Logan Couture retains spot as San Jose Sharks top prospect

By Matthew Zarb
Photo: Sharks top prospect Logan Couture will vie for time in the NHL in 2010-11. (Photo Courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com)

The San Jose Sharks currently utilize a policy of easing their prospects into their lineup, often shuttling players between the parent club and their minor-league affiliate. While rough on the travel budget, this has allowed many of the Sharks youngsters to experience NHL competition while racking up big minutes down on the farm. The payoff should be evident this season, where several prospects should see an increased role. Logan Couture is a virtual lock for a second or third line center spot while defensemen Jason Demers and Derek Joslin will vie for the ice-time vacated by the retirement of captain Rob Blake.

New additions to the Top 20 list this year are 2010 draftees Charlie Coyle and Max Gaede, along with a pair of former seventh round picks, Marek Viedensky and Justin Braun.

Top 20 at a glance:

1. (1) Logan Couture, C, 7.5B
2. (3) Thomas Greiss, G, 7.5B
3. (4) Jason Demers, D, 7.0B
4. (5) Alex Stalock, G, 7.5C
5. (NR) Charlie Coyle, RW, 7.0C
6. (2) Nick Petrecki, D, 7.0D
7. (6) Steven Zalewski, C, 6.5C
8. (14) Taylor Doherty, D, 6.5C
9. (7) Harri Sateri, G, 7.5D
10. (9) Derek Joslin, D, 6.5B
11. (11) William Wrenn, D, 6.5C
12. (10) Benn Ferriero, C, 6.5B
13. (12) Tommy Wingels, C, 7.0D
14. (19) Brandon Mashinter, LW, 6.5D
15. (15) Thomas Heemskerk, G, 6.5C
16. (NR) Marek Viedensky, C, 7.0D
17. (NR) Max Gaede, RW, 6.5C
18. (NR) Justin Braun, D, 6.5C
19. (16) Frazer McLaren, LW, 5.5B
20. (17) Mike Moore, D, 6.0C

1. (1) Logan Couture, C, 21
Drafted 1st Round, 9th overall, 2007

Couture remains the Sharks’ top prospect going into the 2010-11 season, but will almost certainly graduate to full-time NHL duty this year. Couture’s versatility and ability to contribute on both sides of center ice make him an ideal third-line center, albeit one with the ability to move up to a scoring line, if need be. Maintaining a solid defensive awareness while scorching the AHL with 20 goals and 33 assists in only 42 appearances, it’s obvious that Couture has little to prove down on the farm. When called on by the parent club, he acquitted himself well in a checking role, while adding nine points in 25 regular season matches.

While the ceiling on Couture’s offensive contributions probably won’t be realized for a few more seasons, he is certainly a safe prospect who should slide seamlessly into the Shark’s lineup. Couture is a team player, self-motivated, and displays a competitiveness that simply cannot be taught. Those attributes combined with a very good skill package are a proven recipe for success in the NHL.

2. (3) Thomas Greiss, G, 24
Drafted 3rd Round, 94th overall, 2004

Greiss spent the 2009-10 season as former Sharks goaltender Evgeny Nabokov’s caddy, appearing in only 16 games for San Jose. While he performed quite well, posting a 7-4 record with a 2.68 goals against average and .912 save percentage, it apparently wasn’t enough to prove he was ready to be a number one NHL goaltender. With free agent veteran Antero Nittymaki brought in, and with the Sharks adding Stanley Cup winner Antii Niemi to the fold, Greiss appears to be relegated to another season of support duty, but whether that will be in San Jose or Worcester remains up in the air. On the international stage, Greiss backstopped the somewhat disappointing German Olympic entry, where he went 0-3 with an ugly 5.03 goals against average.

Greiss is a positional goaltender with good anticipation, relying on seeing the play develop and reacting accordingly. He possesses a quick glove hand and decent puck-handling skills, but needs a little work with rebound control.

Greiss has performed well at every level of competition, discounting his 2010 Olympic disaster, and has shown the quiet unflappability that suits a backup goaltender. Whether Greiss can respond to the newest challenges before him will likely determine his future in the Sharks organization, as he will be a free agent following the 2010-11 season.

3. (4) Jason Demers, D, 22
Drafted 7th Round, 186th overall, 2008

Proving that draft position is not a perfect indicator of future performance, Jason Demers has improved his game to the point where he enters the 2010-11 season as the likeliest candidate to seize a spot on the Sharks blue line. Contributing four goals and 17 assists in 51 NHL games last season, Demers exhibited that his offensive talents can translate to the big leagues. The Sharks rewarded him with their Rookie of the Year award, and topped it off by signing Demers to a new two-year contract extension.

While he has improved his defensive capabilities to the point where he isn’t a total liability in his own end of the ice, it will be his contributions inside the opposing teams blue line that will garner Demers his ice time. He simply knows what to do when on the man-advantage, combining good puck movement with an accurate shot. While its way too early to classify Demers as a PP specialist, it will certainly round out his development curve. His main weakness is his defensive-zone decis
ion making, but he has improved in that area. If paired with a somewhat more defense-minded partner in San Jose, Demers could enjoy a breakthrough season in 2011.

4. (5) Alex Stalock, G, 23
Drafted 4th Round, 112th overall, 2005

Stalock has maintained his upward trajectory on the Shark’s depth chart, backstopping the young Worcester Sharks to a winning season despite tempered expectations. Named to the 2010 AHL All-Rookie team, Stalock won 39 games in his first season as a starting goalie in the pros. His aggressive style of play, based on challenging shooters to react too soon, and relying on his superb athleticism to bail him out when need be, will likely result in somewhat pedestrian personal stats. But a near 70 percent winning percentage has a way of glossing over a .908 save percentage. With leadership and keen puck-handling skills, Stalock brings a unique package to the goaltender position.

If he can continue improving, as he has so far, Stalock can challenge for a Sharks roster spot in 2011-12. With the moves the parent club made in the off-season, he will likely spend the upcoming year reprising his role as the number one goaltender in Worcester.

5. (NR) Charlie Coyle, RW, 18

Drafted 1st Round, 28th overall, 2010

San Jose’s first pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, Charlie Coyle makes his debut on the Sharks prospect chart. Already possessing ideal NHL size, at 6’2, 200 pounds, the future Boston University Terrier will attempt to carry forward with his development against much stiffer competition than he faced in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last season.

Coyle has all the tools to become an elite power forward: size, adequate speed, and deft hands around the net. True power forwards are notoriously difficult to develop, but Coyle will receive sound coaching and support while at BU. A true student-athlete, Coyle obviously has the intelligence and discipline to give himself an advantage in a university environment. Hitting the books, the back of the net, and opposing players equally well could put Coyle on the fast track to the NHL.

6. (2) Nick Petrecki, D, 21
Drafted 1st Round, 28th overall, 2007

Former first-rounder Nick Petrecki faltered a bit in his first taste of pro hockey last season. Struggling with his defensive assignments, his playing diminished during the course of the year, culminating in his being a healthy scratch in the AHL playoffs. While his physicality is unquestionable, combining a hard-hitting style and a willingness to fight, his discipline and decision-making need improvement. Another year or two in the AHL should help smooth out these issues.

Since Petrecki does not possess much offensive skill, he will have to mold himself into a shutdown defenseman at the NHL level. Improving his speed will be the key to improving his defensive coverage in his own zone. While not slow, Petrecki will need to add another gear to his quickness and acceleration to succeed in winning battles along the boards. Working in Petrecki’s favor are his massive, solid frame and corresponding wingspan, useful for sweeping pucks out of harms way.

7. (6) Steven Zalewski, C, 24
Drafted 5th Round, 153rd Overall, 2004

Recently re-signed to a new deal, Zalewski has obviously impressed the Sharks brass with his consistent two-way play. Playing almost a full schedule with the Worcester Sharks, Zalewski put up a very respectable 62 points while maintaining his defensive awareness. Zalewski is a hard worker, getting the most out of his skill package. While not being counted on to produce elite-level offense, he is effective in front of the net on the power play, which is a daunting task even for much bigger players. Like most recent college grads, Zalewski will have to improve his conditioning to keep himself fresh for the much longer pro season.

While slated to return to Worcester next season, Zalewski’s defensive awareness will make him one of the first call-ups if injuries strike San Jose’s third and fourth lines.

8. (14) Taylor Doherty, D, 19
Drafted 2nd round, 57th Overall, 2009

The biggest mover on the San Jose prospect chart, Doherty put together an excellent season with the OHL‘s Kingston Frontenacs in 2009-10. More than doubling his offensive output from the previous season, Doherty edged away from the defensive defenseman tag. While maintaining his noticeable presence in his own end of the ice, Doherty finally made some noise at the other team’s zone. While 44 points in 63 games likely won’t translate to his becoming a true offensive threat in the NHL, it will certainly make Doherty more versatile. Towering at 6’8, Doherty has drawn comparisons to other plus-sized defensemen in the NHL, such as Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers, which puts him in good stead.

Recently signed to an entry-level deal with San Jose, Doherty participated in the 2010 Canadian National Team training camp for the upcoming World Junior Championships, an elite honor, and speaking volumes about how he has progressed since he was drafted.

Already an above-average skater for his size, combined with his emerging two-way game, Doherty’s future looks promising. Bothered by injuries and illness the past two seasons, a full year of development should give a much clearer picture of Doherty’s eventual ceiling.

9. (7) Harri Sateri, G, 20
Drafted 4th Round, 106th Overall, 2008

After four seasons with the Tappara program in Finland, Sateri finally signed a deal with San Jose this past June. Sateri did not enjoy his finest year of hockey, as he posted mediocre stats for the second straight season. Winning only 21 of his 49 appearances, Sateri also sagged in other departments, with his goals against average increasing from 2.30 to 2.75, and his save percentage falling to .915. While not terrible stats, and given the fact that Tappara hasn’t iced an elite team in either of his two seasons, it nonetheless seemed that Sateri’s progress may have leveled off. A confident, almost cocky, goaltender, Sateri will have to bear down and focus on his fundamentals. His reflexes are above-average, and he does employ good positioning, however.

With the extremely crowded crease situation in the San Jose farm system, Sateri may be better served by remaining in Europe another season, where he is almost assured of seeing number one goalie minutes.

10. (9) Derek Joslin, D, 23
Drafted 5th Round, 149th Overall, 2005

An unheralded prospect to begin with, Joslin has nonetheless put together a solid pro career thus far.

With 32 points in 55 games with the Worcester Sharks, Joslin does possess a measure of offensive skill, including a bazooka-like shot from the point. Getting that shot off more quickly will be on Joslin’s t
o-do list in 2010-11. Improving his overall quickness should be another, as his skating stride is a bit long. His defensive zone coverage, while adequate, still needs some improvement.

Re-signed to a one-year contract, Joslin has a bit more time to develop his two-way game to the point where he can be a useful bottom-pair defenseman at the next level.

11. (11) William Wrenn, D, 19
Drafted 2nd Round, 43rd Overall, 2009

Though hampered by a hip injury which caused him to miss 14 games of his freshman season, Wrenn performed at about the level expected of him. Looking forward to next year at the University of Denver, Wrenn provided defensive awareness and a physical edge to the Pioneers’ blueline. With only seven assists in 23 games played, Wrenn has thus far stuck to his forté: solid defensive play. A ferocious bodychecker that belies his 6’1, 200 pound frame, Wrenn will continue to hone that skill in the future. Also an excellent skater, Wrenn can keep up with opposing forwards.

Barring anything unforeseen, the slick defenseman should be prepared to spend at least the next two seasons at the NCAA level honing his craft.

12. (10) Benn Ferriero, C, 23

Signed as a free agent, 2009

A terrific 2009 training camp saw Ferriero on the Sharks opening night roster, where he appeared in 22 games before injury and declining ice time pointed Sharks management to demote him to Worcester for more seasoning. Once healthy and settled, Ferriero took full advantage of the top-line ice time given him, potting 19 goals amongst 50 points in 58 AHL matches. He will undoubtedly be eager to get back to where he started out last season, with the parent Sharks.

Maintaining his aggressive style of play with a fair amount of offensive skill, Ferriero could be a high-energy addition to the Sharks third line. Ferriero’s high motor extends to his defensive-zone coverage, where he will have to make a strong impression to warrant ice-time from the high-scoring Sharks. His conditioning, as with most former collegians, came into question last season, but he performed well down the stretch and in the playoffs, largely quieting those concerns.

13. (12) Tommy Wingels, C, 22
Drafted 6th Round, 177th Overall, 2008

The former Miami RedHawk enjoyed another stellar season in the CCHA, culminating in a second straight NCAA Frozen Four appearance. Posting 17 goals and 26 assists, Wingels received a pair of honors from the CCHA, being named to the All-Conference Second Team, along with being voted Best Defensive Forward.

For the upcoming season, Wingels will look to prove himself against pro competition. Given the glut of pro-level forwards that San Jose enjoys, Wingels will most likely find himself in Worcester in 2010-11, but his polished, well-rounded game bodes well for the young man. Wingels already has a high hockey IQ and awareness, which shows up in his attention to details. Increasing his strength and conditioning will be the key going forward.

14. (19) Brandon Mashinter, LW, 21
Signed as a free agent, 2009

Signed in 2009 as something of a project, Mashinter put his power-forward skill set to good use last year, lighting the lamp 22 times in 79 games for the Worcester Sharks. Proving that he hasn’t forgotten how to use his excellent size (6’3, 228lbs), Mashinter also managed 13 fighting majors and some big hits along the way.

While not ready for NHL action at this time, Mashinter definitely increased his stock with Sharks management with his play this past season. Working on his speed and corner work will be a priority for 2011, but his very impressive physical package is already paying dividends.

15. (15) Thomas Heemskerk, G, 20

Signed as a free agent, 2009

Heemskerk, a free agent signee from the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips, split time last season with another well regarded goaltender, Blackhawks prospect Kent Simpson. Heemskerk did manage to appear in slightly more games, racking up 24 wins in 42 appearances (24-12-2-2), including four shutouts. His 2.34 goals against and .927 save percentage placed him in the top five amongst WHL netminders.

Heemskerk has participated in the Sharks summer rookie camp, with hopes of joining an extremely crowded crease corps within the organization. It is unclear where Heemskerk fits into the Sharks mix, with a return to the WHL a possibility. At least Heemskerk’s experience with sharing the net will prepare him for the competition for a limited number of spots.

An athletic goalie with excellent lateral movement and reflexes, Heemskerk has impressed thus far. Until he is placed in a situation where he plays number one goalie minutes, it may be difficult to get a good read on his overall potential.

16. (NR) Marek Viedensky, C, 20
Drafted 7th Round, 189th Overall, 2009

Another fast-rising Shark prospect, Viedensky enjoyed an excellent season in the WHL, posting a combined 20 goals and 29 assists in 61 games, split between Prince George and Saskatoon. An efficient, two-way forward who plays an all-around game, Viedensky can be used in any situation. While the Sharks have several forwards who play a similar game, Viedensky does bring a bit more size to the table (6’4, 185lbs), and while not the most physical player, he certainly does not shy away from the rough stuff.

Adding a bit of weight to his wiry frame will be a priority, with the corresponding increase in strength. He skates fairly well for a big man, but could use some work on his first step, which is choppy.

17. (NR) Max Gaede, RW, 18
Drafted 3rd Round, 88th Overall, 2010

Minnesota high-school product Max Gaede is an aggressive, hard-hitting winger with a fair amount of offensive skill.

Built like a football linebacker, Gaede uses his size to his advantage, punishing opposing players with solid physical play. While he posted impressive stats in his final year of high school hockey, it remains to be seen if those skills will translate at the next level. Slated to spend next year with the USHL‘s Sioux City Musketeers, there will be added challenge to develop his scoring touch in a traditionally low-scoring league. Gaede is committed to join Minnesota State University in 2011, though he is still being wooed by offers to play Canadian major junior. One area of concern is, predictably, his skating, which is adequate but not a positive aspect of his game at this point.

18. (NR) Justin Braun, D, 23
Drafted 7th Round, 201st Overall, 2007

Finishing out his final season with the University of Massachu
setts, Braun took home some impressive hardware to go along with a solid eight goals, 23 assists stat line. Named a first-team Hockey East All-Star, Braun was also voted Hockey East’s Defensive Player of the Year.

After his collegiate season, Braun joined the Worcester Sharks for the Calder Cup playoffs, where he acquitted himself well. A cerebral two-way defenseman, Braun is adept at transitioning the play up ice, using his good mobility and well-placed passes. He possesses the ability to quarterback a powerplay, where his on-ice awareness serves him well. He does not play a particularly physical game, instead using positioning and anticipation to defuse threats in his own zone.

19. (16) Frazer McLaren, LW, 22
Drafted 7th Round, 203rd Overall, 2007

Maclaren split the 2009-10 season between Worcester and San Jose, appearing in 23 NHL games. Maclaren provides muscle and is more than ready to put his pugilistic talents on display, but he is not a prototypical goon by any means. He can play a clamp-down defensive game, and is not out of place on the penalty killing unit, which is a rare assignment for a player of his size. MacLaren’s skating ability, while not elite, is above-average and allows him to forecheck effectively and keep up with the play. While the scoring touch he exhibited in junior has not, and may not, manifest itself at the pro level, Maclaren has put together an impressive package that could be very useful in the pros.

20. (17) Mike Moore, D, 25
Signed as a free agent, 2008

Former Princeton Tiger Mike Moore spent another solid season manning the blue line for the Worcester Sharks, where his fearlessness, leadership, and above all, his bone-crunching body checks have made him a fan favorite. Moore skill package isn’t flashy, but he has very good defensive zone coverage ability, skates well, and will even drop the gloves if need be. Moore showed a bit more discretion this season, picking his spots to deliver his wrecking ball open-ice hits. While solidly built, Moore will need to gauge himself against NHL-level forwards which may be far more physically gifted. His yeoman work in Worcester was not overlooked, as he was called up to the Sharks following the AHL playoffs, although he did not appear in any games. Another consistent season in the AHL should result in an opportunity to get some NHL minutes.

If Moore can show he can adapt to the quicker pace, and improve his passing skills a bit, a bottom-pairing NHL blueline spot is not out of the question.