Sharks 2005 draft preview

By Kevin Wey

San Jose Sharks Top 10

1.Milan Michalek, LW
2.Christian Ehrhoff, D
3.Marcel Goc, C
4.Matt Carle, D
5.Steve Bernier, RW
6.Josh Hennessy, C
7.Lukas Kaspar, RW
8.Mike Morris, RW
9.Dimitri Pätzold, G
10.Patrick Ehelechner, G

The San Jose Sharks roster is in good shape heading into the 2005-06 season under the new CBA, and they hold the 12th selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

The Sharks had five 20-goal scorers in 2003-04, with Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo leading the charge at 28 goals each. Nils Ekman and Marco Sturm chipped in 22 and 21 goals respectively, with Sturm doing it in a season shortened to 64 games due to a broken ankle. The German forward is also one of the Sharks best forwards defensively. Center Alyn McCauley scored a career-high 20 goals and was a finalist for the Selke Award as the NHL’s top defensive forward. Niko Dimitrakos can explode offensively at any time. The Sharks should also receive strong two-way play from prospects Milan Michalek and Marcel Goc sooner rather than later. Cleveland Barons leading scorer Ryane Clowe looks primed to join San Jose in 2005-06 and provide some needed size along the boards and in front of the net.

San Jose also boasts one of the strongest d-corps in the NHL, led by Scott Hannan, Mike Rathje, Brad Stuart, and Kyle McLaren, with strong contributions from Tom Preissing and Rob Davison. Christian Ehrhoff was set to play in the NHL full time in 2004-05 before the lockout and will get his chance in 2005-06 with one extra season of AHL seasoning. Jim Fahey and Doug Murray should also push for a spot on the big club.

Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala provide the Sharks with one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL, both of whom made Miikka Kiprusoff expendable to the eventual Western Conference champion Calgary Flames.

The Sharks will likely have one of the most balanced attacks in the NHL, but there are still needs to address.

Team Needs

San Jose too often finds itself unable to score key goals, as seen in their loss to Calgary in the Western Conference Finals in 2004. San Jose needs one or two premier offensive performers, preferably a first line center who can win faceoffs and create plays through creativity and strong passing instead of sheer speed.

It is unlikely that San Jose will be able to immediately address this need through the draft, but will instead have to invest in the future. A forward prospect with the Shark prerequisites of speed and two-way hockey sense but also with a scoring touch would be one place to start. An added bonus would be a forward who is only two years away from the NHL.

Although San Jose does not currently possess an elite puck-moving defenseman, the team also does not have any defensemen who are poor puck-handlers either. This need is also currently addressed in the team’s own prospect system in Christian Ehrhoff, Matt Carle and Michael Vernace. San Jose is unlikely to take this sort of defenseman in the first round, but the Sharks might invest in another offensively talented defenseman in the early rounds.

Organizational Strengths

As was the case heading into the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, San Jose’s true strength lies on the blueline. With the NHL players locked out in 2004-05, 23-year-old Ehrhoff still remains a prospect. The German had 12 goals and 21 assists in 75 games for the Barons and was named to PlanetUSA’s roster for the AHL All-Star Game. Continuing his rise in 2004-05, Matt Carle was named to the NCAA All-American West First Team, the All-WCHA First Team, and Inside College Hockey’s Online’s Defenseman of the Year after tallying 13 goals and 31 assists in 43 games. Sophomore Carle also helped lead the Pioneers to their second straight NCAA Championship.

Brampton Battalion defenseman Michael Vernace finished fifth in OHL defenseman scoring with 12 goals and 38 assists in 68 games, in only his first full OHL season. Skating linebacker Doug Murray was still a primary weapon for Cleveland last season and former WHL ace defenseman Josh Gorges was named the Barons Rookie of the Year. Garrett Stafford, named to the 2003-04 AHL Second All-Star Team, is still a legitimate NHL prospect in the new cost-conscious NHL, and Boston University’s Dan Spang is one of the best defensive defensemen in Hockey East. These prospects only add to a trio of very strong Shark defensemen in their mid-20’s: Scott Hannan, Brad Stuart and Tom Preissing.

The Sharks also have a good number of strong forward prospects. Michalek could potentially return to his abruptly halted NHL career in 2005-06 after his two years of injuries, he is just that good. Goc could easily find himself centering San Jose’s third line this season and Baron teammate Ryane Clowe has a strong shot at contributing as a fourth line left wing providing much needed size along the boards, and Clowe is willing to use it. In the longer term, 6’3 225-pound Steve Bernier should eventually become San Jose’s top power forward. Speedster Josh Hennessy should challenge Goc in the future as the Sharks second line center.

Czech winger Lukas Kaspar has a great shot and could easily be one of the solutions to the Sharks scoring problems if the 6’2 205-pounder develops to his full potential. Collegiate right winger Mike Morris also appears to have an NHL future. The speedy Morris should be one of Hockey East’s top scorers in 2005-06 and his two-way abilities make him a prime candidate to play on San Jose’s third line someday. Incoming sophomore collegiate centers Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell, and Steven Zalewski. Pavelski led Wisconsin in scoring as a freshman, but does need to improve his skating. Mitchell has the game to become a physical third or fourth line center in the NHL, and Clarkson’s Zalewski has fourth line NHL potential as well. All of these players could be cogs in San Jose maintaining the balanced attack it currently has.

Lastly, San Jose has numbers in net. Dimitri Pätzold and Nolan Schaefer performed well platooning in Cleveland. Patrick Ehelechner is coming off two strong seasons backstopping the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, and fellow German Thomas Greiss performed well in his first DEL season. Maritimer Jason Churchill put up strong numbers for the Halifax Mooseheads.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Sharks do not have any bluechip offensive talents in their prospect system, much like the big club. Michalek, Kaspar, and Bernier all have the potential to be scorers in the NHL, but whether any can be consistent 30-goal plus scorers in the NHL is of some doubt. Goc and Hennessy could both be 20-plus goal scorers, but this is just more of the same for San Jose. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely San Jose will be able to resoundingly resolve this in this draft, although their draft position of 12th was one of the gifts of the draft lottery.

The Sharks also have no bluechip prospect goaltenders. Pätzold and Schaefer have done well in the AHL, but neither seems able to pull ahead. Ehelechner found himself challenged by draft eligible Kevin Beech as the season went on and even lost the spot in the second round of the OHL playoffs. Churchill found his spot as Halifax’s No. 1 netminder outright taken by draft eligible Jeremy Duschene, who was acquired in a trade with Victoriaville. Thomas Greiss performed well in his limited DEL action, but was again upstaged by Youri Ziffzer at the international stage, serving as Germany’s back-up goalie as the team was relegated at the World Junior Championships. Given the above, this could make a goaltender such as Carey Price very attractive should the WHL ace fall to the Sharks at 12th.

San Jose will have a difficult decision, as their should be a few attractive forwards still available at this point as well.

Draft Tendencies

Perhaps no team combs the prep hockey ranks for players more than the Sharks. San Jose’s first two picks in the 2002 Draft, Mike Morris and Dan Spang, both came from the New England prep school ranks. The Sharks took two prep-schoolers in 2003 in the ninth round, Brian O’Hanley and Carter Lee. O’Hanley was a regular for perennial NCAA power house Boston College as a freshman. San Jose took three prep-schoolers in 2004, Mitchell, Zalewski and defenseman David MacDonald. MacDonald was a regular for Harvard, pairing with 2002 Shark prep-school pick Tom Walsh. Graduating Harvard center Tom Cavanagh, a 2001 Shark pick out of prep school and the 2004-05 ECAC Defensive Forward of the Year, should join the fold in Cleveland in 2005-06 and was certainly no wasted pick at 182nd.

The Sharks history of drafting Germans should end this year, as Germany has no top prospects for 2005. The two-year signing period NHL teams now have to sign European picks, makes it less likely to see one taken. Although Erhoff and Goc should pay dividends, and Pätzold and Ehelechner have done well so far, Greiss should continue to be the last German the Sharks have drafted for at least one more year.

Prep schools are not the only place San Jose combs college-bound players. The USHL has recently paid dividends in Matt Carle and Joe Pavelski. College hockey will continue to give teams four years to allow such prospects to develop, if those prospects choose to stay in school. Cleveland Barons fighting defenseman Tim Conboy was a Shark pick out of the USHL in 2002. Michael Hutchins was also drafted by San Jose out of the USHL in 2002. It would not be out of character for San Jose to go somewhat off the board and take former USHLer, and Carle’s current teammate at Denver, Paul Stastny with their first round pick, for example. Stastny was even a teammate of Carle’s in the USHL with the River City Lancers, so it’s safe to say San Jose has seen former NHL star Peter Stastny’s son a few times.

Despite the organization’s propensity to take players who are college bound, three of San Jose’s last four first draft picks have come out of Europe, the last two from the Czech Republic. San Jose’s first pick in the 2000 Draft, a second round pick, Tero Määttä, also came from Europe (Finland). Mike Morris and Stever Bernier are San Jose’s two North Americans taken in the first round since 2001, Morris was off the board and Bernier was not the team’s first pick in the 2003 Draft.

San Jose has been focusing on forwards in the first round, as all five of San Jose’s first round picks since 2001 have been forwards, three of them European (Goc, Michalek and Kaspar). A few European forwards, be it playing in Europe or of European decent, could be available at the 12th spot, one of which also fits San Jose’s tendency to draft speedy forwards who play a two-way game and have some scoring ability. The QMJHL expansion St. John’s Fog Devils selected a European forward with the second overall pick in the 2005 CHL Import Draft who could also become a Shark, if he falls that far.

Player most likely to be taken with the first selection: (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Niklas Bergfors, RW, Sodertalje (Sweden)

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.