Depth and character prevails in San Jose’s top 20

By David Thicke

Photo: Forward Tommy Wingels had something of a breakout season in 2011-12, splitting time evenly between the AHL and NHL. Wingels even managed to appear in five NHL playoff games. (Tony Medina/Icon SMI)

The San Jose Sharks have seen some of their prospects demonstrate solid development over the 2011-12 season while others have been seemingly stuck in neutral. Benn Ferriero and Justin Braun have graduated since the last Top 20 list while others such as Taylor Doherty, Harri Sateri, Nick Petrecki, and Brandon Mashinter have seen their stock decline over the season. The organization signed several quality free agents this spring including Travis Oleksuk, Matt Tennyson, and Sebastien Stalberg.

1. (14) Freddie Hamilton, C, 7.5C
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2010

Hamilton has vastly improved on his overall two-way game this season with the OHL Niagara Ice Dogs and has been moved to the top of the team's list of prospects. The physical playmaking centerman showed more maturity, character and increasing his offensive skills while scoring 12 power play goals along with three shorthanded tallies. He has performed with the elite of his age at the 2012 WJC Tournament and was one of the important players for Team Canada. He played a shutdown, checking role against the opposition's best offensive lines and had good success while taking the important faceoffs for his team.

The 20-year-old has jumped to the top of the Sharks organizational depth chart more from his improvement on the defensive side to his game as a shutdown, offensive centerman and could quite easily be a top-six player for the Sharks. He will need to add more muscle over the summer in order to play his physical style of game at the professional level.

2. (4) Matt Nieto, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2011

Nieto really improved on the offensive side with his explosive speed and showed that he can play as a top-six forward at Boston University. The sophomore winger has improved his overall game, is equally as fast with or without the puck, and has a quick release. He improved his offensive numbers by almost 20 points while scoring five power play goals along with three game winning goals of the Terriers. It was his defensive game that moved him up this Top 20 list, when he scored a shorthanded and finished the 2011-12 season with a plus-18 rating in 37 NCAA games.

Nieto will need to take on a bigger offensive role and add more muscle over the next two years at Boston University but it's possible the speedy talented winger could be ready ahead of schedule.

3. (3) Tommy Wingels, C, 7C
Drafted 6th Round, 177th overall, 2008

Wingels improved on his offensive numbers to start the AHL season and was given several call-ups to the NHL with the Sharks. He suffered an upper body injury in January which sidelined him for 15 games but after a brief conditioning stint in Worcester, he returned to the NHL. The versatile centerman show good poise with the puck, excellent skating speed and balance while using his vision to create scoring opportunities for his linemates on the Shark's fourth line.

Wingels showed that he can play at the NHL level this season and as he grows more comfortable in the NHL, the centerman can play a physical puck possession two-way game. His top potential is on the top-nine for the Sharks but he could be a very good third line character, shutdown player with some offensive upside.

4. (NR) Travis Oleksuk, C, 7.5D
Signed as a free agent, March 2012

The Sharks have signed a very good offensive centerman in Oleksuk who can play at both ends of the rink, has lots of speed but can control the pace of play as a deception to the opposition. The playmaking centerman managed 21 goals and 32 assists this season, second to 2012 Hobey Baker winner and teammate Jack Connolly in points.

Oleksuk will join the Sharks AHL affiliate for 2012-13 but should be expected to maybe see some bottom-six time in the NHL as well.

5. (1) Taylor Doherty D, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd Round, 57th overall, 2009

In his first season at the professional level, Doherty really struggled with the speed of the game, frequently getting caught out of position and providing very little in the way of offense from the blue line. The big defenseman has trouble with his skating, pivots both ways; balance and speed are lacking to be a top-two defenseman in the NHL for the sharks.

Doherty will have to work extra hard over the summer training to improve his overall game but the big man will still be a long term development project for the Sharks. His projection is more likely to be a big, physical shutdown defenseman with a little offense if he makes the NHL.

6. (NR) Matt Tennyson, D, 7.5D
Signed as a free agent, March 2012

Tennyson was the top offensive defenseman at Western Michigan University for coach, Andy Murray who coached in the NHL before joining the university this season. The junior was fourth in scoring for the Broncos and controlled the team's power play while scoring 15 power play goals along with three game winning goals over the last two seasons.

Tennyson has excellent skating and puck moving skills but can be a little weak with defensive zone positioning and pinches offensively at the wrong times. This can be corrected at the AHL level because the big physical defenseman has the hockey IQ and all the capabilities to be a top-two defenseman but will need time to develop more his defensive game.

7. (10) Konrad Abeltshauser, D, 7C
Drafted 6th Round, 163rd overall, 2010

Abeltshauser can really skate for his size, has solid offensive skills, will jump up into the rush and has a hard, accurate shot from the point. The tall, lanky blueliner finished near the top of the QJMHL for defensemen in scoring and was his team's leader on the back end. He worked more this season on improving moving the puck up ice quicker and playing better positionally in the defensive zone.

Abeltshauser signed a three year NHL entry level contract on April 11, 2012 after an excellent season and QJMHL playoff run with the Mooseheads. The big mobile German-born defender could be in the AHL for the 2012-13 season and projects as a possible number four defenseman at the NHL level.

8. (NR) Dylan DeMelo, D, 7C
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2011

DeMelo improved on his offensive numbers of last season for a much weaker Mississauga team while playing on both specialty units and big shutdown minutes. The Shark were impressed enough to give the young defenseman an ATO to play for AHL Worcester for four games to end his year. He was a solid plus three rating with an assist in the four AHL games and the team signed him to a three-year NHL entry-level contract.

DeMelo has another year at the junior level to get bigger and continue improving his overall game. He will need to add more muscle, up his offensive play, bring more physicality and character to his game for Mississauga in the OHL next season.

9. (NR) Lee Moffie, D, 7C
Drafted 7th Round, 188th overall, 2010

Moffie was a solid overall defenseman for the Michigan Wolverines and play on the team's shutdown pairing later in the season with Jon Merrill (NJD). The puck moving defenseman was one point behind the team's offensive leaders in points and tops amongst the Wolverines' defensemen. He improved his offensive numbers by 15 points over his sophomore season by contributing at both end of the ice with two power play goals, a shorthanded tally and two important game winning goals in all 41 NCAA games.

Moffie will be expected to play a bigger role on the team's specialty units, provide character and leadership as a returning senior for the Wolverines. He needs to shoot the puck more often with his big point shot but play a much more physical game in his own end and in front of his net this season.

10. (6) Alex Stalock, G, 7C
Drafted 4th Round, 112th overall, 2005

Stalock returned late in the season after missing almost a year after the tendon behind his left knee was severed by a skate and suffered nerve damage on February 4, 2011 in a game against Manchester. In January 2012, he finally started playing a string of six conditioning games in the ECHL for the Stockton Thunder then was re-assigned to the AHL. The athletic, mobile netminder started to show his All-star form again by the end of the season after playing two games for Worcester and three more while being loaned to the Peoria Riverman.

Stalock's comeback season ended out of the AHL playoffs so the butterfly goalie will have a long summer to bang off all the rust while working on his fundamentals and angles. With his new outlook on a second chance at playing hockey, the stellar netminder is still the Shark best goalie prospect but will need a new contract for next season.

11. (2) Harry Sateri, G, 7C
Drafted 4th Round, 106th overall, 2008

Sateri struggled to start his rookie season in the AHL but still managed to start a little more than half of Worcester's games putting up solid numbers due a late season surge as the Finish-born netminder adjusted to the game. The smart butterfly goalie has trouble with his timing when going down too early and learning to read the play. He needs to continue to adjust to the angles of the smaller ice surface, has to increase his lateral speed and the quicker speed of play at the professional level.

Sateri has the calm demeanor, work ethic and character to be a solid back-up goalie with some upside but can't really carry a team like Stalock yet. He will have stiff competition in Worcester with the goaltenders trying to step-up their games for the starting job next season.

12. (NR) Cody Ferriero, C, 7C
Drafted 5th Round, 127th overall, 2010

Ferriero was having an excellent sophomore year on the top line for Northeastern before he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus and missed the second half of the season. He had already doubled his offensive numbers from his freshman season in only half the NCAA games. The quick skating centerman is a pure scorer who is smart enough to let his linemates carry the puck up the ice and find the little soft spots in the defensive coverage where he can get off his quick, hard accurate release.

It will be important to see how the injury effects Ferriero's skating but it isn't as bad as a torn ACL or MCL. The junior should put up excellent number next season if he can stay healthy for the whole year at Northwestern.

13. (NR) Sebastien Stalberg, C/RW 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 2012

Stalberg is not big or as physical as his brother, Victor Stalberg (CHI) but the speedy forward is a quick skater, a playmaker and has a good release. The talented centerman led the University of Vermont with 31 points in 34 games in his junior year this season while scoring six power play goals and a game winning goal.

He needs to add more muscle, make better decisions with or without the puck and show a better two-way game in order to get to the NHL. He will need to bring his usual consistent effort every shift and game while producing offensive numbers and playing smart in all three zones of the ice.

14. (5) Nick Petrecki, D, 6.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 27th overall, 2007

Petrecki has NHL size, can play mean and physical, skates and moves the puck well, but has not produced much in the way of offense, especially considering his booming shot from the point.

In a talent pool filled with big defensemen, Petrecki needs to bring more offense, make smarter plays with the puck and learn when to better pick his spots. Time is running out for the physical blueliner and he needs to show the Sharks organization that he is capable of playing defense at the NHL level. 

15. (7) William Wrenn, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 43rd overall, 2009

Wrenn has fallen on this top 20 list more from not improving his offensive game as an overage at the WHL level. The big, calm, poised defenseman can play solidly on the defensive side of the ice but doesn't have much offensive upside. He is a character player, a team first mentality and a leader as Portland's captain this season.

Wrenn needs to play with more physicality in the defensive zone and improve his reverse pivoting so he can better control the space between opposing forwards. He can be a solid defensive defenseman with some offensive upside at the AHL level starting next season.

16. (8) Brandon Mashinter, LW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 2009

Mashinter wasn't able to get a chance to be called-up to the NHL this season and played 65 games putting up similar offensive numbers to the 2010-11 season. The hulking winger plays with physicality and grit and works well down low along the boards and around the net. The third year player started to pick up his offensive game late in the season when the team was fighting for an AHL playoff spot.

Mashinter needs improvement in his skating stride and defensive skills to develop into a power forward. He also needs to start getting into higher traffic areas and stop playing with a sniper mentality. He projects as a third or fourth line checking forward if he gets to the NHL.

17. (11) Marek Viedensky, C, 6.5C
Drafted 7th Round, 189th, 2009

Viedensky struggled in his first professional season, battling injuries and when healthy, having difficulty getting good ice time. He has a good work ethic, solid defensive play, and excels at killing penalties. However, he needs to improve in the offensive zone and drive harder to the net. He also needs to better utilize his big frame to score in the dirty areas of the ice.

18. (17) Sena Acolatse, D, 7D
Signed as a free agent, March 2011

Acolatse had a solid offensive rookie season in the AHL for Worcester and showed that he can handle himself when dropping the gloves. The physical defender struggled to start the season but grew more comfortable with the AHL level as the year progressed and finished strong with five power play goals.

Acolatse will need to improve his defensive zone positioning, his decision making with or without the puck and reduce the high risk pinching at the oppositions' blue line. If he can develop his defensive game then the offensively skill defenseman has a possible upside as a 3rd or fourth d-man at the NHL level.

19. (18) Sean Kuraly, C, 7D
Drafted 5th Round, 133rd overall, 2011

Kuraly exploded for a 41 point improvement over last year in USHL for the Indiana Ice. The 2011, 5th round draft pick scored 32 goals along 38 assists in 54 games and showed he has a bigger offensive upside than first expected. The two-way centerman set a team record of six shorthanded goals this season and was fourth in scoring for the USHL.

Kuraly needs to continue developing his two-way game while bring that offensive flair and production to the NCAA level next year with the Miami (Ohio) University Redhawks (CCHA). The late rounder is still a long shot to get to the NHL but he will be fun to watch over his four year development in NCAA.

20. (12) Justin Sefton, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd Round, 89th overall, 2011

Sefton is a tough, physical defensive defenseman but he will need to show more offensive game to get an entry level contract from the Sharks. The organization has many big defensemen of his type so he has to bring more to the table in the OHL with Sudbury Wolves.

The big defenseman needs to improve his pivots, stride lengths, and better balance along with working on making quicker outlet passes. Others have improved more than him this season but he's still young enough with another year at the junior level to develop his overall game.