Sharks Top 20 prospects

By Kevin Wey

The 2005 NHL Entry Draft did little to alter the Sharks prospects landscape other than to fortify an already strong crop. Devin Setoguchi, the Sharks first round draft pick in the 2005 Draft, finds himself amongst the Sharks top 10, and defenseman Marc-Eduoard Vlasic is amongst the Sharks top 20, but the rest of the Sharks selections slide in beyond the top 20. This demonstrates the strength of San Jose’s prospect system, its depth.

Seven defensemen currently comprise the Sharks top 20. Each defenseman has a strong resume in either major junior or college hockey, and many of them are strong contributors to the Sharks AHL affiliate Cleveland Barons. Christian Ehrhoff, Doug Murray, and Garrett Stafford all figure to challenge for a spot on the Sharks roster this fall, with Ehrhoff and Murray likely to make it.

The Sharks also have a strong forward crop, especially at right wing and center. Right wings Steve Bernier, Lukas Kaspar, Devin Setoguchi, and Mike Morris are all in the Sharks top 10. Centers Marcel Goc and Josh Hennessy are amongst the Sharks top 10 prospects, but the list continues with Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski, and Steven Zalewski is not far off. While left wing may not have the numbers, left winger Milan Michalek is the Sharks top prospect and Ryane Clowe figures to play up to 41 games at the HP Pavilion in 2005-06.

Although San Jose only has two goalies amongst its top 20, the cupboard is far from bare in net. German netminders Dimitri Pätzold and Patrick Ehelechner are 10th and 11th respectively, but others such as Thomas Greiss, Jason Churchill, Taylor Dakers and Alex Stalock all just missed the top 20. Cleveland Barons veteran Nolan Schaefer figures do be San Jose’s third string goalie ready for action should Nabokov or Toskala fall to injury.

Finally, the San Jose Sharks develop players from within as well as any team in the league. Entering the 2005-06 season, only five players who were not drafted by San Jose figure to make the line-up: Alyn McCauley, Nils Ekman, Kyle McLaren, Wayne Primeau, and Scott Parker. Former defensive stalwart Mike Rathje, now 31, has left the team in favor of the Philadelphia Flyers, but his departure opens up an opportunity for younger Shark defenseman.

Through adept drafting, shrewd free agent prospect signings, and strong player development, San Jose is truly a team that builds from within. Thus, many of the names on this list are likely to be the faces of San Jose’s future.

Milan Michalek, LW – 20 –
Rating: 8.0 C
2004-05: Injured
2005-06: San Jose (NHL)
Projection: First line or superior second line winger
Acquired: 1st Round, 6th pick overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Despite missing most of the past two seasons due to a knee injury and a subsequent staff infection, Milan Michalek still has a good chance at starting 2005-06 with the Sharks. Michalek made the Sharks out of training camp as an 18-year-old in 2003, but the Czech winger suffered a torn ACL in his second NHL game after scoring a goal in his first NHL game. San Jose assigned Michalek to the Cleveland Barons to return to action in late January, but he re-injured his knee in February and has been out of action since.

Previously playing at 6’2 215 pounds, Michalek is reported to the Pacific Division Shootout at 220 pounds, making him an even more imposing presence. Michalek was considered one of the most NHL-ready prospects entering the 2003 Draft due to his physical and mental maturity, which he established playing for Budejovice’s Czech Extraleague team as a 17- and 18-year-old. The Czech also represented his country at the U-18’s twice and at the 2003 World Junior Championships, where he scored 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 games.

Michalek is a good two-way forward who provides San Jose with some size to protect the puck. The Czech is an adept passer who also has a strong shot, which the Sharks will likely encourage Michalek to use even more upon his return. With Alexander Korolyuk deciding to remain in Russia for family reasons, San Jose has an opening on its second line. This line could see Michalek inserted to maintain the line’s two-way play and provide it with more size. Prior to his injury Michalek was known for his strong stride and skating. If his knee is 100 percent again, San Jose will be able to move on in 2005-06 without a hiccup despite missing Korolyuk, and Michalek can get his much anticipated NHL career off the ground, as he is expected to skate on the Sharks top two lines for years to come.

Christian Ehrhoff, D – 23 –
Rating: 8.0 B
2004-05: Cleveland (AHL)
2005-06: San Jose (NHL)
Projection: Top offensive defenseman
Acquired: 4th Round, 106th pick overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Christian Ehrhoff played 41 games for the Sharks in 2003-04, scored a goal and added 11 assists, and played in the NHL Young Stars Game at the 2004 NHL All-Star Weekend. It looked likely that the young German defenseman would graduate from Hockey’s Future’s prospect list in 2004-05, but the NHL and NHLPA had other plans and Ehrhoff played for the Cleveland Barons last season. He led the Barons in defensive scoring with 12 goals and 23 assists in 79 games, finishing 24th in AHL defensive scoring with 35 points. Although Ehrhoff’s offensive totals were held down by an offensively challenged team, he did lead all defensemen in shots with 237, 21st among all AHL players. A potent weapon on the power play, Ehrhoff had seven power play goals for the Barons, third on the Barons, and 13th in the AHL among defensemen.

One of the top young offensive defensemen in the AHL, Ehrhoff was named to the PlanetUSA’s roster for the AHL All-Star Game and had an assist in PlanetUSA’s 5-4 shootout win over Canada. He also played for Team Germany in the World Cup, one of only four defensemen to play in all four games for the team. A staple on the German senior national team since 2001, Ehrhoff also played for his country at the World Championships and picked up 1 assist in 6 games.

Ehrhoff figures to be San Jose’s top offensive defenseman sooner rather than later. The 23-year-old figures to be a potent power play weapon, but his defense is suspect at times. Although the German has decent positioning, he struggles at times along the boards, in front of the net, and in the corners. At 6’2 200 pounds, Ehrhoff has a decent frame, but needs to add a little muscle and play with more intensity to succeed in one-on-one battles. Despite Ehrhoff’s defensive shortcomings, he does figure to play for San Jose in 2005-06, as the team has not had a young defenseman with his offensive potential since Sandis Ozolinsh. Like Ozolinsh, Ehrhoff is not afraid to venture deep into the zone. Ehrhoff is not yet an elite puck distributor, but is instead more of a triggerman. Comparisons to Ozolinsh are fitting, as the Moers native could become Germany’s version of the Latvian now playing for Pacific Division rival Anaheim.

Marcel Goc, C – 22 –
Rating: 7.0 B
2004-05: Cleveland (AHL)
2005-06: San Jose (NHL)
Projection: Second line or superior third line center
Acquired: 1st Round, 20th pick overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

Part of the Sharks 2001 German draft with Ehrhoff and Patzold, Marcel Goc was a surprise pick at 20th overall in 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but the Sharks appear to have scored with yet another off-the-board pick.

Like Ehrhoff, Goc looked set to play for San Jose in 2004-05 after playing for the Sharks in the 2004 playoffs, scoring a goal and an assist in five games. However, the NHL lockout sent Goc back to AHL. Goc started his second season with the Barons with 7 goals and 7 assists in his first 14 games, but his production cooled to 2 assists in his next 11 games until a broken wrist forced him from action. The German pivot missed only four games, but did play hurt for a few weeks. Playing injured, Goc’s production suffered, but he still put up 16 goals and 34 assists in 76 games for Cleveland, second on the Barons in scoring. Goc also played in the World Cup and the World Championships for Team Germany, for whom Goc should be a regular for the next 10 to 15 years.

Goc is a smooth skating center who has reasonably soft hands, be it stickhandling, passing, or shooting. Although Goc has good skill, it is his two-way awareness that should keep him in the NHL for years to come. The German played in all situations for the Barons in 2004-05, and Goc figures to become an Alyn McCauley-esque center for San Jose, be it on the second or the third line. San Jose values forwards who can contribute in all zones in all situations, and this is Goc. He finished a +6 for the Barons, behind only Ryane Clowe amongst all Barons who played over half of the team’s games. Putting up a lot of minutes for the Barons, Goc figures to center San Jose’s third or fourth line in 2005-06. Eventually, like McCauley, Goc could challenge for the Selke Trophy.

Matt Carle, D – 21 –
Rating: 7.0 B
2004-05: Denver University (WCHA)
2005-06: Denver University (WCHA)
Projection: Third or fourth defenseman
Acquired: 2nd Round, 47th pick overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

San Jose went off the board when they drafted Matt Carle with the 47th pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, but Carle appears as if he will pay big dividends for the Sharks once he graduates from Denver University.

Only a sophomore, Carle was one of the best defensemen in college hockey in 2004-05 and was named to the NCAA All-American West First Team with 13 goals and 31 assists in 43 games. Inside College Hockey recognized Carle by naming him their Defenseman of the Year. The WCHA recognized Carle by naming him to the All-WCHA First Team, having scored 8 goals and 22 assists in 30 conference games. Strong not only on the ice, Carle was also a WCHA All-Academic.

Carle has oft been recognized for his personal excellence. He was the USHL Defenseman of the Year in 2002-03 with the River City Lancers. A strong freshman season with the Pioneers saw Carle named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team in 2003-04. However, not only does Carle achieve, but the teams he’s on excel as well. The Anchorage, Alaska native won a gold medal with Team USA at the U-18’s, another gold with Team USA at the 2004 World Junior Championships, and has helped lead Denver University to two NCAA National Championships in only two seasons.

The Sharks hope Carle’s winning ways follow him to San Jose. He is already an AHL caliber defenseman who would challenge for spot on San Jose if he were to leave college early. Carle is a strong skater who is valuable on the power play, either shooting or distributing the puck. At 6’0 200 pounds, Carle is not big by NHL standards, but he does enjoy the physical game and likes making big hits. Only 21, Carle’s game is already as advanced as Tom Preissing’s was when the Colorado College grad cracked San Jose straight from college in 2003-04. Preissing was 25 when became a Shark. With two more seasons of college hockey ahead of him, Carle will have a strong chance of making the Sharks straight out of college in 2007-08. Long-term, Carle should become a defenseman who plays in all situations for the Sharks and could even serve as a second tier power play quarterback in the NHL.

Steve Bernier, RW – 20 –
Rating: 7.5 C
2004-05: Moncton (QMJHL)
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)
Projection: Second line power forward
Acquired: 1st Round, 16th pick overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Ever since San Jose traded Owen Nolan to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sharks have not had an elite NHL power forward. Moncton Wildcats leading scorer and captain Steve Bernier figures to be the Sharks solution at this role.

Bernier was drafted by the Sharks after scoring 49 goals and 52 assists for the Wildcats in 2002-03. The Vanier, Quebec, native scored 36 goals and 46 assists in 2003-04, down from his 101 points the previous season. Scoring 35 goals and 36 assists in 2004-05, 23rd in QMJHL scoring, Bernier’s output dropped for the second year in a row. However, Moncton was not a high-scoring team in 2004-05, as their 206 goals placed the Wildcats 10th in QMJHL team scoring. Scoring one sixth of Moncton’s goals, Bernier was easily the Wildcats leading scorer, 24 points ahead of Stephane Goulet, and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

Despite the drop in Bernier’s scoring output, and the fact he’s been continually overlooked when Team Canada has selected its World Junior Championships team, San Jose has big hopes for the 6’2 220-pound Bernier. When Bernier was drafted, there were concerns about the big man’s fitness, acceleration and quickness, and his defensive game. Bernier’s commitment to conditioning the past two years has resolved the fitness issue and many of the question marks regarding his skating, and his newfound commitment to the team game has eliminated questions about his defense. Bernier is now the kind of two-way forward the Sharks like to have, but his soft hands and his willingness to play the body will be valuable additions to the organization. But before anyone counts out Bernier as a premier performer on offense, the Wildcats captain ended his major juniors career with 6 goals and 13 assists in 12 playoff games, fifth in the QMJHL in playoff scoring and first on Moncton.

Signed just prior to the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Bernier could contend for a spot in San Jose at training camp. Since the 2004 playoffs, San Jose has unloaded aging forwards Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci, and Curtis Brown, and Korolyuk has opted to play in Russia, leaving spots open for prospects such as Bernier. Should the 20-year-old right winger not crack San Jose’s line-up out of training camp, he should skate on one of Cleveland’s top two lines and would be ready for recall if needed. Bernier does not figure to become a top NHL power forward, but Bernier will provide the Sharks with soft hands and needed size in front of the net and along the boards.

Lukas Kaspar, RW – 20 –
Rating: 7.5 C
2004-05: Ottawa (OHL)
2005-06: Cleveland (NHL)
Projection: Second line winger

Acquired: 1st Round, 22nd pick overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Lukas Kaspar is yet another 6’2 prospect forward that the Sharks have who could challenge for a spot in San Jose in 2005-06. One of the older selections in the 2004 Draft, Kaspar is already 20 and will not be returning to the Ottawa 67’s for a second season of major juniors.

Drafted out of the Czech Republic, Kaspar played for the legendary Brian Kilrea, San Jose Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson’s coach when he played major juniors for the 67’s in the mid-70s. Kaspar’s regular season for the 67’s was underwhelming with 21 goals and 30 assists in 59 games, normally playing on a line with fellow Czech and friend Jakub Petruzalek. The World Junior Championships also saw Kaspar put up underwhelming numbers with 1 goal and 1 assist in 7 games, although his game-winning goal against Team USA was noteworthy.

Despite an underwhelming regular season, Kaspar excelled in the postseason. Fifth in OHL rookie scoring during the regular season, Kaspar’s 6 goals and 14 assists in 21 games led all rookies in OHL scoring. Not only did Kaspar excel, the 67’s excelled, winning the OHL Championship and advancing to the Memorial Cup. Again, Kaspar stepped up to the plate and scored a goal and added 3 assists in 4 games at the Memorial Cup for a team that looked like it might miss the OHL playoffs midway through the season.

Coming off such a strong post-season, Kaspar is a legitimate contender to play in San Jose in 2005-06. Kaspar is a sniper with a tremendous shot who is also a good playmaking winger. At 6’2 200 pounds, Kaspar has NHL size and is not afraid of physical play and even dropped the gloves last year in major juniors. In all likelihood, Kaspar will play predominantly in Cleveland in 2005-06. However, in the future, Kaspar figures to become another one of San Jose’s 20+ goal scorers who may one day play on a line opposite of fellow Czech Milan Michalek.

Devin Setoguchi, D – 18 –
Rating: 7.5 C
2004-05: Saskatoon (WHL)
2005-06: Saskatoon (WHL)
Projection: Second line winger
Acquired: 1st Round, 8th pick overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

San Jose had six 20-goal scorers in 2003-04 but did not have the firepower necessary to overcome Calgary’s stifling defensive game in the 2004 Western Conference Finals. San Jose has taken this lesson to heart the past two drafts by selecting snipers Lukas Kaspar in 2004 and Devin Setoguchi in 2005.

Setoguchi’s 96 mph slap shot was tops at the 2005 CHL Top Prospects game, putting him on par with Kaspar’s cannon. The 18-year-old Setoguchi had 33 goals and 31 assists for the Saskatoon Blades in 2004-05. At 6’0 185 pounds, Setoguchi is not a power forward, but he is scrappy and relentlessly pursues the puck. The Taber, Alberta, native played on Saskatoon’s top power play unit and also regularly killed penalties.

Team Canada called on Setoguchi for the 2005 U-18 World Championships, and he replied with 4 goals and 2 assists in 6 games, leading the team in scoring and finishing ninth in tournament scoring. Despite his performance at the U-18’s, Team Canada did not invite Setoguchi to its World Junior Championship camp in August. However, if he demonstrates more consistency in his game, he could be invited to the December camp and play for his homeland at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver.

Setoguchi’s shot, skill, tenacity, and two-way awareness should ensure that he becomes at least a second line forward for the Sharks, but the nature of his game would allow him to fit in on any line.

Josh Hennessy, C – 20 –
Rating: 7.5 C
2004-05: Quebec (QMJHL)
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)
Projection: Second line center
Acquired: 2nd Round, 43rd pick overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

One of the most consistent performers in the QMJHL, Quebec Remparts center Josh Hennessy turned in another fine season in 2004-05, leading his team with 85 points in 68 games. The Remparts captain also led his team in scoring in 2003-04 with 82 points in only 59 games. Hennessy’s 35 goals in 2004-05 tied him with fellow Shark prospect Steve Bernier for 11th in the QMJHL, and his 50 assists placed him 17th in helpers. Few QMJHL players took more shots than Hennessy in 2004-05, as Hennessy took a QMJHL fourth-best 281 shots.

Selected as one of the Three Stars of the Game on 15 occasions during the regular season, Team USA never picked the Rockland, Mass., native for its World Junior Championship team, either for the 2004 or 2005 tournament.

Although Team USA did not pick Hennessy, the Sharks organization has welcomed Hennessy with open arms by signing him to a three-year entry level contact just prior to the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Hennessy will likely begin his pro career with the Cleveland Barons, who could use Hennessy’s speed, acceleration, skating, scoring touch and playmaking abilities. Injured in the QMJHL playoffs, Hennessy played through the pain and still managed to score 2 goals and add 9 assists, tying Alexander Radulov for the team lead in scoring.

Despite being a +28 for the Remparts during the regular season, Hennessy still needs improve his commitment to defense, but current Shark Niko Dimitrakos had similar needs when he was assigned to Cleveland and the Maine grad is now a staple in the Sharks line-up. Unlike Dimitrakos, Hennessy is only 20 years old, and the former second round pick has three years to hone his game if needed. However, expect Hennessy to become a regular in the Sharks line-up before the end of his first pro contract. Hennessy should eventually become a solid second line center.

Mike Morris, RW – 22 –
Rating: 6.5 B
2004-05: Northeastern University (HE)
2005-06: Northeastern University (HE)
Projection: Superior third line winger
Acquired: 1st Round, 27th pick overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Drafted three years ago in 2002, Morris is entering his senior season with the Northeastern University Huskies, and the surprise pick has proven to be a savvy selection.

Last season Morris was named a Hockey East Second Team All-star after scoring 14 goals and 12 assists in 20 conference games. Despite missing four games to injury, Morris finished seventh in conference scoring thanks to a two-goal, four-assist performance against UMass-Amherst March 5, the Huskies’ final game of the regular season. Morris was named the HE Player of the week Feb. 28 after a three-goal weekend.

Northeastern was knocked out of the Hockey East playoffs in the first round by New Hampshire, but Morris could still claim a strong season with 19 goals and 20 assists in 34 games, second in team scoring to senior center Jason Guerriero.

Morris will be without Guerriero this season, and Morris figures to be Northeastern’s captain and go-to guy in 2005-06. The Braintree, Mass., native has good speed and two-way awareness and even played on the point on the Huskies power play when needed. While Morris has become a staple on the Northeastern roster, head coach Greg Cronin is new, and Morris will have to impress his new coach to maintain his leadership position with the team.

Morris could actually contend for a spot on the Sharks in 2006-07, but like University of Maine grad Niko Dimitrakos before him, it is likely that Morris will first be assigned to San Jose’s AHL affiliate. Whether that will be in Cleveland or elsewhere will be determined over the next 12 months. Long-term, Morris should become a superior third line winger for San Jose.

Dimitri Pätzold, G – 22 –
Rating: 7.0 C
2004-05: Cleveland (AHL)
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)
Projection: Average starting goalie or superior back-up
Acquired: 4th Round, 107th pick overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

The third piece of the Sharks “German Draft,” Dimitri Pätzold improved his position within the organization in 2004-05 by platooning with Nolan Schaefer on the Cleveland Barons, evenly splitting time with the 25-year-old who established himself as the team’s starter down the stretch and in the playoffs in 2004.

No goaltending tandem split time as evenly as Pätzold and Schaefer. The German played 2418:04 and Schaefer played 2417:35, less than a minute’s difference. Pätzold held the upper hand with an 18-16-5 record. The 22-year-old had a respectable 2.58 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage, both better than his partner in net. Schaefer did managed to earn three shutouts over Pätzold’s one shutout.

Named the Barons Player of the Week three times in 2004-05, Pätzold will again be competing with Schaefer in net for the starting spot in Cleveland. The Providence grad was re-signed by the Sharks, and San Jose will be looking to give Schaefer an opportunity should Nabokov or Toskala fall to injury. Pätzold cannot get complacent either, as fellow German netminder Patrick Ehelechner will be pushing to play in Cleveland as well.

Although Pätzold’s AHL stats in 2004-05 were not stand-out as far as the total league was concerned, he was one of the youngest goalies in the AHL last season. Pätzold is entering the final year of his entry-level contract, but it is most likely that the German will warrant another contract after 2005-06 given his progress the past two seasons. Like most of San Jose’s goaltending prospects, Pätzold has good athleticism, size, and patience. Only two goalies have played for San Jose when they were younger than 24: Jeff Hackett and Wade Flaherty. Only 22, if Pätzold plays for San Jose before Feb. 3, 2006, he’ll become the first 22-year-old goalie to play a regular season game for San Jose.

Long-term, Pätzold has the talent to become a fair starting goalie or a superior back-up goaltender.

Patrick Ehelechner, G – 21 –
Rating: 7.0 C
2004-05: Sudbury (OHL)
2005-06: Fresno/Cleveland (ECHL/AHL)
Projection: Average starting goalie or superior back-up
Acquired: 5th Round, 139th pick overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

After playing for Germany’s World Junior Championship team as Pätzold’s back-up and spare DEL action with the Hannover Scorpions, Patrick Ehelechner made the move to North America and emerged from the German shadows to establish himself as one of the top goalies in the OHL.

After sparse playing time in the DEL in 2002-03, Ehelechner was drafted by the Sudbury Wolves in the CHL Import Draft and only managed to become an OHL Second Team All-Star. Ehelechner played 56 games for Sudbury in 2003-04 with a .915 save percentage, a 2.87 goals-against average, and 3 shutouts.

The 2004-05 season saw Ehelechner put up nearly identical numbers. In 51 games, he managed an OHL ninth-best .916 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average. As was the case in 2003-04, Ehelechner again posted three shutouts.

While the numbers are similar, if not slightly better, the 2004-05 story was slightly different. Ehelechner started 30 of Sudbury’s 36 games before Christmas. After the Christmas break, Sudbury gained confidence in back-up Kevin Beech, who started 12 of Sudbury’s final 32 games. Eleven of Ehelechner’s 20 starts after Christmas ended in defeat, and the German was rescued Dec. 31 when the team came from behind after Ehelechner was pulled.

Ehelechner began the OHL playoffs as Sudbury’s No. 1 goalie and was vital in the team’s upset of the Brampton Battalion in the first round. However, Ehelechner was injured in Game 1 against the Ottawa 67’s and saw spot duty afterwards. He was not himself after his injury, and his playoff stats dropped to a 3.50 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage. Unlike 2003-04, Ehelechner did not bring home any Sudbury team awards in 2004-05.

Although Ehelechner’s major junior career did not end in a blaze of glory, the 6’2 185-pound netminder still put up very respectable numbers over his junior career and helped Sudbury regain respectability in the OHL. A hybrid stand-up/butterfly goalie, Ehelechner’s size, athleticism and movement makes him difficult to beat. It appear probable that Ehelechner will begin 2005-06 in the ECHL, similar to Schaefer in 2003-04. However, should any goalie on San Jose or Cleveland go down to injury, Ehelechner will be called upon to serve as the Barons back-up. Long-term, Ehelechner has every bit as much upside as Pätzold, he’s just not as proven at higher levels like Pätzold, yet.

Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, D – 18 –
Rating: 7.0 C
2004-05: Quebec (QMJHL)
2005-06: Quebec (QMJHL)
Projection: Third or fourth defenseman
Acquired: 2nd Round, 35th pick overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

The more one studies Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, the more one realizes that Central Scouting was wrong to rank Vlasic 70th among all North American skaters entering the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and the Sharks may have well been right to draft him with the 35th overall pick of the draft. Widely projected as a third or fourth round pick, Vlasic finished the season very strong.

Vlasic’s 5 goals and 25 assists in 70 regular season games for the Quebec Remparts was all fine and good for a second-year QMJHL defenseman, but his playoff performance of 2 goals and 7 assists in 13 games was even better. However, Vlasic is not an offensive defenseman, he is a two-way defenseman who is more than willing to play a physical game. With 44 hits in QMJHL playoff action, Vlasic finished second in playoff hits behind Rimouski’s Mark Tobin. The 6’1 190-pound Vlasic also doled out 130 hits in the regular season. Vlasic is either improving, or he’s a playoff performer, or perhaps a combination of the two.

Discussing Vlasic in a Sharks press release, Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke said that Shark scouts “kept saying this kid is playing against every top line in the league and he was shutting them down. [He’s] not flashy, but this kid knows how to play against good players.”

The Sharks scouts have statistics on their side too. Vlasic finished the regular season a +39 player, tops among all Remparts, first among all players not playing for the Rimouski Oceanic, and fifth in the QMJHL. Despite losing in the QMJHL semifinals, Vlasic was still a +2 playing against each team’s top players.

Only two drafts ago San Jose took a similarly unheralded defenseman in the second round name Matt Carle. Carle is now one of the top defenseman in all of college hockey and one of San Jose’s top prospects. Only 18, Vlasic has two more years of major juniors before San Jose has to sign the young blueliner, but the odds are favorable that Vlasic will earn an entry-level contract and eventually become a strong two-way defenseman for the Sharks.

Michael Vernace, D – 19 –
Rating: 7.0 C
2004-05: Plymouth (OHL)
2005-06: Plymouth (OHL)
Projection: Third or fourth defenseman
Acquired: 7th Round, 201st pick overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

A seventh round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Michael Vernace looks to become the next in a long line of late-round Shark picks to play in the NHL.

Vernace played most of the 2003-04 season with Bramalea of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, but was recalled by the Brampton Battalion late in the season. On top of two regular season games, the young blueliner played 11 playoff games for the Battalion, and his 2 goals and 3 assists gave a glimpse of what his rookie season in the OHL would bring.

In his first full season of OHL action Vernace scored 12 goals and 38 assists in 68 games for Brampton. Vernace’s 50 points placed him fifth in the OHL in defenseman scoring, seventh in OHL rookie scoring, and first among all OHL rookie defensemen. Although Brampton was bounced by the Sudbury Wolves in the first round of the OHL Playoffs, Vernace maintained his scoring pace with 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 games. The OHL recognized Vernace’s strong rookie season by naming him to the OHL All-Rookie First Team. Vernace was also Brampton’s nominee for the OHL’s Max Kaminsky Defenseman of the Year Award.

Vernace looks to further establish himself as one of the top offensive defensemen in the OHL in 2005-06. The 6’2 205-pound blueliner already has good size, and further improvement to his skating and defense could help ensure that Vernace eventually challenges for a spot in San Jose. San Jose’s strong depth at defense nearly ensures that Vernace will start his professional career in the AHL, but it is unlikely that is where his career will end.

Ryane Clowe, LW – 23 –
Rating: 6.0 B
2004-05: Cleveland (AHL)
2005-06: San Jose (NHL)
Projection: Third or fourth line winger
Acquired: 6th Round, 175th pick overall, 2001 NHL Entry Draft

When Ryane Clowe was drafted by the Sharks in the sixth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, he was a project player playing for Rimouski of the QMJHL who had decent size and hands, but needed to work on his skating. Four years later the project has developed, and Clowe enters the 2005-06 season as a primary candidate to play for San Jose.

Clowe actually had a decent shot at cracking the Sharks line-up in 2004-05, but the NHL lockout kept Clowe in Cleveland for another season. The St. John’s, Newfoundland, native reacted by leading the Barons in scoring with 27 goals and 35 asists in 74 games, 32nd in the AHL in scoring. Not only did Clowe lead the Barons offensive attack, he led the team in plus/minus with a +19 rating, more than 11 points ahead of any Baron who played over 30 games. Tenth in the AHL with 14 power play goals, Clowe was also very effective on the power play.

At 6’2 215 pounds, Clowe has good size and is willing to use it in front of the net or along the boards, where he excels. Clowe’s skating is now adequate, and the 23-year-old winger figures to crack San Jose’s fourth line in 2005-06. Long-term, Clowe could eventually challenge for a regular spot on the third line, but his strong all-around game means he could fill in on any line as needed. In the meantime, San Jose desperately needs Clowe’s size and physicality to succeed down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Doug Murray, D – 25 –
Rating: 6.0 B
2004-05: Cleveland (AHL)
2005-06: San Jose (NHL)
Projection: Fifth or sixth defenseman
Acquired: 8th Round, 241st pick overall, 1999 NHL Entry Draft

When he was drafted in the eighth round six years ago, it was easy to overlook Doug Murray as a draft afterthought. However, 6’3 240-pound blueliner has consistently made it impossible not to notice him, and he finally has a legitimate shot to crack San Jose’s line-up.

Murray distinguished himself with Cornell in the ECAC his junior and senior seasons. The native of Bromma, Sweden, who moved to Long Island in 1997, was a Hobey Baker Finalist in 2002 and was a Jofa All-American East First Team member in 2003. Known as a punishing hitter, Murray disciplined his game while with Cornell, but never lost his ability to make open-ice hits.

Murray’s collegiate career impressed the Sharks enough to sign the big blueliner, and the Swede had a decent rookie AHL season in 2003-04 scoring 10 goals and 12 assists in 72 games with the Cleveland Barons. Paired primarily with fellow AHL rookie Garrett Stafford, the strong Murray allowed his partner to excel on offense. Known for his hard point shot, Murray had 5 power play goals in the regular season and 3 more in the 2004 AHL playoffs.

After undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason, Murray missed time rehabbing the shoulder and then also suffered a troublesome hip injury in his second season with the Barons. Murray persevered in 2004-05 though, and scored 6 goals and added 17 assists in 54 games.

Murray has improved his conditioning and his footwork in the AHL the past two seasons, and has all the tools to be a good fifth or sixth defenseman at the NHL level. With Mike Rathje departing for the Flyers, Murray could be the defenseman San Jose calls upon to maintain their size at defense. Although Murray lacks Rathje’s lateral movement and first pass, Murray has a slap shot to equal Rathje and is more physical than the departing Shark. Not since Bryan Marchment has San Jose had such an open-ice hitter, and Murray is more disciplined and takes few stupid penalties. With four power play goals in the AHL last season, Murray will also likely see some power play time with the Sharks in 2005-06.

Josh Gorges, D – 21 –
Rating: 6.0 B
2004-05: Cleveland (AHL)
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)
Projection: Fifth or sixth defenseman
Acquired: Signed as free agent Sept. 20, 2002

Josh Gorges made his name as a solid two-way defenseman in four seasons with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Gorges helped lead the Rockets to the Memorial Cup in 2003, led the Rockets to the Memorial Cup championship in 2004, and also played on Team Canada’s silver medal-winning World Junior Championship team. The Kelowna native was named the WHL Western Conference Defenseman of the Year and was a WHL First Team All-Star. Perhaps most telling, in 57 career WHL playoff games, Gorges had 7 goals and 38 assists and was a +32.

The ever-achieving underdog took his game to Cleveland in 2004-05, and although Gorges’ offensive output was modest at 4 goals and 8 assists, he was named the Cleveland Barons Rookie of the Year. Receiving regular ice time, Gorges led all Barons defenseman in plus/minus with a -2 rating.

At 6’0 190 pounds, Gorges’ size is a concern at the NHL level, but his two-way awareness and competitiveness could help offset his lack of physical stature. Regardless, Gorges will be one of Cleveland’s top defensemen in 2005-06. Fellow Baron defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Doug Murray, Jim Fahey and Garrett Stafford should all battle for two spots on San Jose, meaning the remaining two, captain Matt Carkner, and Gorges will be called upon to lead the Barons blue line. At only 21 years of age, Gorges has two more years of his entry level contract remaining and should become a top AHL defenseman by that time, after which the Sharks will likely be forced to make a decision.

Underestimated even in his bantam days, Gorges has consistently exceeded expectations and excelled at each level he has played. He has a decent chance at becoming a solid two-way defenseman similar to Tom Preissing, perhaps a bit slower, but his competitive fire could compensate.

Garrett Stafford, D – 25 –
Rating: 6.0 B
2004-05: Cleveland (AHL)
2005-06: Cleveland/San Jose (AHL/NHL)
Projection: Fifth or sixth defenseman
Acquired: Signed as free agent Dec. 9, 2003

Young European prospects playing in Elite Leagues across the Atlantic weren’t the only players who suffered from the NHL lockout. Cleveland Barons defenseman Garrett Stafford saw his ice time eaten into when Christian Ehrhoff and Jim Fahey returned to the Sharks AHL affiliate.

An AHL Second Team All-Star in 2003-04 with 12 goals and 34 assists in 73 games, Stafford could not duplicate the feat in 2004-05. With both Ehrhoff and Fahey in Cleveland the entire season, Stafford was no longer Cleveland’s lone stalwart puckmoving defenseman. The former University of New Hampshire rearguard still put up decent numbers with 6 goals and 18 assists in 68 games.

Despite a dip in production, Stafford could at least claim that 2004-05 did not end in similar fashion to 2003-04. Stafford made international hockey news when Hamilton Bulldogs forward Alexander Perezhogin two-handed him in the face after the Baron defenseman viciously slashed the Canadiens prospect. Cleveland was bounced from the AHL playoffs the next game, and Stafford lost a few teeth and suffered a concussion. Far from innocent, Stafford received a six-game suspension to begin the 2004-05 season, but Perezhogin was banned from the AHL for a year.

Despite the incident, Stafford is still the same well-rounded defenseman who can move the puck well, skates well, plays the body, and is fairly responsible in his own zone. Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson has likened Stafford to Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle on more than one occasion. Stafford has a legitimate shot at cracking San Jose’s line-up and will especially be battling Ehrhoff and Fahey in training camp. Ehrhoff and Fahey both have NHL experience, and Fahey was the Sharks Rookie of the Year for the 2002-03 season. Even if Stafford is assigned to Cleveland to start 2005-06, he will be one of the first defensemen recalled if injuries strike San Jose’s blue line.

Dan Spang, D – 20 –
Rating: 6.0 B
2004-05: Boston University (HE)
2005-06: Boston University (HE)
Projection: Fifth or sixth defenseman
Acquired: 2nd Round, 52nd pick overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft

The Sharks followed their surprising pick of Mike Morris in the first round of the 2002 Draft with the selection of Dan Spang in the second round. Spang had missed most of the 2001-02 season with a concussion suffered in a car accident, but the Sharks rolled the dice and Spang has quietly rewarded the Sharks confidence.

The 5’11 200-pound Boston University Terrier is very strong and is one of the top defensive defensemen in Hockey East. Spang’s +13 in conference play was good for fifth in Hockey East. Paired with sophomore Kevin Schaeffer, Spang contributed offensively with 3 goals and 12 assists in 24 conference games, but added only one more assist in non-conference play. Among Spang’s 41 games was BU’s 3-2 overtime victory over Northeastern to win the Beanpot Tournament.

Spang and Schaeffer will likely be Boston’s top pairing in 2005-06, and Spang should further distinguish himself with his solid defensive play. The Winchester, Mass., native is not without offensive skills however, but solid defensive skills mixed with sufficient offensive skill should be his ticket to a two-way contract with the Sharks in 2006-07. Like most other prospect defensemen in the Sharks system, Spang faces an uphill road in eventually cracking the San Jose roster because San Jose has so many good young- or middle-aged defensemen. Spang’s physical strength and defensive awareness along with his adequate puck skills could make him a fifth or sixth defenseman in the NHL.

Torrey Mitchell, C – 20 –
Rating: 6.5 C
2004-05: University of Vermont (ECAC)
2005-06: University of Vermont (HE)
Projection: Third line center
Acquired: 4th Round, 129th pick overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Torrey Mitchell established himself as one of the top freshmen in the ECAC in 2005-06. The Vermont Catamount was named the ECAC Rookie of the Week three times and was named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team after scoring 5 goals and 11 assists in 21 conference games. Normally after such a freshman season, a player can consider himself fairly established amongst his competition, but not true for Mitchell, as Vermont is moving to Hockey East.

The 2005-06 season will be Vermont’s first in Hockey East, a conference considered stronger than the ECAC. As such, Mitchell will have to prove himself against the superior HE competition. Mitchell had 6 goals and 7 assists in 17 non-conference games for Vermont in 2005-06, which bodes fairly well for the Hotchkiss Prep grad. Vermont recognized Mitchell’s accomplishments by naming him the co-recipient of the Catamounts Rookie of the Year Award with goalie Joe Fallon.

Few freshmen start their collegiate career on their team’s first line, but that is exactly what Mitchell did, finishing third in team scoring behind linemates Scott Mifsud and Jeff Corey. With his good speed and hands, Mitchell is expected to center Vermont’s first line in their first season in HE. Mitchell is not just a scorer though, he’s intense, aggressive, and physical. These qualities, mixed with his scoring abilities, could make Mitchell a third or fourth line center in the NHL a few years down the road. The 20-year-old Mitchell has three more years of college hockey remaining, giving the Sharks plenty of time to monitor his progress. Meanwhile, Mitchell will be vital cog in establishing Vermont as a legitimate HE competitor.

Joe Pavelski, C – 21 –
Rating: 6.5 C
2004-05: University of Wisconsin (WCHA)
2005-06: University of Wisconsin (WCHA)
Projection: Lesser second line center or third line center
Acquired: 7th Round, 205th pick overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

If Joe Paveski’s past has proven anything, it is that the Plover, Wisc., native should not be doubted. Despite needing to add leg strength and improve his skating, Pavelski did nothing less than lead the University of Wisconsin in scoring his freshman year with 16 goals and 29 assists in 41 games.

Pavelski was named to the All-WCHA Rookie Team with 10 goals and 19 assists in 28 conference games, second in WCHA freshman scoring and 14th in conference scoring. The former Waterloo Blackhawk was also named to U.S. College Hockey Online’s and Inside College Hockey’s NCAA All-Rookie Teams. Pavelski’s production was no doubt boosted by playing with linemates Robbie Earl and Adam Burish, but Pavelski’s playmaking skills, his strong and accurate shot, and is two-way awareness helped bring out the best in his teammates as well.

A leader since his days of high school hockey for Stevens Point Area Senior High, Pavelski played two seasons for Waterloo and led the team to the Clark Cup in 2004. USA Hockey recognized Pavelski as their Junior Player of the Year for the 2003-04 season after winning the Clark Cup and leading Team USA to a silver medal at the Viking Cup. Recognized by many for his leadership and character, Pavelski is nearly certain to become Wisconsin’s team captain before he graduates.

The 6’0 190-pound pivot has three more years to improve his leg strength and hone his skating, which gives Pavelski plenty of time to earn a two-way contract from the Sharks after he graduates from Wisconsin. Likely to start his pro career in the AHL in 2008-09, Pavelski does have the high-end potential of a second or third line center in the NHL. His two-way awareness and leadership qualities make him a prototypical Shark prospect.

Honorable Mention

Thomas Greiss put up decent numbers as Chris Rogles’ backup with the Cologne Sharks in 2004-05. Greiss appeared in eight games for Cologne and managed a 5-1-1 record with a .936 save percentage and a 2.09 goals-against average. Despite his strong performances in limited DEL action, Greiss was not the starter for Team Germany at the World Junior Championships in 2005. Youri Ziffzer started Germany’s first game against Finland and Greiss got the start in the next game, a 6-0 loss to Sweden. The 19-year-old Greiss came on in relief against Canada and started the next game, but was pulled after 13:50, as Slovakia managed 3 goals on their first 10 shots. Team Germany was completely overmatched in the tournament and only managed to beat Belarus. Greiss ended the tournament with a lowly .806 save percentage and a 7.50 goals-against average. In his three DEL starts after the WJC’s, Greiss allowed only 4 goals. San Jose’s third German netminding prospect, Greiss has excellent leg strength, which translates into excellent movement. The athletic netminder is eligible to represent Germany at the 2006 Division I World Junior Championships, as is Ziffzer. The 2003 third round draft pick is a project goalie who has a lot of potential. Unfortunately for the Sharks, Greiss was not taken in the CHL Import Draft like Ehelechner, and Greiss will serve as Oliver Jonas’ backup in Cologne this season.

Jason Churchill might be in the top 20 had he not lost his starting job in 2004-05. Churchill had started all but three games for the Halifax Mooseheads through January 9. However, the Mooseheads fired coach Shawn McKenzie and acquired Jeremy Duchesne from Victoriaville and Churchill had the starting spot slowly taken from him. After the acquisition of Duchesne, Churchill started 15 of the Mooseheads’ remaining 30 games, but by the end of the season Duchesne had established himself as Halifax’s No. 1 netminder. Churchill had a very respectable season with a .905 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average in 3129 minutes of action, fifth in the QMJHL. A project goalie who grew up in a remote area of Newfoundland, Churchill is a big butterfly goalie at 6’3 who thrives off of playing time and is very competitive, sometimes to the detriment of patience. Turning 20 in November, Churchill was eligible for assignment to Cleveland or the ECHL this season, but San Jose will give Churchill another season of QMJHL seasoning before making a decision.

Taylor Dakers saw limited action for the Kootenay Ice the last two seasons, serving as a backup to one of the top goalies in the WHL, Ottawa prospect netminder Jeff Glass. However, Dakers’ play impressed San Jose enough to warrant selection in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Dakers had 3 shutouts, a .916 save percentage, and a 2.03 goals-against average in 23 games for the Ice in 2004-05. Central Scouting ranked Dakers eighth among all North American goalies entering the 2005 Draft because of his skating, lateral movement, glove hand, and sound positioning. The Ice will look to Dakers to play upward of 50 games in 2005-06 and lead them into the playoffs. New goaltender puckhandling rules will force Dakers to change his game some, but possibly for the better, as the 19-year-old netminder was known to overhandle the puck on occasion in the past.

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