Balanced prospect pool paying dividends for San Jose Sharks

By Craig Fischer

Freddie Hamilton - San Jose Sharks

Photo: Center Freddie Hamilton is just one of the prospects with San Jose’s AHL affiliate in Worcester with the potential to fill a complementary role in the NHL (courtesy of Scott W. Grau/Icon SMI)

Last season, San Jose Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson spoke adamantly about how the team would be going through a refresh rather than a restart. He would add small doses of youth along the way instead of tearing down his veteran squad for a full-fledged rebuild.

It makes a lot of sense – you keep the puck moving and continue your winning ways without skipping a beat – but it is easier said than done and very few teams actually have the luxury to see a plan like this through.

The reason Wilson can actually go this route is because he and his staff have stocked the cupboards at every position. It is not an endless goldmine of talent and is far from the very best, but there are a number of NHL-caliber players in this pool who could have an impact on the roster in the near future. Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto have already made an impact and proven they can be part of the formula for a winning squad. Now, it is more of a question of who is next. In his short stint with the big club, Freddie Hamilton has not looked bad and has shown to be a solid forward away from the puck and seems like a perfect supplemental piece for a fourth line role this season even with a healthy squad up front.

While there might not be a lot of talented stars in the making from this group, there are a lot of complementary players that when plugged into the current core of the Sharks, have the ability to help form a very talented squad, a squad looks poised to continue on their winning ways.

Left Wing

The aforementioned Matt Nieto has had a very solid opening to his NHL career. He seems to have developed great chemistry with Tommy Wingels and Joe Pavelski and any other year, he would be the talk of the town, but unfortunately, his successes have been overshadowed by a sensational start from Tomas Hertl (who is also currently slotting in at left wing but is listed at center). Nieto has the two-way skills to be a respectable scoring winger in the league.
 
After Nieto, the left wing slot has considerable question marks. There is a lot of potential talent, but the road ahead is not as paved as Nieto’s. The depth at this position is a bit of a concern, one of the few true trouble areas, but realistically a center in the prospect pool could slot over and easily remedy this problem. Also, given the fact that Nieto and Hertl both play this position it is not likely to be an issue.

Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau epitomizes the questions at left wing at the minor league level. He displays considerable talents but his game is still very raw and his future is very much unclear. At the present, he is developing his scoring touch in the QMJHL, and has scored more than a point per game since mid-October.

Emil Galimov and Petter Emanuelsson, both European prospects, are long shots to ever crack the Sharks lineup, but if they did, they would find themselves in a top-nine role. Galimov, with his excellent puck-moving skills, is the more interesting prospect of the two given his more offensive toolkit. Emanuelsson’s decision to play this season in Sweden after signing a deal with the Sharks continues to puzzle.

While Curt Gogol of the Worcester Sharks lacks the skills of Galimov, Emanuelsson, and Paquin-Boudreau, he realistically stands a better chance than them of finding his way into the Sharks roster during the next few seasons. Gogol will never be a scoring threat, but his heart, backcheck, and fists could foreseeably land him a fourth line role in a grinder/scrapper capacity.

Center

The Sharks possess tremendous depth at the center position–it has been one of their staples over the past few seasons. The group is led by NHL rookie sensation Tomas Hertl who continues to shine at the pro level. Hertl currently leads all rookies in scoring and is one of the league’s best goal scorers early on in the season. What is not often talked about in regards to Hertl is his strong defensive play. This trait can be found in all twelve center prospects. It is a chosen trait and a reflection of the Sharks belief that their forwards, particularly their centers need to play a full 200-foot game.

This belief is showcased in Freddie Hamilton and Chris Tierney; arguably two of the best young shutdown forwards in their respective leagues. While Hamilton is cutting his teeth at the pro level, Tierney has been busy developing his scoring touch in junior. Their games are quite similar, and their statistical makeup at least at the junior level is quite uncanny, but from a purely tools perspective, Tierney might have a bit more to give on the offensive end when all is said and done. Both project to be third line centers (with some upside) and could very well be competing for the same job down the line.

Skating with Tierney at the Canadian junior level is Christophe Lalancette. The playmaking center is adapting very well to his new team in Drummondville and sits in the top 20 in QMJHL scoring thanks in part to the month of October where he is setting just under a two-point-per-game pace. Lalancette did not look all that great at rookie camp, but his play in the Quebec league has been superb.

The seventh round selection in this past off-season’s draft, Jake Jackson is slowly adapting to his first full year of USHL hockey with the Des Moines Buccaneers. He is not scoring in bunches like he was in high school, but he is finding time in all situations and getting a great opportunity to grow his game before college. Jackson’s a longshot to make the team, and at the earliest, he is at least five years away from playing professional hockey if he signs out of college.

Travis Oleksuk and Rylan Schwartz were both highly touted free agent signings in the spring of 2012 and 2013 respectively. Both, perhaps unfairly, carry with them tremendous pressure to score in Worcester. Oleksuk struggled to find the twine last season, and while both players will be key for the AHL Sharks this season, there offensive ceiling likely is not as high as the front office’s hopes or as their collegiate resume would indicate. These are good hockey players, but they probably are not top-six talents in the NHL–especially if they cannot convert at the AHL level.

Like Oleksuk, Marek Viedensky had a forgettable 2012-13 season. The big Czech fought tooth and nail to get back to the AHL level after a demotion and earned a one-year deal to remain with the club. Viedensky’s penalty killing and stick work could land him a role in the NHL one day, but he is going to have to remain healthy and improve upon his board play.

The Sharks currently have a line with Pavelski, Wingels, and Nieto nicknamed the “NCAA line.” With their skill sets, Dan O’Regan and Sean Kuraly could find their way onto a line like that in the next few seasons. Both are displaying a solid offensive game (though the numbers are not as strong as one would hope for O’Regan) for their respective universities and are key to their teams’ success. While these players play a solid game down the middle, once they reach the pro game, they will likely be candidates to move over to the wing, O’Regan because of his size and Kuraly because of his terrific boardwork.

A lesser-known college prospect, Cody Ferriero is having another solid year at Northeastern University averaging a point per game over his first four games. Ferriero might never crack an NHL lineup, but he will be a welcome addition to Worcester next season if he can stay healthy. Health is also a concern for Colin Blackwell who missed the end of last season with an injury.

Right Wing

The current right wing group features a slew of bottom of the lineup guys along with one man that might force his way into the San Jose lineup by the end of the season. Daniil Tarasov is carrying the Worcester offense, and looks to have continued his progress from training camp, where it was thought he might actually challenge Nieto for the open roster spot after injuries. He did not, probably because he still has holes in his game. Tarasov is good enough to play in the NHL, but he will need to remain consistent and improve upon his defensive reliability if he wants to stick around for more than a cup of coffee.

Joining Tarasov at the AHL level are newcomer Eriah Hayes, defensive specialist James Livingston, power-play quarterback/lunch-pale warrior Brodie Reid, and the enigmatic Sebastian Stalberg. All of these players have parts to their game that would be ideal for the NHL, but none of them are necessarily complete players that will force a promotion in the same way Tarasov might. Hayes, Livingston and Brodie all play a blue-collar style, and could fit quite nicely into different parts of the Sharks lineup down the road. There is a very understated offensive talent in these three, and while they will never come close to leading any team scoring (mind you, Reid currently sits third in Worcester scoring five games in) they have NHL size and could improve any forecheck.

Max Gaede, of Minnesota State, and Chris Crane, currently of the San Francisco Bulls, might just be on their last legs within the organization. It is a big year for both 21-year-old prospects, and if they hope to remain on the depth charts, they will have to have strong seasons. Both are projected to be bottom of the roster forwards, but there might not be room in the next few years in Worcester for this type of player considering the backlog currently ahead of them.

Defense

The Worcester Sharks have not been known to have very many electric forwards in their midst over the past few seasons, however they have been a hotbed for smooth skating, puck-moving defensemen. This year is no different. The AHL Sharks have a good mix of size and skill on the back end. Organizationally, the team lacks big shutdown defensemen at the prospect level with only two possibly options (Nick Petrecki is there, but he is no longer a prospect by Hockey’s Future criteria) and while the defensemen in the stable look promising, the defensive side of things is not exactly all put together for many.

Konrad Abeltshauser and Dylan DeMelo both began their professional careers this season in Worcester. While there have been some mild hiccups in their play, these are expected growing pains. For all intent and purposes, they have looked promising. Both have top-four potential, and both seem to have an offensive engine that drives them. Early on, they will be fighting for ice time on a crowded Worcester blue line, but their skill sets should eventually separate them from the pack. Depth on defense will likely slow the chance for promotion right away, but they could be household names for the Sharks in as little as a few seasons.

Once the rookies on the team, Matt Tennyson, Sena Acolatse, and Taylor Doherty have stepped up as the veterans of the Worcester squad and taken a leadership role. Tennyson and Acolatse look to be the most NHL capable players on the blue line – at least for the next few years – but the lanky Doherty is surprisingly closing that gap. He is still not where he would like to be in his developmental process, but the 6’7 rearguard has improved his skating and looks more comfortable in his role.

First round draft pick, Mirco Mueller has been a game changer in his defensive zone for the Everett Silvertips. The offense however, just is not coming together. He is getting chances, and his skill set has improved (he fires a hard slapper) but he has not been able to put everything together in order to be an effective weapon in the offensive zone. Like with all first round picks, there is a lot of expectations and hope regarding the young Swiss defenseman and there is little doubt that Mueller will one day be part of the Sharks, but at what capacity remains a question.

At the collegiate level, the Sharks have a mixed bag of surprises when it comes to defense. There could be a game changer or two in their midst, but there could also be five players here that will never suit up for the big team. Joakim Ryan and Isaac MacLeod have both been given the reins for their teams as a junior and senior, respectively. The two are seeing increased minutes and time on the power play and penalty kill. Joakim Ryan in particular has looked very good early on for Cornell. He seems to lead the rush every time the puck leaves the zone.

Early on, Michael Brodzinski is making a case that he might just be the first player from the Sharks 2013 draft to make it to the show. The fifth round selection is an offensive-defenseman with boom-or-bust potential, and his first handful of collegiate games for the University of Minnesota have only perpetuated his legend. He is a scary player to watch when the team is up a goal, but down a goal, there are not many better options in the NCAA. If he can work on limiting his turnovers and playing more of a responsible game for the majority of the time, he is going to race up the depth charts.

Gage Ausmus and Cliff Watson have also begun their freshman seasons after some time in the USHL. Minutes are sparse right now, but the time Ausmus has been on the ice he has looked okay. Watson has been relatively unnoticeable, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Goalie

For the first time in his professional career, Harri Sateri entered the season as the undisputed number one goaltender. Early on he has been good, though not spectacular. The Finnish netminder represents the Sharks best goaltending prospect. Arguably on par with Alex Stalock after a neck and neck preseason battle for the backup job in San Jose, Sateri at the very least projects to be an NHL backup in the not-so-distant future.

Signed out of college before the end of last season, Troy Grosenick is going to give Sateri a run for his money. The way Grosenick played in preseason and in his first professional game, the potential for another time share is not too far out of the question. Grosenick shined for Union College, and made a name for himself as a battler. At first glance, he is not the most refined goalie, but he finds a way to keep the puck out of the net and is going to steal some games for the AHL Sharks this year.

Not only did J.P. Anderson lose out on the backup job in Worcester, but he could not even lay claim to the starting goalie job for the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls. There might have been a reason why the 21-year-old played in the OHL for five seasons – he might just not have the stuff to make it further, especially if Grosenick keeps blocking him. That being said, Anderson was a terrific OHL netminder, and he is going to eventually get his shot. With a steady stream of great goaltenders ahead of him on the depth chart, he will really have to start making a name for himself in the coming years.

Fredrik Bergvik is one of the biggest wildcards in all of hockey. After taking over the starting duties for Frolunda J20 in SuperElit, he has been absolutely amazing. He does not have the same statistical mastery he had as a backup, but he has stood on his head to get Frolunda to the top of the league and risen himself to the top of the league in wins. He is loved by his teammates, and is not afraid to speak his mind (which is often very comical and forthright, not as philosophical as Ilya Bryzgalov though). Bergvik is a longshot to make the NHL given where he is in his career, but just in regards to his technical aptitude, athleticism, he could be the next big Swedish goalie to follow Robin Lehner (OTT) and Jacob Markstrom (FLA) or just another fourth-round bust.

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