Sharks Top 20 prospects

By Kevin Wey

Top 20 at a Glance
1. (1) Milan Michalek, LW
2. (4) Matt Carle, D
3. (7) Devin Setoguchi, RW
4. (6) Steve Bernier, RW
5. (3) Marcel Goc, C
6. (16) Josh Gorges, D
7. (8) Josh Hennessy, C
8. (12) Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, D
9. (6) Lukas Kaspar, RW
10. (NR) Thomas Greiss, G
11. (15) Doug Murray, D
12. (10) Dimitri Patzold, G
13. (11) Patrick Ehelechner, G
14. (NR) Taylor Dakers, G
15. (NR) Grant Stevenson, RW
16. (14) Ryane Clowe, RW
17. (18) Dan Spang, D
18. (19) Torrey Mitchell, C
19. (NR) Derek Joslin, D
20. (9) Mike Morris, RW

As has been the case the past few years, the San Jose Sharks have no high-end prospects of the Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, or Evgeni Malkin caliber, but San Jose has strong depth beyond 10th and even beyond 20th.

A number of the prospects in San Jose’s current Top 20 are making their last appearance on the list. Milan Michalek was expected to graduate in 2004 at the beginning of the 2003-04 season, as he cracked San Jose roster as an 18-year-old, but knee injuries and a subsequent staph infection from the surgery kept the Czech out of action for nearly all of the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. Having played 55 games this season leading up to the Olympic Break, and two games in 2003-04, the two-way forward is only eight games away from Hockey’s Future graduation, barring injury. Marcel Goc is also likely making his last appearance on the Top 20. Like Michalek, Goc has played 55 games this season, his first regular season games after playing in five playoff games in 2004.

Doug Murray and Grant Stevenson are also making their last appearance on the Top 20 list. Murray is in his third year of pro hockey out of college at Cornell, and Stevenson is also in his third season of pro hockey after leaving Minnesota State-Mankato after his sophomore year. Stevenson fell out of the Top 20 last season, but he’s earned a place once again after a strong start to his NHL career.

Three others are debuting on the list for the first time. Thomas Greiss has been realizing his talent with Cologne in the German Elite League in 2005-06 and was a member of the Germany’s Olympic team. Taylor Dakers is finally Kootenay’s starting goaltender, and he’s been worth the wait, as he’s one of the WHL’s top goalies this year, after overcoming a hip injury. Defenseman Derek Joslin is also making his first appearance on the Top 20 list, and the anticipated graduation of five players on the list should ensure he stays there after the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Others are now off the list. Christian Ehrhoff has graduated from the list, but still as to improve his play in his own zone to realize his tremendous talent. Michael Vernace and Joe Pavelski have both fallen off of the list, not because they’re doing poorly, just because questions remain surrounding their games and because others are doing so well. Garrett Stafford has fallen off the list as well. The 26-year-old has yet to play an NHL game and looks no closer in 2005-06 than he did in 2003-04. Nolan Schaefer looked primed to make the list once again earlier this season, but the re-signing of Vesa Toskala to a two-year contract brings the free agent’s future with San Jose into question.

The Sharks are a team that strongly believe in building within, notwithstanding the Joe Thornton trade, so many of these prospects should in fact play for Team Teal one day.

1. Milan Michalek, LW Age: 21
Grade: 8.0 B
Acquired: 1st Rd, 6th Overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Milan Michalek is finally having the season he should have had in 2003-04, when his season was cut short by a torn ACL in the Sharks second game of the season and then again after a premature six-game stint with the Cleveland Barons in the AHL. After missing all of the 2004-05 season, recovering from a staph infection from the surgery to repair his knee, two years later Michalek hasn’t missed a beat. He’s receiving quality ice time, 15:23 minutes a game, and has a respectable 12 goals and 11 assists in 55 games, despite tallying no points in the month of November.

The 6’2, 220-pound Czech has a powerful skating stride matched by a powerful shot and fairly soft hands. With good speed and strong two-way awareness, Michalek is a prototypical Shark forward. His power, speed, passing, playmaking, and two-way game give him all the tools to be a first line forward for San Jose. At worst, he should continue to skate on the Sharks productive second line with Patrick Marleau and fellow rookie Steve Bernier.

2. Matt Carle, D Age: 21
Grade: 8.0 B
Acquired: 2nd Rd, 47th Overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Matt Carle was considered a surprise pick in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, now it’s a surprise he’s not already in the NHL. As a junior, the defenseman leads the WCHA in conference scoring with nine goals and 33 assists. His 11 goals and 39 assists in 34 total games ties him for fourth in NCAA DI scoring with Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ryan Potulny. One of the favorites to win the Hobey Baker Award, the University of Denver co-captain is not just an offensive defenseman, he’s solid defensively. The 2003 USHL Defenseman of the Year has played a key defensive role for the Pioneers for three seasons and is the top all-around defenseman in college hockey.

The 6’0, 195-pound blueliner is not large by NHL standards, but he has the skating ability to match the crackdown on obstruction in the new NHL. Despite having modest size, Carle is able and willing to play a physical game. Offensively, Carle’s skating, awareness, passing, stickhandling, and point shot make him extremely effective on the power play. He has no panic button, and thus rarely makes unadvised first passes or risky moves at the point.

Carle looks to surpass Ehrhoff as San Jose’s future power play quarterback. The Alaska native’s complete game just may make him San Jose’s future first defenseman. If not, playing as Scott Hannan’s partner on the first pairing might do. The immediate question is whether Carle will play his senior season at the University of Denver next season or if he’ll be pushing for a spot in San Jose. He has little left to prove at the collegiate level, but he values his college education.

3. Devin Setoguchi, RW Age: 19
Grade: 8.0 B
Acquired: 1st Rd, 8th Overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

The Sharks surprised the hockey world when they drafted Devin Setoguchi with the eighth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but the Saskatoon Blades right winger has proven a prescient pick in 2005-06.

Setoguchi currently lies fifth in WHL scoring with 29 goals and 45 assists in 58 games, although he has missed Saskatoon’s last two games due to a slight groin pull. The Taber, Alberta, native also missed two games in December while at Canada’s World Junior Championship Selection Camp. Despite scoring a hat trick for Team WHL against Team Russia in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge, Setoguchi was not selected to play for Team Canada at Vancouver.

However, he’s still had strong season. Setoguchi was named the WHL Player of the Week Nov. 14 after scoring four goals and six assists in four games the previous week. The award came in the midst of what would become a 12-game point streak for the third-year Blade. The 19-year-old also had a 10-game point streak after returning from the Selection Camp.

Setoguchi’s impressive WHL season has come on the heels of an impressive NHL training camp with San Jose in September. Saskatoon head coach Lorne Molleken has been working hard with Setoguchi to help develop his young forward’s defensive game. Offensively, Setoguchi’s speed, skating, stickhandling, and extremely hard shot make him dangerous. Skating with Joe Barnes (CAR) and the undrafted Aaron Bader, Setoguchi has also been able to showcase his playmaking abilities. The 6’0, 190-pound winger can play the physical the game and lay out opponents with quality hits from time to time. However, take away his three fights this season, and Setoguchi only has 36 penalty minutes for the season.

Born January 1, 1987, Setoguchi would have been eligible for AHL assignment in 2006-07 if he were born one day earlier. However, Setoguchi could potentially bypass the AHL altogether. His offensive prowess gives him the potential to be a Top 6 forward on an NHL team. His scrappiness and his defensive tutelage under Molleken should help ensure he reaches this potential. In the meantime, Saskatoon must hope they get Setoguchi back from his groin injury sooner rather than later.

4. Steve Bernier, RW Age: 20
Grade: 7.5 B
Acquired: 1st Rd, 16th Overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Steve Bernier has worked hard since draft day 2003 to address concerns about his fitness, skating, and defensive awareness, and it has paid off with a spot on San Jose’s second line with Marleau and Michalek in recent weeks.

Recalled by San Jose in early November for a five-game stint, Bernier scored his first NHL goal Nov. 12. He was re-assigned to Cleveland Nov. 21, but soon established himself as Cleveland’s primary scoring threat, leading Cleveland with 20 goals in 49 games. Despite missing 12 games while playing for San Jose, Bernier’s 43 points place him third in Barons scoring and seventh in AHL rookie scoring, all this playing for a team that lacks impact veteran forwards such as Erik Westrum and Kirby Law. Reassigned to Cleveland for the Olympic Break, Bernier was on a three-game point streak, giving him one goal and four assists in 13 games for San Jose this season.

At 6’2 220 pounds, Bernier gives San Jose much needed size along the boards and in front of the net. He has the hands and the physicality to succeed in tight spaces both along the boards and in front of the net. In order to reach his full potential, he must improve his speed and compete on a consistent basis over the course of an 80-game season, as well as the playoffs. Prior to acquiring Thornton and prior to Jonathan Cheechoo’s full development this season, San Jose lacked a power forward presence. Now, San Jose doesn’t have to look to Bernier to carry the load, but instead provide San Jose with a second-tier power forward who should be one of their top six forwards for years to come.

5. Marcel Goc, C Age: 22
Grade: 6.5 A

Acquired: 1st Rd, 20th Overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Like Michalek, Goc would have graduated from this list last season had it not been for the NHL lockout. After battling with an injured wrist in 2004-05, but still putting up 16 goals and 34 assists in 76 games, the 22-year-old is a regular in the Sharks line-up in 2005-06.

The German has played in all but one of San Jose’s 56 games and has seven goals and eight assists. Before Joe Thornton was acquired from Boston, Goc was regularly receiving over 14 minutes of ice time per game on the third line. Since then Goc’s ice time has steadily decreased, and he now finds himself on the fourth line with Alyn McCauley and Grant Stevenson. Goc was also a member of Germany’s Olympic team in Torino. Although he only had one goal for the tournament, it was the game-tying goal against Italy.

Although Goc is currently skating on San Jose’s fourth line, the future is bright for Goc. He is a player that does everything well, although nothing great. He’s a smooth skater with decent speed and fairly soft hands. However, Goc’s two-way awareness is what should make him a top third line center that can fill in on the second line. Although he is not an overly physical player, the German is not afraid to finish his checks and he forechecks with purpose. Like Marco Sturm before him, Goc has been committed to a strong two-way game since he was a teenager playing in the German Elite League. Like McCauley, Goc could challenge for the Selke Trophy one day.

6. Josh Gorges, D Age: 21
Grade: 7.0 B
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent Sept. 20, 2002

Josh Gorges has been continually underrated. He wasn’t supposed to make major juniors, he wasn’t supposed to become a top WHL defenseman, he wasn’t supposed to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, he wasn’t supposed to become one of Cleveland’s steadiest defensemen as a rookie, and he wasn’t supposed to crack San Jose’s roster as a 21-year-old, but he has done all of this.

Known for putting up big numbers with the Kelowna Rockets, Gorges’ game at the professional level has come down to his incredibly steady defensive play and his competitiveness. He started the season on San Jose’s roster, but was sent down to Cleveland after appearing in one game. The Barons 2004-05 Rookie of the Year managed to post a +1 rating on a losing team in 18 games, along with two goals and three assists, and was recalled by San Jose Dec. 15 and hasn’t looked back. In 26 games with San Jose Gorges has four assists and has averaged nearly 18 minutes of ice time a night, often more.

The 6’0, 190-pound blueliner is not big by NHL standards, nor is he fast by NHL standards, but his awareness and competitiveness make up for any deficiencies. Gorges is not without skill though. He is a solid skater who uses his stick well defensively and also passes the puck well. In order to reach his offensive potential, Gorges will need to improve his shot and, like Tom Preissing has found, take a few more chances now and then. However, this will come as Gorges gains experience and confidence. The 21-year-old is already receiving the ice time of a fourth or fifth defenseman every night, sometimes well over 20 minutes. There is little reason to believe Gorges cannot become a third or fourth defenseman as he gains both strength and experience.

7. Josh Hennessy, C Age: 21
Grade: 7.0 B
Acquired: 2nd Rd, 43rd Overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Josh Hennessy has been the model of consistency for the Cleveland Barons. He’s become the team’s first line center, leads the team in scoring with 19 goals and 32 assists, and has played all 62 games. In fact, not only has Hennessy been consistent, he has gotten better as the season has progressed. The 21-year-old pivot has scored a point in 18 of the Barons last 22 games, with 11 goals and 15 assists in that time. His 51 points place him fifth among all AHL rookies in scoring.

Hennessy’s rookie pro season has gone exceptionally well, but it probably is no surprise given his consistent output with the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL the past three seasons. One of the league’s most consistent scorers, Hennessy had 30-plus goals and 80-plus points each of the last three seasons.

The speedy, playmaking center has been improving his defensive game in the AHL in 2005-06 and is learning to give a second effort. An excellent skater with good hands, Hennessy could afford to add more power to his shot. The Massachusetts native will likely start next season in Worcester, but he should become a second line playmaking center in the future.

8. Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, D Age: 18
Grade: 7.5 C
Acquired: 2nd Rd, 35th Overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Only 18 years old, Quebec Remparts defenseman Marc-Eduoard Vlasic has established himself as one of the top defensemen in the QMJHL. His 15 goals and 50 assists place him fourth in QMJHL defensive scoring. Although Vlasic’s production in 2005-06 has been aided by playing with offensive talents such as Nashville Predators prospect Alexander Radulov and QMJHL rookie Angelo Esposito, he is far from a purely offensive defenseman. The 6’1, 194-pound blueliner can quarterback the power play with his point shot and passing skills, but he’s also responsible in his own zone, rarely makes a bad decision, and can play a physical game.

Vlasic’s two-way game earned him invitations to Team Canada’s National Junior Development Camp in August and also to the World Junior Championships Selection Camp in December. Although he was left off the WJC roster for 2006, Vlasic is a top candidate to play for Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championships in Sweden. However, the QMJHL selected the Remparts alternate captain to play both games against Russia in the ADT Russia/Canada Challenge Series.

Like Matt Carle before him, Vlasic is looking like a good pick in the second round of the NHL Draft. Vlasic has little more to prove at the individual level at the junior level, except to play for Canada at the WJC’s. His more immediate mission is to help Quebec win the QMJHL championship and the Memorial Cup. Sharing many of the same strengths as Carle, the strong-skating, two-way defenseman has the potential to become a strong third defenseman in the NHL, receiving ice time in all situations. He’ll play major juniors in 2006-07, but the next step of Vlasic’s career is to perform against men, likely starting in the AHL in 2007-08.

9. Lukas Kaspar, RW Age: 20
Grade: 7.5 C
Acquired: 1st Rd, 22nd Overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Lukas Kaspar may be the most talented player in the Barons line-up. He has good speed, an extremely hard shot, excellent stickhandling, plays on the penalty kill fairly regularly, and has good size at 6’2 200 pounds, yet he has only one goal in his last 15 games.

The Czech winger has 10 goals and 15 assists in 58 games for the Barons, seventh in Cleveland scoring. Kaspar has played on Cleveland’s top two lines at times, and at others he’s skated on the third or even the fourth line. Despite having all of the tools, Kaspar must be able to use his speed, stickhandling, and booming shot on offense consistently.

To Kaspar’s credit, he has undergone a great deal of upheaval the past two seasons. Last year he played for the Ottawa 67’s and had 21 goals and 30 assists in 59 games in his rookie season in major juniors and his first season in North America. His six goals and 14 assists in 20 playoffs games helped lead Ottawa to the OHL championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup. Kaspar is again getting used to a new team, and this season he does not have New York Rangers prospect Jakub Petruzalek, his Czech juniors teammate who skated with him in Ottawa.

Kaspar has the talent to be a first and second line “tweener” and has a higher upside than Bernier or Hennessy, but Bernier and Hennessy have been able to contribute on a consistent basis. The 20-year-old winger will has all of the tools, he just has to bring them every shift, and every game.

10. Thomas Greiss, G Age: 20
Grade: 7.5 C
Acquired: 3rd Rd, 94th Overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Thomas Greiss had trouble outplaying Youri Ziffzer at the 2005 World Junior Championships, this year the 20-year-old has the best save percentage in the German Elite League, led Germany to the gold at the Division I Group A World Junior Championships, and was named to the German Olympic team.

Greiss started the season as Oliver Jonas’ backup with the Cologne Sharks, but after Jonas went down to injury for a few games, Greiss got his shot. The then 19-year-old started 11 of Cologne’s next 14 games and went 11-2, including a six-game winning streak Oct. 16 through Nov. 6. Since mid-November, Greiss and Jonas have split time, but the 20-year-old leads the DEL in save percentage (.933) and is fifth in goals-against average (2.28) after 22 games of action.

Turning 20 Jan. 29, Greiss was eligible to play for Germany’s WJC team one last time. Last year Ziffzer was Germany’s starter, this year Greiss was the team’s star, leading the tournament in save percentage with .978, goals-against at .050, and a 4-0-0 record that featured shutouts against the Ukraine and Slovenia. The German netminder was important in a 6-1 victory over Denmark, as Denmark outshot Germany 29-25. Germany won the tournament with a 5-0-0 record, Ziffzer shut out France, and the team has been promoted to the elite pool World Junior Championships in 2007.

Greiss’ standout performances in the DEL and the DI Group A WJC’s earned him a spot on Germany’s Olympic team roster behind Washington Capitals starter Olaf Kolzig and Krefeld Penguins goalie Robert Muller, a perennial member of the German national team. Head coach Uwe Krupp gave Greiss the start for the team’s game against Canada, and the youngest goalie in the men’s tournament held is own, making 35 saves on 40 shots.

A surprise in the third round in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Greiss is proving the pick prudent. At 6’1 194 pounds, Greiss has decent size, but his primary assets are his leg strength, technical abilities, and puckhandling. Fellow Germans Dimitri Patzold and Patrick Ehelechner were once more heralded, but now Greiss is the goalie who appears to have the best shot of succeeding Evgeni Nabokov as the Sharks starter.

11. Doug Murray, D Age: 25
Grade: 6.0 B
Acquired: 8th Rd, 241st Overall, 1999 NHL Entry Draft

It took Doug Murray some time, but the project eighth round defenseman taken in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft out of the Eastern Junior Hockey League has finally gotten his NHL opportunity.

A Hobey Baker finalist his junior season at Cornell University, Murray impressed all with his open-ice hitting and cannon shot in his rookie pro season with the Cleveland Barons in 2003-04. Murray has battled a nagging shoulder injury, the NHL lockout, and a hip injury his first two seasons with Cleveland, and despite starting the 2005-06 season in Cleveland, where he scored one goal and seven assists in two games, Murray has acquitted himself well in the NHL.

Recalled Dec. 2, the 6’3, 240-pound skating linebacker has provided San Jose with a physical presence on the blue line and an open ice hitter to match Kyle McLaren. Murray has skated primarily as a sixth defenseman, as he’s averaged 14:34 of ice time after 28 games and has only one assist. A shoulder injury kept him out of the line-up heading into the Olympic Break.

In order to assure his place in San Jose’s future line-up, as San Jose has a number of good prospect defensemen in the system, Murray must continue to improve his skating and footspeed, vital in the new NHL. He also must find a way to stay healthy. Murray has the potential to be a physical fifth defenseman who can fill in on the power play now and again with his point shot. At worst, he should be a serviceable seventh defenseman.

12. Dimitri Patzold, G Age: 23
Grade: 7.0 C
Acquired: 4th Rd, 107th Overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Dimitri Patzold appeared to be trending upward after establishing himself as Nolan Schaefer’s equal in 2004-05, but the German has failed to find consistency in 2005-06.

Patzold’s winning record of 18-16-5 and his .911 save percentage and 2.58 in 41 games of action last season hinted that Patzold might challenge to take the starting role in Cleveland this season, but after 22 games this season the 23-year-old in the third and final year of his entry-level contract has a dismal 3.91 goals-against average, .871 save percentage, and 6-14-0 record. Prior to February, Patzold had generally had one strong game a month and then the remainder were mediocre. However, in his last three appearances he has made 64 saves on 69 shots with two wins and a strong relief appearance Feb. 25.

Patzold was previously one of Germany’s top young goalies, a two-time starter at the World Juniors Championships, but he was passed over for the German Olympic team in favor of fellow Shark prospect Thomas Greiss. Although Patzold was taken out of action for a month with a knee injury suffered in early December, his season prior to that point was worse than post-injury.

His save percentage has been slowly improving month by month, but Patzold may be nearing the end of his opportunity. Having only turned 23 earlier in February, Patzold is still a young goaltender, but San Jose has a number of young goaltenders who are eligible to play in Worcester next season, including Greiss, Ehelechner, Taylor Dakers, and Jason Churchill. San Jose will likely give Patzold a one-year contract after this season with the starting spot in Worcester as his to lose. He must prove he’s at least a true No. 1 AHL netminder, otherwise Greiss and Ehelechner will be given the opportunity. Once seeming to have the potential to be a starting netminder in the NHL, time is starting to run out for Patzold because of a glut of goalies in the Sharks system.

13. Patrick Ehelechner, G Age: 21
Grade: 7.0 C
Acquired: 5th Rd, 139th Overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Patrick Ehelechner surprised the hockey world when he returned to Germany after two solid seasons with the Sudbury Wolves, where he was an OHL Second Team All-Star in 2003-04, his rookie major junior season. Ehelechner was the one receiving the surprise when the Mannheim Eagles signed veteran Frederic Chabot just before the beginning of the DEL season. By mid-October, Ehelechner was now longer and Eagle, but instead had become a Fox, on loan to Duisburg from Mannheim.

Ehelechner started 14 of Duisburg’s first 16 games after his arrival, earning a 7-7 record. However, by late December Christian Rohde had re-established himself as Duisburg’s starter, until he went down to injury against Hannover Jan. 15. The 21-year-old injured his ankle and left shoulder the next game, Jan. 17, and did not play against until Feb. 3, a 2-1 shootout win over Ingolstadt. Nicknamed “The White Tiger,” Ehelechner leads the Foxes in minutes played with 1119 and shutouts with two, and his .903 save percentage is just behind Rohde’s .906.

The 6’2, 184-pound netminder has good size, but also moves well in the crease, has a quick glove, plays his angles well, and stays fairly calm in net. Like many young netminders, Ehelechner must improve his consistency. Ehelechner could have played in the ECHL this season with spot time in the AHL behind Schaefer and Patzold, but instead he chose to return to Germany. This decision has brought mixed results, as Ehelechner has not proven to be Rohde’s superior in Duisburg. An improvement in consistency would go a long way, as Ehelechner has been pulled five times in 20 starts with Duisburg.

14. Taylor Dakers, G Age: 19
Grade: 7.0 C
Acquired: 5th Rd, 140th Overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Taylor Dakers spent most of the past two seasons on the bench behind in Kootenay behind Jeff Glass. Glass is now in the Ottawa Senators farm system, and Dakers is proving to be next great Ice goaltender.

The 19-year-old had a hip injury limit his action in Sharks rookie camp and also caused him missed the first 18 games of the WHL season with a hip injury, but the netminder has been made making up for lost time since returning to the line-up Nov. 4. Forty starts and one relief appearance later, Dakers has the third best save percentage in the WHL at .924, just behind Justin Pogge and Leland Irving, and fifth in the WHL with a 2.17 save percentage. His seven shutouts and 25 wins also establish him as one of the top goalies in the WHL.

Dakers is an efficient goaltender who attempts to minimize unnecessary movements. After serving as Glass’ backup for two seasons, Dakers is now Kootenay’s starter, allowing him to develop more consistency to his game. Also an adept puckhandling goaltender, Dakers gives San Jose a goaltender who has the potential to have Marty Turco or Rick DiPietro-esque puck skills. The 6’2, 170-pound netminder mainly needs additional muscle and experience. Eligible to turn pro in 2006-07, San Jose will most likely keep Dakers in major juniors for one more season. Dakers has proven that Kootenay head coach Cory Clouston’s confidence in his former backup was well-founded, and that San Jose made a strong selection in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

15. Grant Stevenson, RW Age: 24
Grade: 6.0 B
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent April 13, 2003

In his third professional season, thanks somewhat to the crackdown on obstruction, Grant Stevenson has finally broken through at both the AHL and NHL levels.

Stevenson began the season in Cleveland, but after scoring eight goals and eight assists in 17 games the Barons top forward was recalled Nov. 23 and he has not played an AHL game since. The former Minnesota State University forward scored five goals and six assists in his first 11 games, a start similar to that of San Jose’s rookie hero in 1992-93, Rob Gaudreau. After 36 games, Stevenson has nine goals and 10 assists and has found himself more and more in the role of a fourth line forward.

At 6’0 175 pounds, Stevenson was very slight for the old NHL. In the new NHL, Stevenson can not only use his speed, quickness, and tenacity on the forecheck, but also offensively. He has the offensive skills to contribute on the scoresheet now and again, but he’s also willing to play a two-way game, although he will have to get stronger to succeed in one-on-one battles in the NHL.

Stevenson must now prove he is not the carbon copy of Gaudreau, who was relegated to the fourth line in 1993-94 when San Jose upgraded in skill and was out of the NHL by the 1996-97 season. Signed as a free agent after his sophomore season at Minnesota State, the undrafted Stevenson has the potential to be a third line forward who can fill in on higher lines in emergencies. At the least, he provided San Jose with a much-needed boost upon recall this season.

16. Ryane Clowe, RW Age: 23
Grade: 6.0 B

Acquired: 6th Rd, 175th Overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Ryane Clowe looked like a lock to play on San Jose’s fourth line in 2005-06 after leading the Cleveland Barons in scoring with 27 goals and 35 assists in 2004-05, but the third-year pro has not been able to crack San Jose’s line-up full-time and is back in Cleveland again.

The 6’2, 215-pound winger started the season in San Jose, but after 15 games and only two assists was assigned to Cleveland Nov. 21. Clowe has been recalled for two stints since, but has only played in one game on each subsequent recall.

In the AHL, Clowe is as dangerous as he was last season. In 26 games he has 13 goals and 13 assists, tops among all Cleveland players for points per game. Playing in all situations for the Barons, seven of Clowe’s goals have come on the power play and another has come shorthanded.

Strong along the boards, physical, and possessing good size, Clowe has all of the makings of a good checking line forward. His skating was once criticized, but it is now adequate and his speed is decent. His hustle makes up for any lack of speed on the forecheck. Clowe is also one of San Jose’s most physical forward prospects, although he is not a fighter. His heavy shot should eventually help him find the net now and then at the NHL level, even though he has no goals in the NHL in 2005-06. Time is running out though, as younger prospects are progressing and look to battle for a spot on San Jose’s roster in 2006-07.

17. Dan Spang, D Age: 22
Grade: 6.0 B
Acquired: 2nd Rd, 52nd Overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Boston University defenseman Dan Spang is coming into his own in 2005-06. The 2002 second-round draft pick, taken directly out of Massachusetts public high school, has progressed steadily, but the offense is starting to follow in Spang’s senior season. Known as one of Hockey East’s top defenseman defensively entering the season, Spang’s four goals and 17 assists in 32 games places him fourth among all HEA defenseman in overall scoring. He is also fourth among Hockey East defensemen in conference scoring with three goals and 15 assists in 25 games.

The Boston native’s strong two-way play has earned him a nomination as one of 15 finalists for the Walter Brown Award, awarded by the Boston Gridiron Club to the top American-born collegiate player playing in the Northeast. The 6’0, 207-pound Terrier is known for his skating ability and his strength, not just in the gym, but on his skates.

Spang’s skating and his strength on his skates should translate into a professional career, potentially as a fourth or fifth defenseman in the NHL. Only 22, Spang will enter the AHL in 2006-07 as a 23-year-old, typically an age where defensemen are just starting to hit their prime. Despite his strong shot and developing offensive skills, Spang will likely be a defensive defenseman at the pro level who can also move the puck reliably. His skating and power should ensure that he reaches that potential.

18. Torrey Mitchell, C Age: 21
Grade: 6.5 C
Acquired: 4th Rd, 129th Overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Torrey Mitchell was a member of the ECAC All-Rookie Team in 2004-05, in 2005-06, he’s one of the top scorers in the superior Hockey East Association. The University of Vermont switched from the ECAC to Hockey East, and the Catamounts first-line center has helped ease the transition. The sophomore is third in HEA overall scoring with 12 goals and 25 assists in 34 games. UVM’s leading scorer was runner up for Hockey East’s Player of the Month for October when he scored two goals and eight assists in six games and has been named to the Hockey East Honor Roll on seven occasions. Mitchell was especially effective the first semester, scoring six goals and 16 assists in 15 games. He also had a hat trick and an assist in the Catamounts exhibition game against St. Francis-Xavier to start the season.

The sophomore center has good speed, strong stickhandling skills, and a powerful, if underutilized, shot. However, Mitchell’s game is far from pure offense. He takes pride in his defensive game and the 5’11, 193-pounder can also play a physical game. The 21-year-old has an exemplary work ethic, and his next step is to become a leader for UVM.

Offensively gifted at the collegiate level, Mitchell’s game at the professional level may be more that of a defensive forward who can contribute offensively. The 2004 fourth round pick has developed nicely at the collegiate level and could develop into a third line NHL center that can fill in on the second line if needed.

19. Derek Joslin, D Age: 18
Grade: 6.5 C
Acquired: 5th Rd, 149th Overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Ottawa 67’s defenseman Derek Joslin is turning into one of the OHL’s top young two-way defenseman and a fifth round gem for the San Jose Sharks.

Although his 10 goals and 33 assists in 60 games places him 13th in OHL defenseman scoring, the 18-year-old has played for Team OHL in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge Series and the OHL All-Star Game because he is very steady defensively. In only his second season of major juniors, Joslin has worked hard to improve his skating and hone his defensive awareness. Not a flashy offensive defenseman, Joslin moves the puck reliably and has also adjusted to receiving more playing time on the power play this season, where he has tallied four goals and 20 assists.

The youngest player in the Sharks Top 20, Joslin’s best days are in front of him. Having played for Team OHL in the Challenge Series as an 18-year-old, Joslin is on the radar for an invite to Team Canada’s World Junior Championship camps. Joslin has the potential to become a fourth or fifth defenseman in the NHL and the work ethic to make it happen.

20. Mike Morris, RW Age: 22
Grade: 6.5 C
Acquired: 1st Rd, 27th Overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Mike Morris used to be in the top 10, but the 2005-06 season has not treated the Northeastern Husky well. In fact, it has happened at all.

Morris was slated to serve as Northeastern’s captain and top scorer in his senior season, but a severe concussion suffered in a car accident over the summer has forced the 22-year-old to take a medical redshirt. His 19 goals and 20 assists placed him second in NU scoring in 2004-05, behind Jason Guerriero, and Northeastern hopes he can return to form, healthy, in 2006-07.

The Sharks 2002 first round draft pick has good speed, skating, stick skills, and he plays a two-way game. Morris seemed like a certainty to play in the NHL one day, but a concussion suffered in 2004-05 and the car accident in 2005-06 brings his future into question. If Morris can avoid further concussions, he has the potential to be a superior third line forward that can fill in on higher lines. On the other hand, there is the possibility that Morris has played his last games for Northeastern, let alone for Worcester or San Jose.

Missing the Cut

Joe Pavelski is sixth in the WCHA in overall scoring with 17 goals and 26 assists in 33 games and leads all Wisconsin Badgers in scoring. The 2004-05 WCHA All-Rookie Team member has a strong two-way awareness, excellent passing and playmaking skills, and a hard shot for scoring goals. However, there are still questions about whether Pavelski has the speed and skating ability to succeed at the NHL level. He could end up a second line center like Boston’s Brad Boyes, or he could end up a good AHL center. Having overcome a shoulder injury from last season, the 21-year-old has two more seasons to improve his leg strength and skating. The rest of Pavelski’s game is already largely in order.

Brampton Battalion defenseman Michael Vernace is fourth in OHL defenseman scoring with eight goals and 48 assists in 59 games, but, unlike Joslin, the 19-year-old was not selected to play for Team OHL in either of the league’s games against Team Russia in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge Series, nor to play in the OHL All-Star Game, nor was he invited to Team Canada’s World Junior Championship selection camp. The 6’0, 208-pound blueliner has decent size, but he must compete harder defensively, especially in one-on-ones and down low. Vernace has excellent offensive awareness and is dangerous on the power play, but he must improve his defensive game if he’s going to become the second tier NHL offensive defenseman that he’s capable of being.

Mike Iggulden entered San Jose Sharks training camp as an unheralded ex-collegiate with an injury riddled and lackluster career with Cornell University, as well as six games with the Rochester Americans to end 2004-05, but the longshot earned a tryout contract with Cleveland after an impressing Sharks camp and was signed to a two-way contract in early January. Iggulden currently lies fourth in Barons scoring with 18 goals and 22 assists in 59 games. The 6’3, 215-pound forward has good speed, soft hands, a hard shot, two-way awareness, and consistent effort. Used primarily as a defensive forward in college, Iggulden has been allowed to shine offensively with the Barons, and he has responded. Not as physical as Clowe, the 24-year-old has shown third or fourth line NHL potential in 2005-06.

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