The San Jose Sharks finished the 2011-12 season with arguably the worst prospect pool in the entire NHL. This has been a familiar trend within the Sharks organization over the past few seasons as they have looked to contend in the Western Conference and have sacrificed some of their future to do so. Despite the lack of top-tier talent, the Sharks’ prospect pipeline has become something of a well-oiled machine; year after year lesser known, unheralded players go in, and well-developed, NHL-ready talent comes out. The Sharks head into the 2012-13 season with a strong batch of relative unknowns, hoping to silence the critics.
Here are some of the more intriguing stories heading into the season.
Entering his first season as a professional hockey player, Freddie Hamilton looks to be San Jose’s most balanced prospect. Offense, defense, and everything in between, Hamilton just plays the game the right way. He was a big time point-producer in the OHL, amassing two consecutive 80 point seasons, finishing seventh overall last season. While it’s practically a given he won’t be scoring at such a torrid pace at the professional level, don’t discount the shutdown center from being a major part of the Worcester offense in year one.
The 2010 fifth-round pick might actually challenge for a roster spot on the NHL Sharks team if there is in fact a salvageable season. However, a season or two of development will probably serve Hamilton and the Sharks organization better.
Tommy Wingels, C, San Jose Sharks (NHL)
No one embodies the title of relative unknown better than Tommy Wingels. With 38 NHL games played, including five playoff games from the Sharks' first-round series against St. Louis last season, Wingels appears ready to take the next big step in his career and become an NHL regular. Capable of playing on the wing or at center, the Evanston, Illinois product will be an early front-runner to not only break camp but play a top-nine role with the big club.
Wingels likely won’t light the world on fire in any offensive categories, but there are good odds that he will be a key contributor to the Sharks forward corps and become yet another prospect to come out of nowhere and contribute at the NHL level.
Nick Petrecki, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Having never quite lived up to his potential, Nick Petrecki’s window of opportunity is slowly closing. The physical blueliner has all the tools to be a shutdown-pairing defenseman in the NHL, but has yet to put everything together for a consistent stretch of time at the AHL level.
After struggling for most of his second season with Worcester, the former first-round pick finally started to put things together at season's end. Not only was he playing smarter in his own end, he was actually shooting considerably more than he was through the first four months. If he can carry that momentum into the 2012-13 season, Petrecki might finally begin to follow through on his potential.
Marek Viedensky, C. Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Two seasons ago, Marek Viedensky led a very good Saskatoon Blades team in scoring with 36 goals and 88 points. In his first season in the AHL, his offensive talents did not translate well. In fact, Viedensky struggled mightily on the score sheet registering a mere 11 points in 52 games.
Proving to be a talented force on the penalty kill, Viedensky ended the year with tremendous confidence away from the puck. Expect that confidence to translate into increased ice-time and more opportunity in the offensive zone and a reemergence of his strong two-way play from 2010-11.
Top Junior Prospect
Chris Tierney, D, London Knights (OHL)
Drafted in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Chris Tierney brings a familiar skill set to the San Jose Sharks organization with his solid two-way play. The difference between Tierney and some of the other Sharks prospects is that the London Knights forward also has the potential to be a high-end playmaker.
Tierney will be forced into a more prolific role this season as a third year player for the Knights, and will need to round out his offensive game, while continuing to shutdown the best opposition and killing penalties in the OHL.
A talented winger, Christophe Lalancette looks poised to build upon his first full season of major junior hockey. Compiling 16 goals and 31 assists over the course of 63 games, it is not out of the realm of possibility to see Lalancette dwarf these numbers given a larger role.
While playing for the Titan, Lalancette rarely looked out of place. That reliability should earn him more opportunity both at even strength and on the power play, but if the versatile forward really wants to make waves, he will have to add some size to better compete in front of the net.
New Team in 2012
J.P. Anderson, G, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
During the 2011-12 season, J.P. Anderson was traded from the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors to the Sarnia Sting where he helped the team secure a playoff spot with a 12-12-1-1 record.
Before news of the lockout, the Sting decided to remedy the loss of a number of key offensive players (including Edmonton Oilers pick Nail Yakupov and Montreal Canadiens pick Alex Galchenyuk) by moving to a more defensive structure to try and remain competitive. With a new team, and a new defense first system in front of him, Anderson will be heavily relied upon in his sixth season in the CHL and could post career-numbers.
Drafted in 2011 in the second round, Matt Nieto represents a growing trend of talented young Sharks prospects playing collegiate hockey. The right wing had a superb sophomore season in 2011-12 contributing in all facets of the game.
Not overly big at 5'11” and 185 pounds, Nieto’s size has yet to become an issue at the amateur level and his strength should only increase over another two years as he tries to lead the Terriers to a NCAA Championship. In the meantime, he’ll concentrate on establishing better puck control during the 2012-13 season in an attempt to offset any size issues he cannot fix in the weight room.
Cody Ferriero, C, Northeastern University Huskies (NCAA)
If not for a knee injury last season, Cody Ferriero might have climbed the Sharks organizational depth charts considering the type of season he was having. Instead, he fell a little bit.
If the knee can stay healthy for a full season, Ferriero who posted an impressive 15 points in 17 games with Northeastern in 2011-12, could open some eyes. The Junior forward was playing on the Huskies top line before being injured, and given the Huskies' current makeup, national exposure from a championship run could be in Ferriero’s future.
Freshman to Watch
Dan O'Regan, C, Boston University Terriers (NCAA)
Good things come in small packages. Dan O’Regan is currently the smallest San Jose Sharks prospect, but the 2012 fifth round pick, has all the makings to be an exceptional playmaking forward.
The 5’9” spark plug has committed to play for the Boston University Terriers, where he will join Nieto. Freshman are not typically significant contributors at the collegiate level, but O’Regan possesses terrific offensive prowess and should make a name for himself in Boston this season.
Top European Prospect
Tomas Hertl, C, HC Slavia Praha (Czech Extraliga)
Not only is Tomas Hertl the top European Prospect for the Sharks, but he is their top prospect period. With Charlie Coyle being traded to the Minnesota Wild last offseason, the Sharks blue chip talent seemed rather non-existent. Enter, Hertl.
The agile, offensively dangerous Czech forward will stay in his native country and play professionally for Slavia Praha in the Czech Extraliga. The decision to remain in Europe probably was made easier with news of the lockout, as Hertl otherwise would have been expected at Sharks training camp and could have potentially found a way to make the big club. Instead, he’ll have an increased opportunity to work on the few areas of his game that saw him slide down the draft boards in June. If Hertl can remain healthy and improve upon his stride technique, expect the 6’2" versatile forward to lead a young and exciting Czech Republic team at the World Juniors this winter in Russia.