Sharks CHL prospects update

By Kevin Wey

The San Jose Sharks have not drafted quantity out of major juniors in recent years, but they have drafted quality.

San Jose only has six players in major juniors this season: one forward, three defensemen, and two goalies. However, the forward is among the league leaders in scoring in the WHL and is making a major push to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.

The Sharks lone defenseman in the QMJHL also has a legitimate shot at playing for Team Canada at the WJC as one of the top two-way defensemen in the “Q.” One of San Jose’s OHL defensemen has been selected to play for Team OHL in the Canada-Russia Challenge, and the other is among the OHL leaders in defensive scoring.

In net, both of San Jose’s goalies are their team’s starters. One has missed significant action due to a hip injury, but he is already establishing himself as one of the top goalies in the league.

The Sharks may have more prospects in the college ranks, but the quality of the Sharks prospects in major juniors top to bottom leaves reason for optimism.

Jason Churchill
Goaltender
Ht: 6’3 Wt: 185 Catch: Left
Born: 11-05-1985, Hodge’s Cove, Newfoundland
Acquired: 4th Round, 129th pick overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
2005-06: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Jason Churchill was one of the top starting goalies in the QMJHL the first half of last season. He was the starting goalie for the Halifax Mooseheads through Jan. 9 last season, then the club acquired Jeremy Duchesne from Victoriaville. By the end of the season, Duchesne was the Mooseheads’ No. 1 and Churchill found himself on the bench down the stretch and in the playoffs.

The Hodge’s Cove, Newfoundland, native is a starter once again, only now for the expansion Saint John Sea Dogs. Saint John acquired the Churchill from Halifax June 3, two days after the Expansion Draft, for defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk. The first player acquired via trade in Sea Dogs history, Churchill has since started all but two of the team’s contests as of Nov. 8, and has compiled respectable .909 save percentage, good for ninth among all goalies with more than 500 minutes.

Saint John head coach Christian LaRue moved to acquire Churchill as soon as he was made available by Halifax.

“Being an expansion team we were looking for an established goaltender that we could rely on pretty much game in and game out,” LaRue said. “We targeted a couple of guys within the expansion draft and during the process it happened that we could kind of get a guy within the expansion draft and swing him to Halifax for Churchill and we decided to go that route.

“Even though he’s been acquired via trade after the expansion draft, for us he was part of the process because we knew we had to get a strong goaltender.”

Churchill earned a satisfying victory in the Sea Dogs’ second game of the season, a 6-3 win over the Halifax Mooseheads. The former Moosehead made 36 saves on 39 shots to out-duel his former partner Duchesne. The teams played against Sept. 23, and although Saint John lost 6-2, Churchill was solid with 48 saves on 54 shots.

Seeing ice time more like what he saw the first half of 2004-05, Churchill has only gotten better as the season has progressed. He was named QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week Oct. 31 for 37-save, 3-2 victory Oct. 27 against Acadie-Bathurst and a 32-save, 2-0 shutout win against Cape Breton Oct. 30. Churchill was on a hot streak to end October and begin November. Having started all but three games, Churchill is vital to the Sea Dogs’ success.

“[Churchill] has been very important, I mean he’s the cornerstone at goal,” LaRue said. “There’s no secret that most of the wins that we’ve got and most of the games that we’ve been battling and competing for points, he’s had a huge, huge, huge part.”

Receiving consistent ice time, Churchill has becoming more and more consistent as the season has worn on.

“Right now, every time he steps on the ice you can count on him for 60 minutes,” LaRue said. “We’ve already played three overtime games and haven’t been scored on in three overtimes, and he was the guy in net.

“He looked extremely in control in those overtimes, and for us there is a lot of pressure in the overtimes.”

At 6’3 185 pounds, Churchill has good size, but he’s also a very quick goalie. He is also an adept puckhandling goalie, still valuable with the new goaltender rules in various leagues because the potential exists to make the long-bomb pass to the far blue line, which Churchill can do easily. LaRue said that despite Churchill’s quickness, he still needs to add lower body strength to make it to the next level.

“We’re very satisfied right now, but we’re talking at the junior level,” LaRue said. “With the pros, execution is quicker and the shooters are a lot sharper, so you’ve got to find a way to be square to the puck at all times and right now he’s getting there, but he’s going to have to get his lower body stronger as the season goes on and in the offseason.”

Born in 1985, Churchill could have played pro hockey this year, but it was not a viable option after he ended last season as Halifax’s backup. However, with a solid season logging lots of minutes for the Sea Dogs, Churchill may just have a shot at a three-way contract with the Sharks next season.

Taylor Dakers
Goaltender
Ht: 6’2 Wt: 170 Catch: Left
Born: 9-14-1986, Langley, British Columbia
Acquired: 5th Round, 140th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
2005-06: Kootenay Ice (WHL)

Having served as the understudy for Jeff Glass the past two seasons, 2005-06 was to be the year Taylor Dakers took the reins in net and became the Kootenay Ice’s No. 1 netminder. Then Dakers started suffering from hip soreness late in the offseason, and the third-year WHL vet missed Kootenay’s first 18 games before suiting up as backup to Kris Lazaruk Nov. 4 and then starting his first game of the season Nov. 6. Dakers’ first game of the season was 13-save, 3-1 loss to the Kamloops Blazers, which included one empty net goal.

The specific reasons for Dakers’ hip problems are not known.

“We’re not 100 percent sure,” Kootenay head coach Cory Clouston said.

“His hip and back alignment I don’t think was proper,” Clouston added. “He’s been working on strengthening and stretching, he’s seen a chiropractor, and he’s actually been doing yoga.”

While Dakers was out Kris Lazaruk established himself as a viable option in net for the Kootenay Ice. In 19 games of action Lazaruk has a .917 goals-against average and a 2.36 goals-against native, along with an 11-7 record. Despite Lazaruk’s solid start to the season, Dakers is still No. 1 in net for Kootenay.

“Taylor’s our No. 1 goaltender and Kris understands that and Kris did an outstanding job for and he’s going to continue to do a very good job for us when he gets to start,” Clouston said.

“It’s good to have a little of the healthy competition,” Clouston added. “It’s good for Kris to push Taylor, but in that regard we know Taylor has improved over the last two to three years for us.

“We feel he’s one of the top goaltenders in this league and it’s his time to show it.”

The main thing Dakers has to work on is his consistency.

“It’s a situation where last year Jeff Glass played most of the back-to-back games, four, five, six in a row, and Taylor didn’t have to do that very often,” Clouston said. “It’s the situation now where he’s going to have to have that consistency, he’s going to have to put strings of games together where he’s playing very well and getting wins for us.”

Dakers is still No. 1 in Kootenay for good reason. He has been a model of consistency since returning and has allowed no more than two goals in each start. In five games, Dakers has four wins, a 1.78 goals-against average, and a .926 save percentage. If Dakers can maintain these numbers over the rest of the season, he’ll finish among the WHL’s leaders and may lead Kootenay to victory in the ultra competitive British Columbia Division.

Derek Joslin
Defenseman
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 191 Shoots: Left
Born: 3-17-87, Richmond Hill, Ontario
Acquired: 5th Round, 149th pick overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
2005-06: Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

In only his second season of OHL hockey, Derek Joslin is a No. 1 defenseman. Steady defensively, Joslin also moves the puck reasonably well. After 21 games he has 3 goals and 12 assists, tops among all Ottawa defensemen and 18th in the OHL. Joslin’s offensive numbers came primarily in the first eight games of the season, wherein he had a point in seven of the eight games and nine points through that period.

One of the better two-way defensemen in the OHL, Joslin has been selected to play for Team OHL against Team Russia Nov. 28 in Peterborough for the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge Series.

Ottawa 67’s head coach Brian Kilrea has recognized Joslin as a rock in an otherwise inconsistent season for the team.

“We’ve been a little bit up and down, but he’s been consistent, so Derek is one of our leaders on the blue line,” said Kilrea.

Joslin has paired with 2005 Carolina Hurricanes fourth round draft pick Jakub Vojta on Ottawa’s top pairing so far this season. On a team with many minus players, Joslin’s +5 rating is second best on the team, behind only Vojta’s +11.

Beginning his season at San Jose Sharks training camp in September, the Sharks gave Joslin a couple homework assignments while in Ottawa.

“They want him to have two hands on the stick at most times, mainly because of the change of the penalties, and he’s done that,” Kilrea said. “He’s been working on his turns and finishing his checks, using the body more so than the hands or the arms.”

Joslin has also continued to hone his skating, which he works on consistently, and getting the puck on net quicker. Although Kilrea is pleased with the impact Joslin’s improvements have made on the 67’s, Kilrea also knows he’s developing Joslin for an even greater purpose.

“We’re just happy for the improvement because we know how much he means to our team, but also, down the road, we know that we’re grooming him for San Jose.”

Part of Joslin’s development in 2005-06 has been increased power play time.

“He didn’t play the power play before, because usually it’s the guys 19 and the overagers who play on it,” Kilrea said. “Now he’s on the first power play unit.”

It shows in Joslin’s stats, as he has one power play goal and seven power play assists. Joslin has lofty shoes to fill wearing number 77, but he’s been as steady as Ray Bourque for the 67’s in 2005.

Devin Setoguchi
Right Wing
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 190 Shoots: Right
Born: 1-1-1987, Taber, Alberta
Acquired: 1st Round, 8th pick overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
2005-06: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)

A surprise at the eighth pick of the 2005 NHL, Devin Setoguchi is making San Jose scouts look like geniuses so far this WHL season. After 23 games Setoguchi is third in WHL scoring with 12 goals and 21 assists.

Despite being a first round draft pick, Team Canada did not select Setoguchi to attend its National Junior Development Camp Aug. 10-14. The camp featured 44 of Canada’s top junior players to serve as a beginning in the selection of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship team. However, after a solid start to the 2005-06 season, Setoguchi has been picked by the WHL to represent the league in the CHL-Russia Challenge when Team Russia comes to Saskatoon Nov. 30 and Regina Dec. 1. Setoguchi will be joined by his center Joe Barnes, a third-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes. Fellow Saskatoon Blade Wacey Rabbit completes Saskatoon’s trio of players on Team WHL.

After going without a point in his first game of the season, Setoguchi proceeded to go on a six-game point scoring streak, tallying three goals and six assists. Currently one of the hottest scorers in the WHL, Setoguchi is on an 11-game point streak in which he has accumulated 7 goals and 13 assists. Setoguchi was named the WHL Player of the Week Nov. 7-13 after scoring 4 goals and 6 assists in four games.

Although Setoguchi is known for his offensive play, Saskatoon Blades head coach Lorne Molleken is helping Setoguchi become a more complete player, which Molleken feels has made the difference in Setoguchi’s play of late.

“In the early part maybe Devin was trying to do a little too much, after coming back from a successful camp in San Jose, but over the last month he’s really settled down and now he’s doing an outstanding job in all areas, whether it’s 5-on-5, penalty kill or power play.

“He’s really starting to pay attention to the little things.”

As a former NHL head coach with the Chicago Blackhawks and an assistant with San Jose and Pittsburgh, Molleken knows he cannot let Setoguchi rely on offensive talent alone.

“Being an offensive guy, at this level, coaches tend to let them get away with that and not really focus on their responsibility away from the puck, and that’s something that we’re stressing here with him, because in order for him to play in the NHL, he’s going to have to learn how to do that.

“You want your players to play to their strengths, but our focus here is to help him get to the next level as soon as possible.”

If Setoguchi continues to improve his defensive game and maintains his exploits offensively, getting to the next level (San Jose) will be sooner rather than later.

Michael Vernace
Defenseman
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 208 Shoots: Left
Born: 5-26-86, Downsview, Ontario
Acquired: 7th Round, 201st pick overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft
2005-06: Brampton Battalion (OHL)

Named to the OHL All-Rookie First Team last season, Brampton Battalion defenseman Michael Vernace is picking up where he left off, scoring points on the power play.

After 20 games, Vernace has 3 goals and 14 assists, 13th in the OHL among defensemen. Of those totals, two of the goals and 11 of the assists were tallied on the power play. Well established as an offensive defenseman in the OHL, Brampton Battalion head coach Stan Butler sees room for improvement.

“I think in his own end he needs to be better defensively, I think that’s part of his game he needs to work,” Butler said. “From an offensive standpoint he needs to get his shot away a little bit quicker.”

Defensively, Butler would specifically like to see Vernace improve at one-on-ones, compete harder for loose pucks, and not allow guys to get to the net. While Vernace needs to improve his defensive game for 5-on-5 play, Butler does compliment Vernace for many parts of his offensive game.

“I think he’s got an innate ability offensively,” Butler said. “He reads the play very well, he’s got good hands, he can make plays in small areas, and he’s a good passer.”

Although Vernace has numerous power play points this season, Butler would like to see his power play’s efficiency improve from 15 percent, and he would also like to see the Battalion power play give up fewer shorthanded goals. As the quarterback of Brampton’s power play, Vernace plays a major role in the success or failure of the Battalion’s play with the man advantage.

At 6’0 208 pounds, Vernace has sufficient size, and his offensive skills are proven, but to become an NHL defenseman he will have to improve his defensive game. Otherwise, he may face the same struggles San Jose Sharks youngster Christian Ehrhoff is currently facing in becoming a regular in the San Jose line-up. To compound the challenge ahead, Vernace does not have Ehrhoff’s skating ability. Like Ehrhoff, Vernace does not lack hockey sense, he just needs to compete harder in the defensive zone.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Defenseman
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 194 Shoots: Left
Born: 3-30-1987, Montreal, Quebec
Acquired: 2nd Round, 36th pick overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft
2005-06: Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Marc-Edouard Vlasic showed a glimpse of his offensive potential in the QMJHL playoffs last season. He scored 2 goals and 7 assists in 13 games, an increase in pace from the 5 goals and 25 assists he scored in 70 regular season games for the Quebec Remparts. By the end of the 2004-05 season, Vlasic had firmly established himself as a steady defenseman willing to play a physical game, and also possessing some offensive potential.

Flash forward to 2005-06, where Vlasic has an even better Alexander Radulov and rookie Angelo Esposito on his team, and 8 goals and 19 assists in 22 games to show for it. Only 18, Vlasic is one of the best two-way defensemen in the QMJHL. Routinely called upon to play against each opponent’s top line, Vlasic is also called upon to help create offense, especially on the power play, where he has 5 goals and 10 assists. Vlasic’s is also very strong 5-on-5, evidenced by his +19 rating, top on the Remparts and third among all QMJHL defensemen.

Vlasic’s most memorable game of the young season may be his game Sept. 30 against the expansion St. John’s Fog Devils. The blueliner scored a power play goal, added two assists, and fired five shots in Quebec’s home opener after a five-game road trip to start the season. Quebec won 6-3 and Vlasic was named the third star of the game. The game also marked Patrick Roy’s first game behind the Remparts bench.

Whereas Setoguchi was left off of Team Canada’s National Junior Development Camp roster, Vlasic was one of 16 defensemen invited to the camp and one of five defensemen from the QMJHL. While only eight defensemen will make Team Canada’s WJC roster, Vlasic’s combination of strong skating, reliable puck moving, two-way awareness and physicality should make him a strong candidate.

Despite his young age, Vlasic is also already an alternate captain for the Remparts, a mark of leadership that San Jose generally looks for in its prospects. The QMJHL is not known for producing as many NHL defensemen as the WHL and the OHL, and San Jose had never drafted a defenseman out of the QMJHL until Vlasic, but the Sharks second round pick in 2005 is well on his way to setting a sound precedent.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.