Pro level prospects emerging for San Jose Sharks in 2013-14

By Craig Fischer

Matt Tennyson - San Jose Sharks

Photo: Matt Tennyson will begin his 2013-14 season in Worcester, but the big, skilled blueliner could be among the first call-ups to the Sharks (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

For a while now, the San Jose Sharks prospect pool has been deeply submerged under water. It has consisted of a lot of unknowns and was written off as one of the worst pools in the NHL. In 2013-14, the fins of the future have risen to the surface and everyone’s screaming “Sharks.”

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Tomas Hertl, C/LW, San Jose Sharks (NHL)

No one’s light is shining brighter and creating more fandemonium and excitement regarding the future of the San Jose Sharks than Czech phenom Tomas Hertl. Twitter, Youtube, sports shows, and blogs are all singing his praises. The 19-year-old has taken the hockey world by storm in his first few games of the season. Highlighted by a four-goal performance against the New York Rangers (including the potential goal of the year) Tomas Hertl is the first of many young unheralded Sharks who have the potential to really make a name for themselves in the NHL. While the big game does not come as a surprise, expectations should remain tempered. After all, a season consists of 82-games, not a handful. Hertl is a fantastic young player, but he will endure growing pains in his first season of professional hockey. One should not expect an MVP-caliber season from “Baby Jagr,” but a Calder-caliber season does not seem out of the question if he can stay healthy.

NHL Bound
Matt Tennyson, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)

With a slim chance of cracking the roster due to considerable defensive depth on NHL contracts ahead of him, Matt Tennyson did himself no favors during training camp and preseason when he turned in a lackluster performance. The skilled defensemen showed last season he was ready to make the jump with his very capable performance in Worcester, but he just could not find an opportunity.

This season is much the same. With the big team playing very good hockey, especially on the back end, it is going to be hard for Tennyson to crack the lineup without a string of injuries. That being said, injuries do happen over the course of a season. He is one injury call-up away from finding his way into an NHL lineup and digging in so deep, he never leaves. With Matt Nieto already on the big squad, Tennyson and Freddie Hamilton both figure to be the next in line to make the jump to the next level. It is Tennyson who has the inside track to really stick if he gets called up due to the fact that both sides of his game are NHL ready, whereas Hamilton might be better served developing his offensive game in the AHL for another season or two.

Offensive Breakout
Konrad Abeltshauser, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)

It is rare to see a defenseman, let alone a rookie defenseman make this type of list as a potential offensive breakout candidate, but Konrad Abeltshauser is a special type of player. After four years as one of the QMJHL’s best offensive defensemen, dominating the Rookie Tournament, and a strong showing at training camp, the big non-physical defender looks poised to be one of the catalysts for the rejuvenation of the Worcester offense.

While there will no doubt be a learning curve, as Abeltshauser will have to adapt to the bigger stronger game and need to break out of his shell and become the physical force he has the potential to be. He will likely get every opportunity to contribute given his skill set and beautiful zone entrance game. His defensive game might be ugly in year one, but he has the potential to not only outscore Tennyson and Sena Acolatse, the two reigning big guns on the Worcester blue line, but given the absence of a true offensive dynamo, he could be a top-three scorer on the team by season’s end.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Mirco Mueller, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)

Early on, Mirco Mueller’s game looks good but lacking flash. After a brush with injury at rookie camp, he is starting to put together a solid second season in the Western Hockey League. The offense still looks bizarrely absent given his pedigree and skill set, but these things take time. The good news is he is shooting more confidently, and the slapper looks a bit stronger. No need to sound the alarm. The Sharks’ 2013 first round selection (18th overall) is playing in all situations and has been heavily depended upon by the Silvertips in their early season success.

Mueller has the potential to lead the WHL in blocked shots and be one of the finest defensive players in all of CHL hockey. Given his pro-frame and high intelligence, he seems like a skate-in for the U20 Swiss team this December. Despite all of that, his road to the NHL seems longer than most first round picks from the 2013 draft due in part to the depth in front of him; good things come to those who wait.

New Team in 2013-14
Christophe Lalancette, C, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)

After such a glorious end to his season where his offense just seemed to come alive, Christophe Lalancette, will begin the 2013-14 junior season in a new environment with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Early on Lalancette looks comfortable and is scoring points, but he does not look as great as he did in Acadie-Bathurst during the playoffs last season, at least not yet. Acclimation to the new system and teammates takes time, and since October in fact, he has been playing much more confidently with the puck, and there is good chemistry between him and Dexter Weber. Lalancette looks like he will have a solid season, but it goes without saying that the trade might have personally hurt his personal stock, if only because he was in a better opportunity to rack up points. That being said, his defensive game looks a lot better than it was last season, whether that is a result of his participation at rookie camp or the new coaching is uncertain. What is for certain is that Lalancette is a skilled offensive player with an opportunity to learn how to play in a winning environment in Drummondville rather than just beef up his junior statistics.

Offensive Breakout
Chris Tierney, C, London Knights (OHL)

A handful of games into the season, even with first round studs Bo Horvat (VAN) and Max Domi (PHX) rejoining the stacked London squad, it has been Chris Tierney leading the team in scoring. While he has played more games than both, and the likelihood of him maintaining this lead is slim, it is an early indicator that the defensively super-powered Tierney is on the verge of a breakout season, even if he is not top-dog in London.

Tierney displayed a very excellent offensive game from midway through the 2012-13 season into the playoffs, and that success both in creating scoring chances and blotting ink on the score sheet seems to be recommencing this season as well. In fact, he is currently riding a six-game point streak. The strong, two-way center is just overpowering his opposition on both sides of the ice and is playing masterfully along the boards. What is more surprising about his blossoming offensive game is it is all him; sure he is getting more opportunities and being rewarded with powerplay time, but he is creating chances and chemistry with anyone and everyone on his wings. Whichever Knight wingers line up with him on any given night just seem better. Tierney is going to be a huge riser this season.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Dan O’Regan, C, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)

After a fantastic freshman season for the Terriers, where he tied for 25th nationally in scoring, Danny O’Regan is a star on the rise. He is easily the most noteworthy amateur prospect in the Sharks system, and he possesses the highest offensive potential of anyone not currently in a San Jose jersey. While this season might be his big break, there are a lot of question marks going into 2013-14. The biggest being how he will respond to new Boston University coach, David Quinn. Quinn seems to be employing a very high-tempo game that works well with O’Regan’s skill set but there have been some early challenges in adopting the system for the undersized centerman. The absence of Nieto is difficult but O’Regan played well even without the strong winger on his side, however, the opposition’s defense might now cue into O’Regan as their top defensive assignment making it harder to score.

If he can figure things out and continue his strong two-way play and professional caliber playmaking ability, he is going to be a national hero, not just for his NCAA success and prognosticated Hobey Baker contention, but because he looks poised at becoming one of the United States junior team’s biggest offensive weapons heading into the WJC.

Freshman to Watch
Michael Brodzinski, D, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)

Like O’Regan, Michael Brodzinski attended the United Stated National Junior Evaluation Camp in a bid to crack the roster. While Brodzinski’s chances are far less concrete, he shined in his games on the offensive side of things (under his collegiate coach no less).

Even if he does not make the U.S. team, Brodzinski has shown early on in rookie camp and preseason play that he is a gamer and an exciting prospect to watch. While his game is a little too flashy for the collegiate game, and he might pay a lot of time on the bench because of it, he has the potential to be the type of player everyone starts talking about. He has game-breaker potential written all over him, and seems to always be able to create offense, especially on the powerplay. If he can win over his coach and play above his freshman tag, he has the potential to lead his league in defensive scoring for a second year in a row (this time from the NCAA level).

Bounceback Prospect
Sean Kuraly, C, Miami (Ohio) University RedHawks (NCHC)

Sean Kuraly had a very forgettable freshman season in 2012-13. He went from penthouse to doghouse after his excellent showing for the national team, and he just could not establish his offensive game to the point where he was relegated to a checking role.

He still has the offensive pedigree and skill set to be a big scorer, and with many RedHawk seniors graduating from their top-six roles, Kuraly will have every opportunity to bounce back and re-establish himself as the two-way force many projected him as. Despite being early in his career, in many ways this is a put up or shut up type year for the big centerman. Knowing that, he came into the Miami training camp energized and determined. Look for Kuraly to start putting up decent numbers this season, especially on the powerplay.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Fredrik Bergvik, G, Frolunda J20 (Sweden Jr.)

With the absence of Tomas Hertl the European prospect pool for the Sharks is noticeably weaker. There are no sure things but there is a lot of potential, and the pool now consists of three times as many players.

It is still too early to tell if Fredrik Bergvik is capable of being the full-time starter for Frolunda’s J20 club this season, but the San Jose Sharks fourth round selection last June is going to make it difficult for Frolunda not to at least consider it. For now, he should see starts for the junior club and display his incredible poise and composure in the net.

The statistical champion of last season has the build and makeup to be a very good goaltender but he is in a very terrible position and seems to be buried on the depth chart everywhere he goes.

New Team
Petter Emanuelsson, LW/RW, Skelleftea AIK (SHL)

The signing of Petter Emanuelsson during the offseason was peculiar given the Swede’s age and projecting as a third or fourth line player. The decision to remain in Sweden and jump up to the SHL after the signing was perhaps more peculiar.

While Emanuelsson, has the body and skills to be a very good forward, his offensive game will likely be held back and regress given his position on the team of veteran forwards. Ultimately, a move to Worcester would have been so much more meaningful to his development and the decision to stay overseas could end up costing him, especially given a year where there are not established forwards in Worcester and battles are still taking place on the cusp of the new season. The new digs might be a tough transition for the center, to the point where his offensive game seems almost non-existent.

Step Back
Emil Galimov, LW, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)

The sleeper pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, perhaps because very few teams would have ever dreamt of drafting the overaged Russian, Emil Galimov enters the 2013-14 KHL season for the first time as an NHL prospect. That little badge should motivate him to do better, however, what Galimov wants and what he is relegated to are two different things. Early on in the season his ice time seems more sporadic and lesser than previous years partly to do with depth, and the absence of Artem Anisimov from training camp has really hurt.

He is not the type of player who mails it in and is still working hard, but the results are not all that prevalent on the score sheet. It could be a rough season for the young Russian forward, and a bit of a down year statistically. However, statistics are only one side of the story. He is playing fine in his limited opportunity and his skating and stick work seem to be improved from last season. With a contract with the KHL on tap into 2015, he still has a lot of time to develop so as long as he continues to work hard in and out of games. For now though, he will lay in wait in the deep trenches of the ocean of the San Jose prospect pool.