Sharks Top 20 prospects

By Kevin Wey

Known as one of the NHL’s top developers of talent, the San Jose Sharks still maintain a solid crop of prospects. As has been the norm in previous seasons, the Sharks maintain a strong crop of prospect defensemen with seven within the top 20 and two certain to become solid NHL defensemen.

San Jose is also strong in net, with three goalies in the top 20, meaning goalie coach Warren Strelow has plenty of talent to work with behind Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala.

Known for being able to roll through four lines of forwards, the Sharks should continue to have strong forward depth in the future with eight forwards currently in HF’s Top 20 Shark Prospects. Four centers make the list.

Often drafting unhyped players, San Jose’s success has been in developing these prospects.

1. Milan Michalek, LW – 20 – Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 8.0 C, Projection: First or second line winger
Acquired: 1st Round, 6th pick overall 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Considered by many the most NHL-ready player in the 2003 Draft, Milan Michalek’s career now faces serious question marks after tearing his ACL early in the 2003-04 season in San Jose. He re-injured it in with Cleveland in February 2004 after returning to action prematurely and contracting a staff infection in the subsequent surgery to repair the knee.

Michalek has not played in 2004-05, taking a year off to fully heal. The Czech does have an impressive past though.

Coach Ron Wilson had so much confidence in a 19-year-old Michalek that the young Czech started the 2003-04 season in San Jose and even scored a goal in his first NHL game. Michalek suffered his knee injury in the second game. His AHL season included only seven games with two goals and two assists.

Michalek’s history in the Czech Republic is more demonstrative of his talent, skating as a regular in the Budejovice line-up as a 17 and 18-year-old. The youthful Michalek also played for the Czech Republic in two U-18 World Championships and the 2003 World Junior Championships, where the Czech tied for third in team scoring with two goals and two assists in six games.

At 6’2, 215 pounds and growing, Michalek has the frame to succeed in the NHL and has had it since he was 17 in the Czech Extraleague. An adept passer with good two-way awareness, Michalek also possesses a strong shot, if not underutilized. A talented forward with a mature game, Michalek will have to prove himself again in 2005-06 after missing nearly two years due to injury.

2. Christian Ehrhoff, D – 22 – Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 8.0 B, Projection: Leading defenseman
Acquired: 4th Round, 106th pick overall 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Part of the Sharks “German Draft” of 2001, Christian Ehrhoff may prove to be the most talented German player to date, ahead of fellow Sharks Marco Sturm and Marcel Goc.

After a solid 2003-04 season that saw Ehrhoff named to the NHL Young Stars Game on the strength of a one goal and 11 assists in 41 games with San Jose, he has played the entirety of the 2004-05 season in the AHL with Cleveland because of the NHL lockout. After 75 games, Ehrhoff has 12 goals and 21 assists, placing him 24th among AHL defenseman scoring despite playing for one of the most offensively challenged teams in the AHL. Ehrhoff’s 227 shots places him first among all AHL defensemen, the result of Ehrhoff’s propensity to use his hard slap shot from the point and join the play down low.

One of the top young offensive defensemen of the AHL, Ehrhoff was named to PlanetUSA’s roster for the AHL All-Star Game. Ehrhoff’s speed, skating and puckhandling abilities were recognized by the PlanetUSA coaching staff in their selection of him for the Puck Control Relay in the Skills Competition. The Moers native had an assist in PlanetUSA’s 5-4 shootout win over Canada in the AHL All-Star Game.

Prior to the AHL season, Ehrhoff skated for Team Germany in the World Cup, one of only four defensemen to play in all four games for Deutschland.

As an offensive defenseman who’s the most dangerous on the power play, Ehrhoff’s defense suffers. Despite good positioning once established in the defensive zone, Ehrhoff could still afford to add a little more muscle on his 6’2, 200-pound frame to help him win more battles in the corners and in front of the net. Perhaps more helpful than muscle would be if Ehrhoff developed more intensity in fighting along the boards and in front of the net. The young German could better utilize his stick to prevent getting walked out of the corner, a problem not uncommon with European defensemen who grew up on the international ice sheet which discourages them from rushing into the corners.

However, Ferraris are not used to get the groceries, and Ehrhoff’s worth as an offensive defenseman and triggerman from the point is immense to the Sharks, a team that has not had an offensive defenseman of his talent since Sandis Ozolinsh.

3. Marcel Goc, C – 21 – Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 7.0 B, Projection: Superior third line center
Acquired: 1st Round, overall pick 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Following an impressive stint with the Sharks in the 2004 Playoffs, Marcel Goc has continued to prove he has a place in San Jose’s plans with a solid 2004-05 season with the Cleveland Barons.

After scoring 16 goals and 21 assists in 78 games as a rookie with the Barons in 2003-04, Goc started 2004-05 on fire with seven goals and seven assists in his first 14 games. Goc’s production cooled to only two assists in his next 11 games until a broken wrist forced him from action. The 21-year-old German only missed four games, playing hurt for a few weeks afterwards.

After 72 games Goc has 16 goals and 32 assists, second on the team in scoring behind Ryane Clowe. Had Goc not suffered the injury, it is likely that he would have challenged Clowe for the team lead in scoring.

After starting the season with Team Germany at the World Cup, Goc has proven himself as the Barons most talented forward, though Clowe won the Team MVP award. Goc is a solid two-way center with a +4 rating on a team full of minuses who is a mainstay on the Barons penalty kill and a regular on the power play.

Goc looked set to start the 2004-05 season in San Jose until the lockout sent him to Cleveland. A smooth skating pivot with decent speed, strong playmaking skills, and two-way awareness, Goc should become a strong third line center for the Sharks who can also fill in on the second line as needed as one of San Jose’s most dependable forwards.

4. Matt Carle, D – 20 – Denver University (WCHA)
Rating: 7.0 B Projection: Third or fourth defenseman
Acquired: 2nd Round, 47th overall 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Perhaps the best defenseman in all of college hockey, Matt Carle has proven he was worth the second round pick the Sharks used to select him in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Only a sophomore for Denver University, Carle’s young career has already seen him named the USHL’s Defenseman of the Year in 2002-03, named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team in 2003-04, and a member of Team USA’s gold medal-winning effort at the 2004 World Junior Championships. Carle only continued his upward climb in 2004-05, helping Denver win its second consecutive NCAA Championship.

Carle was named to the NCAA All-American West First Team with 13 goals and 31 assists in 43 games, second in NCAA DI defensive scoring behind Quinnipac’s Reid Cashman. Inside College Hockey recognized Carle’s two-way excellence naming the Anchorage, Alaska native as their Defenseman of the Year.

The WCHA also recognized Carle by naming him to the All-WCHA First Team having scored 8 goals ands 22 assists in 30 games, first in WCHA defenseman scoring and 12th in WCHA overall scoring. Excelling in the classroom, Carle was also named a WCHA All-Academic Team. Carle was also named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week Oct. 25 and nominated for the award on five other occasions.

A major component in Denver’s playoff success, Carle was named to the Northeast All-Regional Team with three assists in three games, helping the Pioneers advance to the Frozen Four. Carle’s playoff performance continued against Colorado College in the semifinals with the game-winning goal and two assists, helping the Pioneer blueliner earn a spot on the NCAA All-Tournament Team with an additional assist against North Dakota in Denver’s 4-1 championship game victory.

The 6’0,200-pound blueliner possesses good speed, strong two-way awareness, as well as strong offensive capabilities. Not as flashy as Christian Ehrhoff, nor as tall as the German defenseman, Carle’s game strongly resembles that of former Colorado College defenseman and current Shark Tom Preissing. Unlike Preissing, who was a forward before playing in the USHL for Green Bay, Carle has been a defenseman since his youth in Alaska, and thus his game his quite advanced at 20 years of age. Not big by NHL standards, like Preissing, Carle will have to use his speed and awareness to succeed at the NHL level. However, Carle does enjoy making big hits and does not shy away from physical play, either giving or receiving.

Carle is already easily an AHL-caliber defenseman, and should the NHL resume in 2005-06, and Carle decide to leave college early, the then 21-year-old would have a legitimate shot of cracking San Jose’s line-up.

5. Steve Bernier, RW – 20 – Moncton (QMJHL)
Rating: 7.5 C, Projection: Second tier power forward
Acquired: 1st Round, 16th pick overall 2003 NHL Entry Draft

It’s rare that a player’s production can decrease for three straight seasons after being drafted and maintain his position as one of his team’s top prospects, but that’s exactly what Moncton Wildcats right wing Steve Bernier has done.

Thirteenth in QMJHL scoring with 36 goals and 46 assists in 2003-04, Bernier finished far from the top in 2004-05. Bernier’s 35 goals in 68 games placed him 11th in league goal-scoring, but his 71 points placed him 23rd in total scoring. Bernier’s drop in production had less to do with the Vanier, Quebec native than it does his low-scoring team.

Moncton, the fourth best team in the QMJHL with 84 points in 70 games, tied Cape Breton for 10th in QMJHL team scoring with 206 goals, meaning Bernier scored more than one sixth of the Wildcats’ goals in 2004-05. With teammates Bruce Graham and Martin Karsums missing significant action, Bernier finished 24 points ahead of Stephane Goulet in team scoring, earning Bernier the Tim Horton’s Leading Scorer Award as Moncton’s leading scorer. Fellow Moncton power forward Adam Pineault also missed action while playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships.

Unlike Pineault, Bernier was once again left off his team’s WJC team, a decision that is difficult to question considering Canada’s superior performance at the 2005 World Junior Championships in Grand Forks. Snubbed for the second year in a row, Bernier is now ineligible to play for Team Canada at the 2006 World Junior Championships as an ’85. Bernier was included by the QMJHL when it created Team QMJHL to face a Russian U-20 team in late November. Team QMJHL lost both contests, but Bernier was named the second star of the game Nov. 22 with a power play assist with eight shots and five hits.

Possessing questionable defensive skills when he was drafted in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft with the 16th overall pick, Bernier has improved in this area and finished second on Moncton with a +18 rating. Bernier’s status as a power forward is also sound, as the 6’2,220-pounder finished 11th in the QMJHL in hits with 181. Bernier also got into five fights in 2004-05, contributing to his 114 penalty minutes, excluding the five 10-minute misconducts he was issued which do not factor into QMJHL penalty minute totals. Serving as Moncton’s team captain, Bernier’s strong all-around play earned him the Irving Tissue Most Valuable Player Award.

Named one of the Three Stars of the Game 17 times in 2004-05, Bernier’s primary talent is still his scoring ability. Recognizing his offensive production, Bernier was named the QMJHL’s Offensive Player of the Week Nov. 1 after scoring four goals and three assists the previous week, including a hat trick Oct. 31 against Sidney Crosby’s Rimouski Oceanic. Bernier also tallied a hat trick against Acadie-Bathurst Sept. 21. A clutch goal scorer, Bernier finished fourth in the QMJHL with nine game-winning goals.

With 34-year-old Scott Thornton nearing end of his career, the Sharks desperately need Bernier to become their next power forward. Whether Bernier can become an elite NHL power forward is yet to be determined.

6. Josh Hennessy, C – 20 – Quebec (QMJHL)
Rating: 7.5 C, Projection: Second line center
Acquired: 2nd Round, 43rd overall pick 2003 NHL Entry Draft

A consistent performer, Quebec captain Josh Hennessy led the Remparts in scoring for the second season in a row with 85 points in 68 games, good for ninth in QMJHL scoring. Hennessy’s 35 goals tied him with Bernier for 11th in the league in that category. A competent playmaker, Hennessy’s 50 assists were good for 17th in QMJHL in assists. Few players take more shots in the league than Hennessy, firing a QMJHL fourth-best 281 shots in 2004-05.

Although Hennessy’s points per game in 2004-05 was well below his 82 points in 59 games in 2003-04, the Remparts featured one of the most balanced scoring attacks in the QMJHL, behind only Rimouski in team goal scoring with 267 goals. Hennessy also helped lead Moncton to the third best record in the QMJHL with 86 points in 70 games. In his 68 games, Hennessy was named one of the Three Stars of the Game on 15 occasions.

Trustworthy defensively, Hennessy ended the regular season with a +28 rating, third on Quebec and eighth in the QMJHL. Although not a physical player, Hennessy’s 6’1,194-pound frame is sufficient to absorb the rigors of pro hockey.

Despite Hennessy’s speed, skating and scoring abilities, the Rockland, Mass., native was not selected to play for Team USA at the 2005 World Junior Championships.

Although not selected by Team USA, he,still has a bright future as a second line center for the San Jose Sharks. Turning 20 in February, Hennessy will likely play in Cleveland in 2005-06.

7. Lukas Kaspar, RW – 19 – Ottawa (OHL)
Rating: 7.5 C, Projection: Second or third line forward
Acquired: 1st Round, 22nd overall pick 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Drafted out of the HC Chemopetrol Litvinov system in the Czech Republic, Lukas Kaspar’s first season in North American with the Ottawa 67’s has raised doubts as to whether Kaspar was worth his high selection.

Kaspar played with Litvinov juniors teammate Jakub Petruzalek on his opposite wing nearly the entire season, with whom Kaspar displayed considerable chemistry in Czech juniors. Scoring 21 goals and adding 30 assists in 59 games, Kaspar managed to finish fifth in OHL rookie scoring behind Benoit Pouliot, Petruzalek, Marek Kvapil and Radek Smolenak.

The 19-year-old winger also played for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships in Grand Forks, but was not among the team’s top scorers with one goal and one assist in seven games. Kaspar did score the team’s game-winning goal against Team USA and also added 10 minutes in penalties to his 16-minute total.

The 6’2,205-pound Kaspar, along with possessing a cannon of a shot, is one European forward who is able to handle the physical style of North American hockey. While Kaspar’s physical prowess is a plus, the Czech was envisioned to be a sniper, but with barely 20 goals at the OHL level and an inability to make a major impact on the Czech junior national team, Kaspar’s potential to become a strong second line NHL forward may be just that: potential.

It is unlikely after 2004-05 that San Jose would take Kaspar from the 67’s and assign him to Cleveland in 2005-06. Kaspar still has much to prove at the OHL level and will continue to be under the tutelage of legendary OHL coach Brian Kilrea.

8. Mike Morris, RW – 21 – Northeastern (HEA)
Rating: 6.5 B, Projection: Superior third line forward
Acquired: 1st Round, 27th overall pick 2002 NHL Entry Draft

A surprise first round pick in 2002, Morris has proven over his three seasons at Northeastern University that he was worth the investment.

Morris was named a Hockey East Second Team All-Star this season after scoring 14 goals and 12 assists in 20 conference games, missing four games due to injury in November. Despite missing those games, Morris finished seventh in HE scoring thanks largely to a two-goal, four-assist performance against UMass in the Huskies’ 8-3 win Mar. 5 in the team’s final regular season game of 2004-05. The Braintree, Mass. native was also named the HE Player of the Week Feb. 28 after a three-goal weekend.

Knocked out of the Hockey East playoffs in the first round by New Hampshire, Morris ended his season with 19 goals and 20 assists in 34 games, second only to senior center Jason Guerriero in scoring and first in goals amongst the Huskies.

A speedy player with good stick skills and two-way awareness, Morris is a regular on the special teams, often playing the point on the power play a la San Jose’s Niko Dimitrakos. While Dimitrakos may have a bit more offensive talent than him, Morris’ defensive game is far more developed at this juncture than the former Maine star forward. Morris should lead Northeastern as their captain in 2005-06 and lead the team in scoring as well. Morris will have a new coach in 2005-06, as Greg Cronin has been selected to replace Bruce Crowder, whose nine-year contract was not renewed.

Long-term, Morris should become a strong third line forward for San Jose.

9. Dimitri Patzold, G -22- Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 6.5 B, Projection: Superior back-up goalie
Acquired: 4th Round, 107th overall pick 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Once again in a platoon system with Nolan Schaefer in Cleveland for the 2004-05 season, 22-year-old Dimitri Patzold is winning the numbers game over the 25-year-old Schaefer.

No AHL team’s netminding tandem is closer in minutes played than Cleveland’s Patzold (2299) and Schaefer (2298). Last season Schaefer established himself as the starter down the stretch and in the playoffs over the departed Seamus Kotyk, which sent Patzold down to Johnstown of the ECHL.

On a team that’s 33-37-6, Patzold, who turned 22 Feb. 3, has a 17-15-5 record. Patzold’s .915 save percentage places him 23rd in the AHL, but the only goaltenders younger than Patzold with a higher save percentage are Cam Ward (Lowell), Hannu Toivonen (Providence), Josh Harding (Houston), and Kari Lehtonen (Chicago). The German’s 2.48 goals against average is good for 20th in the AHL.

Named the Barons Player of the Week three times this season, Patzold will return to Cleveland again next season, but he will likely find himself in a platoon system again either with Schaefer if the former Providence grad is re-signed, or with fellow German prospect Patrick Ehelechner. Long-term, Patzold should become a strong back-up goalie in the NHL and a fixture on the German national team.

10. Patrick Ehelechner, G -20- Sudbury (OHL)
Rating: 6.5 B, Projection: Superior back-up goalie
Acquired: 5th Round, 139th overall pick 2003 NHL Entry Draft

A member of the OHL Second All-Star Team in 2003-04 in his rookie OHL season with the Sudbury Wolves, Patrick Ehelechner may not have duplicated his awards, but his numbers are nearly identical.

Playing 56 games in 2003-04, Ehelechner finished with a .915 save percentage and a 2.87 goals against average in 3089 minutes played. He played in 51 games for Sudbury in 2004-05, earning a winning 23-21-4 record and an OHL ninth-best .916 save percentage. The German’s 2997 minutes played place him fifth in the OHL, and Ehelechner again finished with three shutouts for the Wolves.

While the numbers are similar, the 2004-05 story is slightly different. Ehelechner had a stranglehold on the Sudbury net the first half of the season, starting 30 of the Wolves 36 games before Christmas. After the Christmas break, Sudbury increasingly turned to 18-year-old Kevin Beech, who started 12 of Sudbury’s final 32 games. Eleven of Ehelechner’s 20 starts after Christmas ended in defeat, with the Wolves rescuing Ehelechner from another loss Dec. 31 after the German was pulled 21 minutes into the game.

However, Ehelechner did start the OHL playoffs as Sudbury’s go-to goalie and helped the team defeat Brampton in the first round of the playoffs.

A talented stand-up/butterfly hybrid goalie, Ehelechner will likely turn pro in 2005-06 and play with fellow German Patzold in the AHL, although Ehelechner may start in the ECHL if the Sharks re-sign Nolan Schaefer.

With the abundance of goaltending talent at the NHL level, Ehelechner will probably follow Vesa Tokala and become a superior back-up goalie in the NHL. Ehelechner’s work ethic should help ensure that the German continues to progress and reach his full potential as an NHL netminder and as a regular member of the German national team.

11. Michael Vernace, D – 18 – Brampton (OHL)
Rating: 7.0 C, Projection: Second-tier offensive defenseman
Acquired: 7th Round, 201st overall 2004 NHL Entry Draft

A seventh round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Michael Vernace appears to be the next in a series of late-round steals San Jose has drafted over the years.

Vernace hinted at his talent last season finishing the season with the Brampton Battalion by tallying two goals and three assists in 11 playoff games after getting 15 points in 33 games with the Bramalea Blues of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League. The 18-year-old blueliner catapulted from a strong finish to the 2003-04 season with an astonishing rookie OHL season, scoring 12 goals and adding 38 assists in 68 games for Brampton.

Establishing himself among the OHL’s top offensive defensemen, Vernace’s 50 points placed him fifth in OHL defenseman scoring and seventh in OHL rookie scoring. First among all OHL rookie defensemen in scoring, Vernace was also Brampton’s top scoring defenseman and finished fifth in Battalion team scoring.

Certain to earn a spot on the OHL All-Rookie team, Vernace is one of a number of talented offensive defensemen in the Sharks prospect system. At 6’2,203 pounds, Vernace already has an impressive frame and will likely add more muscle before turning pro. The Sharks will give Vernace the necessary time to hone his defensive and skating skills, but the likelihood of Vernace becoming an offensive defenseman in the NHL does not seem so remote after the 2004-05 season.

12. Ryane Clowe, LW – 22 – Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 6.0 B, Projection: Superior fourth line forward
Acquired: 6th Round, 175th overall pick 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Cleveland Barons winger Ryane Clowe had a strong rookie season with 11 goals and 29 assists in 72 games in 2003-04, but the 6’2,215-pound forward had a big sophomore season in 2004-05 as the Barons Most Valuable Player.

Clowe has 25 goals and 33 assists in 70 games so far this season, leading the Barons in scoring. His strong defensive play has earned him a +17 rating, far and away the Barons leader in plus/minus as well. The St. John’s Newfoundland native is also a physical force, especially along the boards, with or without the puck.

The former sixth round pick seemed to have a fair shot of cracking San Jose’s line-up before the lockout, now Clowe has a very strong chance of playing on San Jose’s fourth line once the NHL resumes. Clowe should become a third or fourth line winger for San Jose that provides needed size and physicality up front, and this will likely be sooner rather than later.

13. Doug Murray, D – 24 – Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 6.0 B, Projection: Fifth or sixth defenseman
Acquired: 8th Round, 241st overall pick 1999 NHL Entry Draft

Thought to have had a legitimate shot of cracking San Jose’s line-up in 2004-05, Murray has continued to ply his trade as a physical defensive defenseman with a useful cannon from the point on the power play in Cleveland.

The Barons’ go-to defenseman last season, pairing with Garrett Stafford, Murray has overcome a trying hip injury this season to play his best hockey down the stretch for the Barons. Murray’s five goals and 15 assists (as of April 12) in 50 games may not seem like much, but now that the skating linebacker is healthy he has nine points in his last 15 games.

Finishing 2004-05 strong, Murray should once again have a shot to play in San Jose if the lockout is ended as a fifth or sixth defenseman as a defensive defenseman encouraged to play his physical game and take shots from the point. At 6’3,240 pounds, Murray would give San Jose another defenseman of similar size to Mike Rathje to match up against elite NHL power forwards in the corners and in front of the net.

14. Josh Gorges, D – 20 – Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 6.0 B, Projection: Fifth or sixth defenseman
Acquired: Signed free agent Sept. 20, 2002

An undrafted prospect defenseman, Josh Gorges continues to excel. He was named the WHL Western Conference Defenseman of the Year last season, and Cleveland Barons Rookie of the Year this season.

One of the highest scoring defensemen in the WHL in 2003-04, leading the Kelowna Rockets to the WHL Championship and the CHL’s Memorial Cup, Gorges’ production with Cleveland is four goals and eight assists in 70 games. With Ehrhoff, Jim Fahey, Garrett Stafford and Doug Murray on the Cleveland blueline Gorges has not been a major player on the power play, but his defensive awareness has earned him a +2 rating, the only defenseman on the Barons with a plus rating.

A member of Canada’s silver medal-winning 2004 World Junior Championship team, Gorges will return to Cleveland in 2005-06 and should play a larger role on the team if the NHL lockout is ended, which would likely see Ehrhoff back in San Jose and the possibility of Fahey and Stafford also playing in the NHL, although not necessarily with San Jose.

Long-term, the 6’0,190-pound Gorges will have to use his disciplined intensity and two-way awareness to play in the NHL, and likely no more than a third pairing defenseman at that. But as an undrafted prospect, Gorges continues to prove he should not be underestimated in his quest to play in the NHL.

15. Garrett Stafford, D – 25 – Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 6.0 B, Projection: Fifth or sixth defenseman
Acquired: Signed free agent Dec. 9, 2003

Another of San Jose’s undrafted prospects, 2003-04 AHL All-Rookie Team member Garrett Stafford followed up a strong rookie season with solid sophomore season.

Also a member of the AHL’s Second All-Star Team in 2003-04, Stafford scored 12 goals and added 34 assists in 73 games. Stafford’s rookie season is also remembered for taking a stick to the face by Hamilton’s Alexander Perezhogin in the AHL playoffs. Suspended for the first six games of the season for his own role in the incident, Stafford has gone on to score six goals and 16 assists in 64 games so far in 2004-05. With Ehrhoff and Fahey in Cleveland for the entire season due to the NHL lockout, Stafford has seen his minutes decrease some, although the 25-year-old is still one of Cleveland’s top four defensemen.

A well-rounded player who can move the puck, play the body, and who is fairly responsible in his own zone, Stafford missed the chance to play in the NHL in 2004-05 with the NHL lockout. After such a successful rookie AHL season, Stafford might have cracked San Jose if injuries warranted. Stafford can still become a fifth or sixth defenseman, and he’s already proved himself worthy as a depth defenseman.

However, at 6’0,195 pounds, Stafford’s size is a concern at the NHL level.

16. Dan Spang, D – 21 – Boston University (HEA)
Rating: 6.0 B, Projection: Fifth or sixth defenseman
Acquired: 2nd Round, 52nd overall pick 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Not an offensive defenseman like Matt Carle, this former second rounder is still one of the best defensive defensemen in the Hockey East.

Pairing with sophomore defenseman Kevin Schaefer on Boston University’s first pairing, Spang finished fourth on HE defenseman scoring with 3 goals and 12 assists in 24 games, second on Terriers in defensive scoring behind Bryan Miller. Spang’s +13 rating in conference play was good for fifth in Hockey East.

Spang added only one assist in non-conference and playoff games, giving the Winchester, Mass. native 16 points in 41 games. Among those 41 games was BU’s 3-2 overtime victory over Northeastern to win the Beanpot Tournament.

Known for his physical strength, Spang has a solid 5’11,200-pound frame. Possessing good offensive skills, Spang’s future seems to be more on the defensive side of the puck as a fifth or sixth defenseman in the NHL with satisfactory puck skills. Spang does face an uphill battle cracking San Jose’s roster given the team’s depth at defense on the big club and in the system.

17. Torrey Mitchell, C – 19 – Vermont (ECAC)
Rating: 6.5 C, Projection: Third line center
Acquired: 4th Round, 129th overall pick 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Drafted in the fourth round with the 129th pick out of Hotchkiss Prep, Mitchell did not disappoint the Sharks organization in his rookie season at the University of Vermont.

Mitchell was named the ECAC Rookie of the Week on three occasions and was named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team at the end of the season with five goals and 11 assists in 21 conference games, third in ECAC rookie scoring. The 20-year-old center was also named to the ECAC Honor Roll for strong weekly performances on three occasions.

Playing on Vermont’s first line the entire season as a freshman, Mitchell tallied 11 goals and 18 assists in 38 games for the Catamounts, third in team scoring behind his linemates Scott Mifsud and Jeff Corey. Mitchell was named co-recipient of Vermont’s George C. Buzzell Rookie of the Year Award with goaltender Joe Fallon.

Vermont moves to Hockey East in 2005-06, meaning Mitchell will face stiffer competition next season than he generally faced in the ECAC in 2004-05. A pivot with good speed and good hands, the physical Mitchell should once again serve as Vermont’s first line center next season and could become a solid third-line NHL center after college. At minimum he should challenge to become a good fourth line center.

18. Joe Pavelski, C – 20 – Wisconsin (WCHA)
Rating: 7.0 D, Projection: Too early to call
Acquired: 7th Round, 205th overall pick 2003 NHL Entry Draft

A late round pick in the 2003 Draft, Joe Pavelski has done nothing but impress and raise his stock since that June day.

Named the USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year for 2003-04 after leading Team USA to a silver medal at the Viking Cup and the Waterloo Black Hawks to the USHL championship Clark Cup, Pavelski made the move to the University of Wisconsin for 2004-05 and proceeded to exceed his USHL production in NCAA DI hockey.

Nominated as the WCHA Rookie of the Week 10 times, a given the award once Oct. 25, Pavelski was named the All-WCHA Rookie Team with 10 goals and 19 assists in 28 WCHA games, second in freshman scoring and 14th in conference scoring. The Plover, Wisconsin native was also named to both the U.S. College Hockey Online and Inside College Hockey’s NCAA All-Rookie Teams after leading Wisconsin in team scoring with 16 goals and 29 assists in 41 games.

Possessor of a strong and accurate shot, Pavelski’s production was boosted by linemates Robbie Earl and Adam Burish. However, Pavelski also helped his linemates with his playmaking skills and his strong two-way awareness. Pavelski is a leader who will likely captain the Badgers before he graduates. The only reason to doubt Pavelski’s future is the fact that he still has work to do with his skating. On the plus side, the hard-working Pavelski’s skating deficiencies would likely be solved by additional leg strength, easily gained in the gym over time.

With the high-end potential of a second line center at the NHL level if he makes the necessary skating improvements, Pavelski could also contribute as a third or fourth line center as well with his two-way game.

19. Brian O’Hanley D, – 20 – Boston College (HEA)
Rating: 7.0 D, Projection: Too early to call
Acquired: 9th Round, 267th overall pick 2003 NHL Entry Draft

After a year of prep school with Salisbury, ninth round draft pick Brian O’Hanley had an impressive season with Hockey East’s top team in 2004-05.

O’Hanley finished third in HE freshman defense scoring with two goals and six assists as a staple on the power play and occasionally playing forward on the fourth line. The Quincy, Mass. native finished third on BC in defense scoring with two goals and 11 assists in 35 assists.

A skilled puckhandling defenseman, O’Hanley has the talent to become a top offensive defenseman in Hockey East. However, O’Hanley still needs to improve his defensive and physical play to round out his game. That said, O’Hanley has considerable talent.

20. Nolan Schaefer G, – 25 – Cleveland (AHL)
Rating: 6.0 C, Projection: Depth goaltender
Acquired: 5th Round, 166th overall pick 2000 NHL Entry Draft

Schaefer established himself as the Barons go-to goalie down the stretch in 2003-04 and played every minute of the team’s playoff campaign in 2004, compiling an impressive .927 goals against average in 573 minutes of playoff action. The rookie pro had similar numbers in the regular season for the Barons in 2003-04 as well, managing .925 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against average in 1592 minutes of action.

The 2004-05 season has seen Schaefer’s playing time over the course of the season increase with Seamus Kotyk departing for Milwaukee, but the 25-year-old has platooned with Patzold, unable to establish himself as the clear number one despite being three years older than the 22-year-old German. Schaefer’s numbers also fall short of those of his younger teammate with a .905 save percentage and a 2.77 goals against average. The Saskatchewan native does lead the Barons with three shutouts.

With his two-year entry-level contract expiring at the end of the season, Schaefer’s future with the Sharks is unknown. San Jose could opt to keep the 25-year-old similar to how the Flyers have retained Neil Little on the Phantoms, or San Jose could make room for highly regarded Patrick Ehelechner in Cleveland next season. Unfortunately for Schaefer, the lockout may have nixed his shot at the NHL, as Schaefer had firmly established himself as the Sharks third string goalie should Evgeni Nabokov or Vesa Toskala fallen to injury in the 2004-05 NHL season. While Schaefer could probably develop into a back-up goalie in the NHL if given the chance, he will most likely remain a depth goalie called upon for occasional action if a team’s top two goalies fall to injury.

Missing the Cut

One of the best defensive forwards in all of college hockey, Harvard center Tom Cavanagh earned the New England Hockey Writers’ Best Defensive Forward award and was also awarded by the ECAC the Best Defensive Forward. Cavanagh’s nine goals and 13 assists in 22 ECAC games helped the 22-year-old earn ECAC Second Team All-League honors. The Harvard captain was also named an Ivy League First Team All-Star. After scoring 10 goals and 19 assists in 34 games for Harvard in 2004-05, Cavanagh should play in Cleveland next season and add valuable depth at center and hopefully provide more offense than Aaron Gill or Craig Valette.

Fellow ECAC forward Steven Zalewksi also just narrowly missed the Sharks’ top 20 prospects. Zalewski was named Clarkson’s Richmond Unsung Hero after scoring 19 goals and adding 7 assists in 39 games for the Golden Knights. The 18-year-old freshman forward centered Clarkson’s third line most of the season and could become a strong fourth line center for San Jose in the future.

Halifax Mooseheads goalie Jason Churchill had a season going until the Mooseheads acquired 18-year-old goalie Jeremy Duchesne on the final day of the QMJHL trading period in January. Starting all but three games through Jan. 9, the 19-year-old Churchill started only 15 of the Mooseheads 30 games after Jan. 9 and by the end of the regular season the younger Duchesne had established himself as the number one goalie. Churchill did post impressive numbers in 2004-05, compiling a .905 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average in 3129 minutes of action, fifth in the entire QMJHL. The 2004 fourth round pick also had a QMJHL seventh-best four shutouts.

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