depth in net. Playing for a weak Halifax team in the QMJHL, the tall 6’3” 190-pound netminder was eighth in minutes played in the QMJHL with 2894, with a .886 save percentage and a 3.73 goals-against average. A goalie on a precipitous rise after player for Antigonish of the Maritime Junior Hockey League in 2002-03, Churchill is a goalie with good skating skills, lateral movement and strong rebound control. Having yet to put up impressive numbers in the QMJHL, San Jose’s tallest goalie prospect receives an initial rating of 5.0.

Physical defenseman Tim Conboy finds himself just out of the top 20 after rescuing his season with a stellar playoff performance for the Cleveland Barons. With three power play assists in three games, Conboy overcame his lackluster ten point sophomore season in 33 games for the St. Cloud State Huskies. Leaving college early, the 6’2” 210-pound Conboy signed with the Sharks before making his first Cleveland appearance April 29. He will likely become a physical sixth or seventh defenseman willing to drop the gloves and receives a 5.0 rating.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.