San Jose Sharks prospects experienced glory and defeat of playoffs

By Craig Fischer

Christ Tierney - London Knights

Photo: Chris Tierney scored 21 points in 21 OHL playoff games to help the London Knights capture their second consecutive J. Ross Robertson Cup (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The players in the San Jose Sharks prospect pool endured plenty of post-season successes and failures. The 2013 playoffs featured multiple first round exits, a few long runs in the CHL, and considerable amounts of golfing as a number of players did not even get a taste of the post-season. The prospect pool was a microcosm for the playoffs in general; you win some, you lose some, and that is just the nature of the game.

NHL

The Sharks surprised many with their first round trouncing of the Vancouver Canucks, despite the two teams only being separated by two points in the final standings. Unfortunately they ran into their cross-state rival, the Los Angeles Kings in the second round and lost in seven games.

Their early success was much to do with the play of their veterans, who were heavily relied upon. Despite having a full cast of 'black aces,' the Sharks would never actually dress a single prospect in either of their playoff series. Sena Acolatse, Dylan DeMelo, Taylor Doherty, Freddie Hamilton, Travis Oleksuk, Nick Petrecki, Sebastian Stalberg, Matt Tennyson, and goalies J.P. Anderson, Alex Stalock (who practiced with the squad, not just with the ‘black aces’), and Harri Sateri were all healthy scratches for the duration of the Sharks playoffs.

It was only during the second round, when Raffi Torres was suspended, that the possibility of someone like Freddie Hamilton dressing came up. While there was not any in-game experience gained by this prospect group, just being around the team and experiencing the joys of victory and the agonies of defeat at the professional level can be looked at as important progress to their overall development; one day these prospects will be the heavy relied upon veterans.

AHL

The Worcester Sharks did not do themselves any favors by ending the 2012-13 regular season with a 2-5-2-1 record in their last 10 games. The squad failed to make the playoffs after a somewhat promising middle of the season (the team struggled to score consistently for the better part of the season) trailing the eighth seed by nine points. Rookies Rylan Schwartz, Eriah Hayes, and Matt Nieto were able to enter into a few pro games and gained valuable experience during this push, and their experience and offensive skill sets should help Worcester get back into the playoffs next year.

ECHL

The San Francisco Bulls took an early first round exit in their quest to win the Kelly Cup with a 4-1 series loss to the Alaska Aces. The only Sharks prospect playing for the Bulls was starting goaltender Thomas Heemskerk, who played well on occasion but was not able to steal enough games for his team to get the upset. Heemskerk played very well backstopping his way to a 1-0 shutout in the Bulls only win of the series. That performance alone should be enough to at least bring the B.C. native into the discussion for a Worcester Sharks back-up job depending on what happens with Greiss, Sateri, and Stalock. A restricted free agent however, it is likely the goaltender will not even be re-signed.

CHL

All five of the Sharks CHL prospects made it to the playoffs this year, and three of the five would actually make it to the Memorial Cup. The two unlucky players who did not get to play in the tournament, Dylan DeMelo and Christophe Lalancette, were both solid playoff contributors in their first round losses. Lalancette in particular showed some playoff flash registering seven points in six games for Acadie-Bathurst. The offensive performance was par for the course for Lalancette’s second half progression. In fact the playoffs look to be a signifier that the 19-year old is ready for a breakout season next year in the QMJHL.

Justin Sefton and Chris Tierney, both of the London Knights, had very good post-seasons. Sefton was a force throughout the playoffs, as he used his body to terrorize the opposition. He played a solid game for most of the playoffs. Until Captain Scott Harrington came back, Sefton was playing a substantial role on the Knights blue line. Later on in the tournament, he was relegated to a lesser duty but still played great, even without registering a single point. The Sharks chose not to sign Sefton, a 2011 draft pick, prior to the June 1st deadline and forfeited his rights.

Tierney had the best individual performance for a Sharks prospect during the 2013 playoffs. The two-way forward played every round, including the games in the Memorial Cup, like someone that was possessed. He tallied 21 points in 21 games, finishing 12th in league playoff scoring and improving upon his regular season totals. Perhaps the most amazing part about his offensive production is that he did it all while shutting down the opposition; Tierney was continually used in a shutdown role. It’s hard to consider Tierney the Knights MVP with so many great performances (draft-eligible prospect Max Domi, who played alongside Tierney for a lot of the playoffs, also stood out) but without Tierney’s defense, the Knights would not have completed their comeback in the OHL Finals against Barrie.

Tierney was so clutch during the OHL playoffs that in the 16 wins it took for the Knights to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup, Tierney had a hand in six game-winners. He scored three game-winning goals himself (two in overtime) and had three secondary assists.

The Memorial Cup had its challenges, and the timely scoring evaporated with Tierney only registering three points in five games, but he was still a force.

Konrad Abeltshauser was the only Shark this year to win it all with his team. The hulking defenseman was a key part of the Halifax Mooseheads QMJHL and Memorial Cup win. Abeltshauser lead all defensemen in playoff scoring with 20 points in 17 games. Most impressive was the fact that he tied his regular season goal total of 7 in 39 fewer games. He had no bigger goal than in the Memorial Cup Championship game against the Portland Winterhawks, where he scored the game-winning goal on a smart play where he followed the rush and potted home a juicy rebound.

Abeltshauser showed over the playoffs that he was a strong skater and a terrific offensive weapon on the back end. He will carry his momentum and winning ways with him to Worcester next year.

NCAA

Only Sean Kuraly of Miami (Ohio) and Isaac MacLeod of Boston College managed to make it to the playoffs this season, and neither did much to stand out in their limited national exposure.

In Kuraly’s two NCAA Tournament games he was efficient, if quiet. He played a solid checking game which he has become known for, but like most of the RedHawks in round two, he could not muster up much of an offensive charge. He was able to muster three goals in his final two games at the CCHA Tournament. The season as a whole had to be a bit of a letdown for Kuraly who came into the year as a projected offensive juggernaut but finished with barely an offensive whimper.

Boston College did not really stack up against Union College and like with Kuraly, MacLeod did not really do too much. He played well at times, but he had a number of misplays in his own end and just could not elevate his game to the next level.

Europe

Tomas Hertl’s Slavia Praha team did not qualify for the playoffs despite strong play from last year’s first round pick. Hertl finished the playoffs third on his team in scoring with eight points on three goals, five assists in 11 games.

Notes & Signings

The Sharks signed minor league prospect Daniil Tarasov (April 2), Eriah Hayes (April 5), Rylan Schwartz (April 5), and Petter Emanuelsson (June 11) to two year NHL entry-level contracts. All four look poised to contribute at the AHL level, in fact in limited action at the end of the season Hayes and Schwartz looked competent and each scored four points in seven games.

San Jose also signed Goaltender Troy Grosenick (April 8) who could potentially fill the void in San Francisco that Heemskerk could leave if the team elects to re-sign him. Grosenick is also a restricted free agent as one of several free agent prospects around the NHL to sign a one-year entry-level contract. It was ultimately a move by the Sharks to secure the rights to the goaltender, but he is almost sure to be in the mix in the Sharks organization when camps open next season.