San Jose Shark Collegiate Underclassmen Carry the Torch

By Kevin Wey

While San Jose has six prospects graduating from college to play in the NHL and AHL next season, these six underclassmen form San Jose’s nucleus to ensure a solid collegiate crop for the next few years.

Tom Cavanagh

The 21-year old Cavanagh followed up a solid freshman season with the Harvard Crimson with an even better sophomore season. In 34 games Cavanagh tallied 14 goals and 13 assists, good for sixth in Harvard scoring. In 22 ECAC games the sophomore center scored 11 goals and seven assists, which tied Cavanagh for fifth in Crimson ECAC-scoring. Among all sophomores in the ECAC, Cavanagh’s 18 points were good for seventh. Cavanagh spent most of the season on the second line with junior winger Billy Pettit, who led the Crimson in ECAC scoring and was second in overall scoring. Cavanagh also played on a line with Charles Johnson and Tyler Kolarik from mid-Nov. through mid-Dec.

The Crimson’s overall record of 22-10-2 earned them a final ranking of tenth in both the USCHO and American Hockey Magazine polls. Harvard finished with a 17-4-1 conference record, second behind Cornell. In the ECAC playoffs Harvard lost a 2-3 game in overtime to the Cornell Big Red, and Harvard was eliminated early in the NCAA Tournament, losing 6-4 to Boston University in the Northeast Regional semifinals.

Cavanagh should center either Harvard’s first or second line next season, helping the 5’11” 190-pound Rhode Island native continue his ascent. At this point, Cavanagh’s future for the Sharks is in the AHL, as a decent second line center. Cavanagh is a long-shot to play in the NHL, but it’s not out of the question with hard work and luck. Do not look for Cavanagh to leave college early like Grant Stevenson.

Mike Morris

Morris, the Sharks’ first round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, had a strong rookie season with the Northeastern Huskies, playing most of the season on the first line with Mike Ryan and Eric Ortlip or Jason Guerriero. Despite missing eight games in January and early February due to a concussion suffered in practice, Morris finished third in Northeastern scoring with nine goals and 12 assists in 26 games. Missing seven Hockey East conference games, Morris was fourth on the Huskies in Hockey East scoring with seven goals and seven assists in 14 games. The 20-year-old Morris’ nine goals were second on Northeastern. The right wing’s shortened season still earned him a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team, and was the runner-up for the Hockey East Rookie of the Month in February.

Northeastern’s season was a disaster, finishing with a 10-21-3 overall record, and last in the Hockey East standings with a 5-17-2 record, and fourth in the Beanpot Tournament of the four Boston colleges.

Morris, a solid two-way player with good awareness and no real skill deficiencies, should be Northeastern’s first line right wing next season, although he won’t have Mike Ryan at center anymore. As only a sophomore, Morris will likely be Northeastern’s top player next season, working on a line with Guerriero and a center to be determined. Look for Morris to be a second or third line forward for the Sharks in the future. Morris does not have a major offensive upside, but he’s among the Sharks’ safer bets to play in the NHL some day.

Dan Spang

Spang, who does not turn 20 until mid-August, was a semi-regular for the Boston University Terriers this past season, and scored three goals and six assists in 27 games. In 14 Hockey East conference games Spang managed two goals and three assists, and was the Hockey East Rookie of the Week for Dec. 16. The physically fit Spang, at 5’11” 200 pounds, did have some trouble making the roster every night, as seniors John Cronin and Mike Bussoli took time that Spang will see next season as the Terriers’ fourth defenseman behind Bryan Miller, Ryan Whitney, and fellow freshman Jekabs Redlihs of Latvia.

The Terriers had a busy season with 42 games, finishing with a 25-14-3 record, earning BU a final ranking of sixth in the USHCO poll and seventh in the American Hockey Magazine poll. Boston University’s 13-10-1 Hockey East record was only earned them a fifth place finish. BU did manage to win the Beanpot Tournament over Boston College 3-2. The Hockey East playoffs saw some success for the Terriers, losing 1-0 in overtime to the University of New Hampshire in finals. At the NCAA Tournament, BU made it to the Northeast Regional finals, but lost once again to the Wildcats of New Hampshire 3-0.

Spang’s future for BU is as the team’s first or second defenseman his senior year, possibly sooner. The Sharks second round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft does have a good chance at playing in the NHL for the Sharks as a solid two-way defenseman. However, San Jose’s extreme defense prospect depth will make it difficult for the Massachusetts native.

Tim Conboy

The 21-year old Conboy translated a solid USHL junior A career with Topeka and Rochester into a decent rookie season for St. Cloud State. At 6’2” 210 pound, Conboy already has the size and physical maturity to excel from the get-go, and the Minnesota native did with three goals and 12 assists in 31 games. In 21 WCHA games, Conboy picked up two goals and 11 assists, which was 13th in WCHA defenseman-scoring and was the top WCHA rookie defenseman in scoring. Known as a physical player who was more than willing to drop the gloves in juniors, Conboy’s offensive exploits as St. Cloud’s fifth or sixth defenseman were welcome. Most of Conboy’s offense came in November, when he tallied two goals and seven assists, all on the power play. (Only three of Conboy’s assists were not on the power play, with one shorthanded.) Conboy’s November did see him nominated as the WCHA Rookie of the Week for Nov. 11. Conboy missed four games and an exhibition game against the Italian national team in Dec. due to a back injury, and also missed three games in late February and early March. For most of the season Conboy was paired with Colin Peters on St. Cloud’s third pairing.

St. Cloud State finished above .500 with a 17-16-5 record, which earned the Huskies a final ranking of 15th on the USCHO poll, and 16th in voting for the American Hockey Magazine poll. The Huskies lost to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the WCHA playoffs in the best-of-three series. Barely making the NCAA National Tournament, St. Cloud was promptly defeated by the University of New Hampshire in the semifinals of the Northeast Regionals.

Conboy will likely find himself as the third or fourth defenseman for St. Cloud State next season, and could easily become the school’s first or second defenseman his senior year. Because of his physical nature, Conboy should adapt well to AHL hockey after college, and does have a shot at becoming a sixth or seventh defenseman in the NHL. However, San Jose’s prospect depth at defense will make it difficult for Conboy to crack San Jose in the future.

Tom Walsh

Walsh, a teammate of Cavanagh’s on Harvard, had a good freshman season as a regular on the Crimson’s blueline on the third pairing with Ryan Lannon. Occasionally pairing with David McCulloch, Walsh managed one goal and six assists in 32 games, but Walsh’s six assists all came in 20 ECAC games, placing the 20-year old Massachusetts native third in ECAC Rookie-Defenseman-Scoring. The 6’0” 195-pound Walsh was second on the Crimson in rookie scoring, and fourth in defenseman scoring.

Walsh will likely be Harvard’s fourth or fifth defenseman next season, as Harvard had no senior defensemen on its roster this past season. It is probable that Walsh will be Harvard’s first or second defenseman his senior year, and likely has a future in the AHL as a top-four defenseman, but is a long-shot to play in the NHL. However, with three seasons to until Walsh turns pro, much can happen.

Michael Hutchins

Despite scoring seven goals and 30 assists in 60 games for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, Hutchins found himself red-shirted this season for the University of New Hampshire. The only Wildcat freshman who found himself as a semi-regular was fellow defenseman Brian Yandle, who was used sparingly down the stretch for the NCAA National Champion runner-ups. Seniors Garrett Stafford and Kevin Truelson will be graduating, so Hutchins should crack the Wildcat’s roster next season as the fifth or sixth defenseman, and could still become one of the Wildcats’ top defensemen by his senior year, depending on recruits.

The 5’11” 197-pound New Hampshire native is known for his aggressive play, both physically, and in aggressively joining the offensive play. Hutchins turns 21 in Oct, and the Sharks now have four more years to wait and monitor Hutchins’ progress. This year’s setback make the Sharks’ ninth round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft an extreme long-shot to play in the NHL, but the AHL is still a reasonable expectation for Hutchins.

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