Sharks update: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

By Mike Delfino

The good, the bad, and the ugly… It’s the name of a good movie, and also very
appropriate for the Sharks 1999/2000 season. Certainly, this has not been a good season
for the San Jose Sharks, but there have been some bright spots. Unfortunately, this season has also had its share of bad and ugly portions for Sharks prospects.
First, I’m in a good mood, so I’ll start with the good. Clearly, it has been a very impressive rookie year for Brad Stuart. Stuart has probably been the top rookie defensemen in the NHL this year, and has consistently been around the top three in opinions for the Calder. While like any rookie he has experienced his ups and downs, he has always managed to come out of them. Stuart was named the Sharks Player of the Month for February.
Stuart has shown everything and more that he was touted as being. He has shown a great amount of offensive skill. At only 20 years old, he has quickly earned time on the special team units, and has quickly become one of their key players. While he has made a share amount of rookie mistakes, one thing that is amazing is that he has always been able to rebound from them, often nullifying the mistake before it costs his team a goal.
Another area that has picked up as the year has gone by has been his hitting. At the start of the year, he was getting pushed around and was afraid to initiate contact. If he read a situation as being a possible hit risk, he seemed to avoid it, at the cost of the play. However, as the year has progressed, he has hit far more often. In the Sharks game vs. Anaheim, Stuart initiated 3 big hits, all within about a 30-second time span. He has also begun to show a willingness to take a hit to make a play.
The recent injury to Gary Suter has so far turned out to be a positive test for Stuart. With Mike Rathje and Marcus Ragnarsson both struggling, Stuart seems to be one of only 3 or 4 players to step up their play. One could easily argue that Stuart and fellow rookie Scott Hannan have been the team’s best defensemen recently.
I have to admit that I was wrong in my early assessment of Stuart. At the start of the year, I felt that time down in Kentucky would have only done him good, but he has certainly proved that he more than deserves a spot on any NHL defense.

On to the bad. No one could say that Patrick Marleau has had a good year. Many, including myself, were expecting a strong year from Marleau. While I wasn’t expecting a point per game, I did expect him to at least reach 60, which would be 15 more than in 98/99. Instead, he is at only 14 goals and 19 assists for only 33 points. He will need another 7 goals and 4 assists just to reach last year’s numbers.
I have a theory that he is suffering his “sophomore slump” a year late, but as the year progresses, I am starting to wonder about that theory. In a sophomore slump, the player usually shows signs of the greatness that they were expected of.
Marleau has shown that he has ability. There have been numerous times when he has taken the puck, skated from end to end with seeming ease, only to lose the puck to a simple poke check or completely miss the shot. He fails to position himself by the net appropriately as well, often blowing a good opportunity. What worries me the most about him is that he doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. A young player is going to make mistakes, but often what separates the good from the average or the great from the good, is that they learn from their mistakes. So far, Marleau has failed to do so.
Marleau may not be the prospect everyone touted as being one of the next big name players in the NHL. However, don’t be shocked if he breaks out of his slump next year. It wouldn’t be the first time a player had an inconsistent start to his career, only to go on to greatness; just ask Chris Pronger.
Many people have begun to compare Marleau to Pat Falloon, the poster-boy for draft busts. While I’ll agree this has been a disappointing season for Marleau, remember that he’s still not even old enough to drink a beer in the US before you draw your final conclusion.
Now looking at the ugly side of the Sharks prospects. I hate to keep picking on this player, but Eric LaPlante has consistently shown that he is more concerned about having a good time than furthering his hockey career. He seemed to manage to keep himself out of trouble for the most part during the 98/99 season, but worries of his work ethic have resurfaced this year.
In his junior career, he has been suspended for fights, arguments with coaches, and giving the crowd the middle finger. LaPlante looked out of shape and unable to keep up with other players for extended periods during training camp and seemed to have an undeserved chip on his shoulder. It was as though he was offended that other players didn’t let him dominate.
He was offered a contract to play in Kentucky of the AHL, but he did not accept terms of the contract, opting to return to junior hockey. I can understand a 1st or 2nd round pick who has come on strong, but a 3rd round pick who hasn’t risen his stock significantly can’t pass up a chance to take the next step to professional hockey.
When in the lineup for the Remparts, he has consistently been one of their top players. As of 3-10-00, through 44 games he has 21 goals and 34 assists for 55 points, along with a +25, and tied for 4th on the team in +/-. Unfortunately, when the Quebec has needed him to perform and step up his play, he has been unable to do so. Instead of providing leadership, he has maintained his normal level of play, and idiocy.
LaPlante has the potential to be an effective NHL player. He has good size (6’2″ 200lbs) and the speed to play in the NHL. He’s a good hitter and is willing to take a hit to make a play. The simple fact of the matter is that when he’s in the mood to do so, he is a very effective player.
Hopefully for the Sharks he’ll grow up over the summer and decide he wants to be a hockey player. Given that Left Wing is the Sharks’ weakest position for prospects, they need LaPlante decide that he wants to be a hockey player.

Other candidates for the good and the bad and the ugly lists:

Goods:

Jeff Jillson-Not an awesome WJC, but has been awesome all year at Michigan.
Miroslav Zalesak-Has been very strong, and consistently in QMJHL scoring race, needs to step up physical play though.

Bads:


Eric Betournay-While he hasn’t had a horrible year, he hasn’t really improved a lot either.
Mark Concannon-Hasn’t really done a whole lot for a 2nd round pick. Chosen a couple rounds too high in my opinion.

Uglys:

Terry Friesen-Not because of him personally, but he still hasn’t been able to earn himself a starting job. If you’re buying a Friesen jersey, make sure to put 39 on it.

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