San Jose Sharks NCAA and European prospect pool features skilled forward prospects

By Craig Fischer

Sean Kuraly - Miami RedHawks

Photo: Sean Kuraly had an up-and-down freshman season for Miami, but the 6’2 center’s physical tools keep him among the Sharks top college prospects (courtesy of Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMI)

Built almost entirely out of the later rounds of the draft, the San Jose Sharks NCAA prospect pool features a good mix of size and a small handful of potential NHL regulars. Of the 10 Sharks prospects who played college hockey during the 2012-13 season, eight were selected in the fifth round or later.

While the Sharks are largely represented at the collegiate level, they have but one European prospect; but he is a good one and his season was memorable.

The performances of these NHL prospects are all over the board, but this group of NCAA and European prospects represents the most intriguing forward group for the Sharks as there are a number of highly skilled offensive threats in this bunch, an area where the rest of the pipeline is lacking.

NCAA

Max Gaede, RW, Minnesota State Mavericks (WCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2010

Max Gaede has NHL size and strength. He unfortunately lacks in most other notable areas. As good as Gaede has been along the boards (he has tremendous board-work and utilizes his strength away from the puck quite well) he has been frustrating to watch in front of the net. He has so much potential, but he has not adapted particularly well to the college game. He scored one goal and 10 assists in 41 games during the 2012-13 season for Minnesota State and will look to improve upon those offensive totals heading forward after he improved by a mere .03 points per game in his sophomore season.

Chris Crane, RW, Ohio State Buckeyes (CCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 200th overall, 2010

Chris Crane is a strong checking forward who showed an ability to put up points last season in the CCHA, when he led the Ohio State Buckeyes in scoring with 24 points scored. This season Crane was a bit snake bitten and did not play with the same edge around the net, resulting in a mere six goals and three assists this season.

Points aside, Crane vastly improved his skating and still maintained solid board work. Despite having a down season, he elected to forgo his senior year with the Buckeyes after the 2012-13 schedule and joined the Worcester Sharks. There is potential for him to work his way into a top-six role with the AHL affiliate, although a bottom-six role is more likely. Either way, he is joining a group that plays very similarly to him and if he does not reassert himself he could get lost in the shuffle.

Matt Nieto, LW, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2011

Few players on this list (and the Sharks prospect pool as a whole) have the potential and skill that Matt Nieto possesses. In his junior year with the Boston University Terriers, Nieto amassed 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points in 39 games, which was good enough for ninth in Hockey East scoring. Not bad considering his slow start (although it was technically a down year).

His strong college performance the last two seasons drew the eye of Sharks management, and Nieto elected to skip his senior season and jump straight into the AHL for the final eleven games of the season. Last season there would have been some apprehension about the move, given Nieto’s size and lack of muscle, but due to his strenuous workout regimen, Nieto has bulked up this season and checks in now over 190 pounds, almost 10 pounds heavier than last year. He looks just as good at the pro level as he did in college. Not only will Nieto compete for top-line minutes in Worcester, but he will likely have a shot to make the big club next season.

Dan O’Regan, C, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2012

Dan O’Regan had a terrific NCAA season, the type of season that turns longshots into legit prospects. The slightly under-sized center led the Terriers in scoring with 38 points, tied for fifth in Hockey East scoring, and he did so as one of only two freshman to make the top 20. To put this into perspective, teammate Matt Nieto only had 23 points in his rookie campaign (and to put things further in perspective, those 38 points by O’Regan were one more than Nieto this season).

O’Regan is so talented on the offensive end that next season as a sophomore, he has the potential to be one of the nation’s best college players. Interestingly enough, he plays a little bit like Hobey Baker finalist John Gaudreau (CGY) as a smaller player. He might not be as good as Gaudreau but there will most certainly be comparisons considering both have extreme offensive talents trapped inside of their small bodies. His defensive game still needs work (it along with his size were questions concerning this player going into the draft) however considering how much Nieto improved in that area at BU, there is not a lot of concern on that end.

Sean Kuraly, C, Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (CCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 133rd overall, 2011

A lot was expected from Sean Kuraly in his freshman season, and perhaps unfairly so. The strong, NHL-sized forward, came into Miami of Ohio after a very good 2012 US National Junior Evaluation Camp but struggled to find the back of the net the first half of the season. Totaling six goals and six assists for 12 points in 40 games, Kuraly found his way into a checking role and really seized the opportunity and became one of the better RedHawks players in this role. He also skated with Team USA at the World Junior Championships, skating on the team's second scoring line but coming up with only three points during the team's gold-medal run.

Kuraly has a legitimate shot to play at the pro level because of his size and defensive coverage, but how well he adapts his game and develops his offensive touch (he was hitting a lot of posts—so things could change very quickly) will determine if he ends up in the AHL or NHL.

Colin Blackwell, C, Harvard Crimson (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 194th overall, 2011

Colin Blackwell of Harvard University is a very intelligent hockey player and uses that higher level of thinking to play above his game. He is a very effective player on both sides of the ice as evident in his sophomore season with the Crimson. Blackwell tallied 14 points in an injury shortened 21 games.

Before the injury, Blackwell was used in all situations and was considered one of Harvard’s best players. Returning from injury next season, Blackwell will likely switch back to the center position after playing much of it at right wing during the 2012-13 season. He is a long shot to make the NHL and projects to be more of a Mike Johnson-type player.

Cody Ferriero, C, Northeastern Huskies (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2010

Cody Ferriero skated in his third season with Northeastern University in the NCAA. Returning from a devastating 2011-12 knee injury, Ferriero scored 12 goals and 14 assists in 34 games; his best offensive output. The surge can be attributed to a very stealthy wrister and increased use on the powerplay down the stretch.

Ferriero is a talented young skater, although he was better pre-injury, who tends to score in bunches. Shot selection is not typically referenced a lot in hockey, but next season it will be an area this player must work on if he wants to continue to excel at the offensive side of things. This is especially true for Ferriero after next season when he makes the jump to pro where the goaltenders will not give up as easy goals.

Joakim Ryan, D, Cornell Big Red (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 198th overall, 2012

In his sophomore season with Cornell University in the ECAC, Joakim Ryan improved in almost all facets of his game. A very good skater who carries the puck well, he scored 23 points (six more than last year, though the goal totals dipped) and was more aggressive on the rush and his defensive positioning was considerably better.

Size will always be an issue for Ryan, who is listed as 5'11, but looks considerably smaller than that. He has enough potential to overcome it in the future if he bulks up and learns to control the front of the net against larger opponents. One thing that really stands out about this player is his shot blocking technique.

Lee Moffie, RW, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 188th overall, 2010

The offensive-defenseman Lee Moffie had a very disappointing senior year with the University of Michigan Wolverines. Moffie concluded his collegiate career posting with his worst point-per-game output, scoring three goals and adding 10 assists in 40 games.

Moffie’s poor season cannot be attributed to anything but perhaps regression. For most of the season he did not play that well on either side of the ice, but the same could be said for much of his team in 2012-13. Despite a tremendous skillset, NHL strength, and a great demeanor, it seems likely that Moffie will have to fight for a pro contract at camp next season.

Isaac MacLeod. D, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 136th overall, 2010

The giant-framed defenseman from Boston College has slowly developed into a big minute-eater for the Eagles. There are a lot of improvements to MacLeod’s game over the 2012-13 season, but because of his style of play it is hard to celebrate the hard work put into this season. Last season MacLeod was noticeably lanky and not particularly strong off the puck, but this year he has added weight and held up strong as a junior in front of his own net. He is not a bone-crushing brute yet, but he could potentially become one. He is also not known for his scoring or rush abilities, but has looked stronger on the puck and his shot looks noticeably more accurate. This season more than any of his previous two at the NCAA will be memorable, simply for the fact that he finally lit the lamp. The stay-at-home defender tallied two goals and five assists in 36 games.

Europe

Tomas Hertl, C, HC Slavia Praha (Czech Extraliga)
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2012

Over the course of the season Tomas Hertl has quietly developed into one of the NHL’s most dynamic forward prospects. Like a lot of Sharks prospects, Hertl is not as famous or headline-grabbing as some of the other top tier prospects around the league, and a lot of that has to do with the 6'2 centerman playing overseas for Slavia Praha in the Czech league this season.

As the youngest player on his team, Hertl led his teammates in scoring with 18 goals and 12 assists in 43 games played. Hertl was considered a star around the league, and a must-watch player. If he was playing in the CHL with his type of dominance, the hype machine would have been sparking. Hertl out-shined countryman and linemate Dmitrij Jaskin (STL), who tore up the QMJHL, at the WJC this year. Hertl also earned a spot with the Czech men's national team at the World Championships.

As good as Hertl is (Hockey’s Future ranked him San Jose’s best prospect, and part of the top 50 prospects league wide) expectations are very high on a player that still has not played a single North American professional game. Realistically, Hertl is a very good prospect, with a lot of potential, but a lot must fall into place for this player to become the star the San Jose fans desire. Look for Hertl and the Sharks to potentially make a move to bring Hertl over to North America next season despite him having one year left on his deal with Slavia Praha.

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