As the 2014-15 hockey season comes to a close, the San Jose Sharks are heading into uncharted waters. Their ten year consecutive playoff streak came to an end this season on the heels of what can best be described as a hopeful youth movement. With few monumental changes to the guard, the Sharks’ focus shifts heavily towards change from within. The Sharks have always had an ability to churn out prospects to fill organizational needs, and with an emerging crop of talented and underrated prospects on the horizon, they look poised to quickly get back to the high seas of success.
The Sharks’ prospect pool is largely made up of hard-working individuals: it’s a trait General Manager Doug Wilson has actively sought out the past couple of seasons. Players that don’t compete and don’t care are something of a dying breed in the lower ranks of the organization. At the top of the list this season, and easily the hardest worker in the prospect pool, is Joakim Ryan. Given his lack of strength and size, the odds have always been stacked against the efficient puck-moving defenseman. He is a great power play quarterback, but his projectibility has been limited. In his final season at Cornell University, Ryan outworked everyone because he had to. He consistently played 25-30 minutes a game, played in all situations, battled hard against forwards that towered over him, and scored 14 points on a Cornell team that craved offense. Joakim Ryan is the little engine that could, and was an integral part of the Cornell system. When he was injured, his presence was dearly missed, and the team struggled mightily. In his limited time with Worcester this season, Ryan has looked a bit out of his depth, but never takes a shift off.
Hardest Shot: Dylan DeMelo, Worcester Sharks
Dylan DeMelo had a fantastic second season in the AHL, and quickly climbed the organizational ranks to be considered one of the best defensive prospects in the system. DeMelo is one of the more likely candidates to earn an NHL job next season if the team continues to look within to fill its roster needs. While DeMelo brings with him a steady two-way game, and a bit of an edge, perhaps his greatest asset is his booming slap shot that he uses most effectively on the power play. DeMelo may never challenge Shea Weber in the hardest shot competition, but he certainly has the skillset to be a threat on the point at the NHL level – if he can shoot more.
Best Defensive Prospect: Mirco Mueller, San Jose Sharks
Mirco Mueller began the year with all the pressure in the world: he was thought of as the second coming of Marc-Édouard Vlasic before even playing his first NHL game. Admittedly, there were more negatives than positives in Meuller’s first professional season. He looks like he was rushed into his role, but displayed flashes of greatness and an ability to use positioning to quietly influence the course of a game. Mueller lacks the offensive tools to be a real threat at the NHL level, but his strong understanding of the transition game makes Mueller an excellent prospect, and a likely candidate to man the top-four for the Sharks for years to come.
Sean Kuraly has been the uncontested fastest skater in the Sharks prospect pool for three seasons now. The scary thing is he looks even faster than he was last year. Kuraly has tremendous acceleration in his first three strides, and showed an ability to pull away from any and all defenders on the ice this season. It is this strength that largely contributed to Kuraly’s increased goal totals throughout the year. His top speed is elite, and his ability to pivot makes him a real threat. While Kuraly may never be a real point producer at the professional level, his skating ability and above-average hands and shot will always make him a goal scoring threat.
Prospect of the Year: Chris Tierney, San Jose Sharks
The Sharks had a number of fantastic prospect performances throughout the year. If asked, a number of different players would hold this crown. However, it was Chris Tierney’s full body of work, and increased responsibility down the stretch that make him this year’s Prospect of the Year. Tierney had 6 goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 43 NHL games; a .49 point per game pace that was highest among all Sharks rookies. He was also very effective in Worcester and a leader there, but it was his incredibly high hockey intelligence and awareness on both sides of the ice that showcased just how special this player really is. It seemed like every game Tierney was making smart plays. He looked just about as good as any Shark down the stretch, and when he started showing competency on the second power play unit, the whole world started to take notice. Tierney began the year as a great two-way prospect and future third-line center, but he emerged as a legitimate prospect with top-six potential who has the ability to one day be a big-time player for the organization.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Noah Rod, Genève-Servette (NLA)
Noah Rod’s season in the Swiss-A league was incredibly lacking. The 18-year old Swiss pest found himself constantly relegated to the fourth line, where he served primarily as a role player. In his limited minutes Rod showed some great gamesmanship, and while the offense was almost non-existent, with only four points amassed in 38 games, there weren’t a lot of games where Rod wasn’t a factor. Rod has an uncanny ability to get under the opposition’s skin, and has quickly made a name for himself. After Rod’s much-documented World Junior success it is believed that Rod will likely cross the ocean and begin his North American career next season. If Rod can bring the same skill, drive, and truculence that he demonstrated in Switzerland, he is destined to become a notorious hockey player under the North American limelight, and a prospect many fans will know and remember.
If not for an upper-body injury during the middle of the season, Rourke Chartier might have been in the running for the MVP of the WHL. Coming off of a breakout playoff performance last year where the two-way forward scored 12 points in 14 games, Rourke Chartier took the league by storm, and sat at the top of WHL scoring for more than half of the year. This season, Chartier improved his scoring pace by .6 points per game to 1.41, registering 82 points in 58 games. On top of his statistical accolades, Chartier was recognized by Hockey Canada and brought into the World Junior camp, only to be one of the last cuts before the tournament. Less than a year after the 2014 NHL Draft, Chartier has greatly improved upon his 5th round standing, and easily joins the conversation as one of the best two-way forwards of his draft group.
Overachiever: Barclay Goodrow, San Jose Sharks
No one expected Barclay Goodrow to play in the NHL this season – let alone in 60 games – and more importantly, do it so well. Goodrow joined the organization as a free-agent signing out of the OHL‘s North Bay Battalion with a good but limited skillset, and little expectation for success. Goodrow not only forced his way into the lineup out of camp (he was injured early on but by all accounts he earned the spot) but became a main fixture in the bottom of the lineup because of his hard work and no quit attitude. Goodrow essentially outplayed veterans and top-tier prospects within the organization, and looks to have cemented himself as a professional hockey player going forward.
Underachiever: Konrad Abeltshauser, Worcester Sharks
While Dylan DeMelo has blossomed and improved, Konrad Abeltshauser has taken a number of steps back. At the end of last season, Abeltshauser looked to be one of the better young defensive prospects in the system; given his size and offensive abilities he was even thought to be a main contender to earn a job on the big team. However, the big German’s game has completely fallen apart, to the point where Abeltshauser was sent down to the ECHL to try and work on his game. Abeltshauser has the skillset to be a very good bottom-pairing defenseman, with some power play potential, but he is becoming something of a poor decision-maker in recent months, and has regressed significantly from last season. With all of his size, skill and potential, Konrad Abeltshauser is quickly becoming the organization’s new whipping boy.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Nikolay Goldobin, HIFK (Liiga)/Worcester Sharks
Having recently finished his season in the Liiga with HIFK, Nikolay Goldobin was assigned to Worcester for the team’s playoff push. Early on, Goldobin has looked very good on the offensive side of things, but as is the tale of the tape on this player, the defensive side to his game is grossly underdeveloped and a huge hindrance to his team. Goldobin looked to have improved his play away from the puck in Finland, and at times looked like a very good top-line forward, but he has struggled a bit in this regard since joining the Sharks. Last year’s first round pick has the ability to be a sensational hockey player, one that scores in bunches, but he also possesses the type of game that is going to make it difficult for him to remain in an NHL lineup. Because as good as his offense is, he creates a lot of problems for his team with his defensive drive. Goldobin has the potential to be a star in the NHL, or a first round bust.
Prospect of the Month
Dan O’Regan and the Boston University Terriers only played two games in April, but they were the biggest in college hockey. O’Regan played a lot of minutes, especially on the power play for the Terriers, scoring a goal and an assist, and was one of the better players in the national title game. More impressive than his point per game pace in limited play was the fact that O’Regan played a very strong defensive game in both Frozen Four contests. O’Regan would have liked to have won a title, but playing so well on the big stage is only going to help him in his development.