There are a lot of scouts throughout the NHL who will tell you that the San Jose Sharks have the best group of young defensemen in their system than any other team in the NHL. Included in this list are players such as: Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Andrei Zyuzin, Mike Rathje, and more… What makes San Jose’s defensemen so appealing, is not only that they’re good, not only that they have more than a few of them, but that they have all different types, for a well rounded defense as well. While every team wants to have a specific direction, you also want some variety. They have big guys, smaller guys, and everything in between. What I intend here is to go through some of San Jose’s main defensive young guys, and let you know what to possibly expect in the future from them.
JONATHAN HEDSTRÖM: A LOOK AT A LONGSHOT PROSPECT
After having covered many of the more talked about Swedish prospects in this column, it’s now high time to mention some longshot prospects. Every now and them, a long-shot prospect arrives from nowhere and makes it to the NHL.
When you’re picked 221st overall, no one – perhaps not even the management of the team that drafted you – expects you to make it. But there’s a small chance, and with enough determination you might just make it.
Determination is not in short supply for 21 year old Division 1-team Skellefteå AIK left winger Jonathan Hedström, who was picked by 221st overall by the Leafs in the 1997 Draft. After having a sub-par season by his standards in 1997/1998 (scored only 5 goals and has 5 assists in 32 games), he has emerged as a solid point-producer and leader for his team this season while playing the powerforward role that made him a regular on the team in the first place. In 29 games, he has scored 13 goals, and he has 23 assists, to go with a team-best +24 rating. To go with that he has a solid 50 PIM.
Despite the almost one assist per game average, he is not a playmaker. His assist come mainly from hard work along the boards and digging out pucks before feeding passes to his linemates. His shot is average, and that has to improve.
Why would any team trade their best player for Alexandre Daigle? Jacques Demers sure answered that question when he said he was capable of being the first-line winger in his first game. He has the potential to be a highly touted superstar in this league? Sure fooled anyone who thought he’d excel in Philly. Is this a joke, or does Jacques have something up his sleeve for Alex? It is the third time this year the new GM has dealt with the Flyers, picking up Chris Gratton again, Mike Sillinger, and Petr Svoboda. He must know what he’s doing, because look what he did with players such as Gerard Gallant and Bernie Federko? They don’t sound like big names do they? Bernie is on his way to the hall of fame. Gerard Gallant played good hockey in his final years in the league, mixing grit with pure goal scoring, all because of Jacques Demers.
FIRST ROUND CORNUCOPIA
There are now seven first-round picks on the team: Daigle, Chris Gratton, Wendel Clark, Jason Bonsignore, Paul Mara, Martin Larocque and Vincent Lecavalier. Out of the crop, only one has actually excelled into a complete player, while two others showed flashes of brilliance. Can you guess who they are? They brought back Chris Gratton in the infamous trade-back with Bob Clarke and the Flyers. The question now is, who are the Bolts going to build around? Roman Hamrlik looked like a great idea, but he got stolen by Glen Sather last year. Wendel Clark is bright, but he’s already on the trading block.
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Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre claws his way towards the NHL
Way back on March 20, of 1996, then Buffalo Sabres General Manager John Muckler may have pulled off a deal that in time could rank as one of the Sabres’ ten best ever. Little used winger Yuri Khmylev was dealt to St. Louis Blues for a prospect and a 2nd round draft pick. The draft pick (the first pick in the second round, #27 overall), turned out to be Buffalo’s current top prospect, defensemen Cory Sarich. The prospect was a little known defensemen, from the Quebec Major Junior League, by the name of Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre. Don Luce (the Sabres director of player personnel) felt he was getting a player that had size and a lot of growth potential to go along with very good hockey skills.
To the fans, the deal was treated without much fan fair, as no player would be coming to Buffalo any time soon. The Sabres were looking towards the future, and that future would soon include a new arena and new uniforms, which would go along with the new coach (Ted Nolan) and his the hard working, team oriented attitude.
Dynasty, a word not mentioned to often in today’s sports. Once the word was mentioned when Colorado won the Stanley Cup back in the summer of 96. The team was deep and full of great talent that few teams could match or overcome. That was then and this is now. The Avalanche organization of present day is slightly different than it was then. Gone are some of the highly touted “role” or “depth” players, such as Ricci and Young, who could play on any other teams top two lines. Many people believe the loss of certain players and sufficient replacements to be the problem with the Avs of today. In their place skate to new youngsters by the name of Drury and Hejduk, who both put up slightly similar numbers to what their counterparts do for San Jose and St. Louis. These type of numbers from two youngsters who never played a game of North American minor or major hockey until this year. How would this ever be a problem seeing they both have bright years ahead of them as dangerously skilled scorers for the Avs?