Sharks minor pro prospects update

By Kevin Wey

For the fifth straight season, San Jose is sending its prospects to the AHL’s Cleveland Barons, which is no surprise since the parent club owns the affiliate. The Barons are struggling in 2005-06 with a 14-21-1-1 record, but the team’s players have proven invaluable for San Jose on call-ups.

Goaltender Nolan Schaefer held down the San Jose fort in late October and early November when both Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala went down to injury. Grant Stevenson was recalled just before Thanksgiving and has not looked back, as the third-year pro has 5 goals and 6 assists in 15 games to start his NHL career. When San Jose traded Brad Stuart in a package with Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau to Boston for Joe Thornton, Doug Murray was called upon to fill the void. Murray has responded and does not look likely to return to Cleveland.

Ryane Clowe has played 16 games for San Jose in three stints in between further establishing his dominance in the AHL as the Barons top forward. Rookie pro and 2003 first round draft pick Steve Bernier has already had a five-game cup of coffee in San Jose, and defenseman Josh Gorges is currently up with the team after filling in for an injured Kyle McLaren and now playing over a defensively inconsistent Christian Ehrhoff.

In Cleveland, Bernier has established himself as an offensive contributor, as has fellow former QMJHLer Josh Hennessy. However, 2004 first round pick Lukas Kaspar has struggled at times and Stevenson’s former AHL linemate Shane Joseph must step up his game. Third-year pro Tomas Plihal is playing a good defensive game but is struggling to find the back of the net while Cleveland backup goaltender Dimitri Patzold has had some difficulty keeping the puck from hitting the back of the net.

San Jose has had 19 prospects play for the Barons in 2005-06, 15 of which are currently with the team. The Sharks further have one project fighter in the ECHL and another in the United Hockey League. Four of the 19 are currently with the big club, giving San Jose a full compliment of prospects with AHL and ECHL playing time this season.

Hockey’s Future interviewed Cleveland head coach Roy Sommer via telephone to make sense of it all. Sommer knows his Sharks prospects, as he was an assistant coach for San Jose during the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons before taking the helm of San Jose’s then AHL affiliate Kentucky Thoroughblades and coaching the organization’s AHL affiliate, first Kentucky and now Cleveland, ever since.

Dimitri Patzold, G
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 200 lb. Catches: Left
Born: 2-3-1983 Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

Dimitri Patzold edged out fellow Baron netminder Nolan Schaefer last season when the two platooned, but the 2005-06 season has not been all the third-year AHL veteran had hoped for. The 2001 fourth round draft pick, part of the Sharks “German Draft,” has a .862 save percentage and a 4.20 goals against average, far off his .911 and 2.58 last season. Making matters worse, Patzold has not played since December 6, out due to an undisclosed injury. Despite the statistics, Sommer was not pessimistic regarding his backup goalie.

“He’s coming along.” Sommer said. “Right now he’s banged up a little bit, but he’s coming along.”

Sommer also said that Patzold is “really technically sound, he just has to get some wins under his belt and he’ll be off to the races.”

Wins have been a problem for the 3-8 Patzold, but former German World Junior Championship starting goalie can shut down opponents.

“I like the way he stops pucks,” Sommer said. “When he’s on his game, he’s pretty good, hard to beat.”

Patzold’s work ethic has improved since coming to Cleveland and he isn’t far off former Cleveland Baron netminders Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala.

“I think those guys had a little better numbers than Dimi’s had this year, but technically he’s as sound as those guys were,” Sommer said.

But he also noted that Toskala and Kiprusoff had the advantage of playing longer in Europe longer before coming to North America, the Finnish Elite League, superior to the German Elite League that Patzold played in.

Patzold is hearing footsteps from other strong prospect netminders in the Sharks system such as Taylor Dakers, Jason Churchill, Thomas Greiss, and Patrick Ehelechner. Only 22 years old, it might be unfair to say Patzold must impress now, his final season of his entry-level contract, because Schaefer is making it difficult for San Jose to just dump him after his one-year contract expires at the end of this season, and both Dakers and Greiss are especially hot right now.

Nolan Schaefer, G
Ht: 6’2 Wt: 195 lb. Catches: Left
Born: 1-5-1980 Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan
2005-06: San Jose (NHL), Cleveland (AHL)

Nolan Schaefer got his NHL chance this season when Shark starters Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala went down to injury, and the third-year pro more than acquitted himself.

Assigned to Cleveland September 30, the 25-year-old netminder was recalled October 23 when Evgeni Nabokov went down to injury October 21 in a collision with Shark defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Schaefer’s first game came in relief to Toskala Oct. 26, when the Finn was injured 35 minutes into a 5-4 come-from-behind win over Dallas, and was the former Providence College grad’s first NHL victory. Patzold was recalled the next day, but Schaefer started San Jose’s next five games. The former Friar saw little action after Nabokov returned to action November 8, and was sent down to Cleveland December 8 when Toskala returned from a conditioning stint.

The Sharks third-string goalie made his mark though, and he’s even stronger in the AHL now. Schaefer has a .904 save percentage since returning to Cleveland and a 5-5 record for an otherwise 14-21-1-1 team. His latest game was a 3-0 shutout over San Antonio December 27.

“He’s been playing excellent since he’s come back,” Sommer said. “He went up there and got the job done and was 5-1 and came up with some big games.

“He basically kept them in the race up there.”

Schaefer helps keep Cleveland competitive as well, thanks to his own competitiveness.

“He’s got a great second effort, great work ethic, and is pretty athletic in there, and he never gives up on a puck,” Sommer said.

Sommer did note that Schaefer must continue to work on his patience, rebound control, and puckhandling, but he also said that the Barons top goalie has come a long ways in all of these areas. However, both Schaefer and Patzold could probably have improved even more had Sharks goaltending coach Warren Strelow been able to work his normal magic.

“It’s too bad that none of these goalies, like Patzold and Schaefer, have had an opportunity to work under him, because he’s great,” Sommer said. “He has a great repertoire with the goalies, he picks out those little idiosyncrasies that a lot of guys wouldn’t see and he just has a subtle way of teaching I think.”

Strelow’s health is improving and Schaefer’s made his initial mark in the NHL. San Jose can now rest confidently knowing it has a capable third stringer in Cleveland.

Tim Conboy, D
Ht: 6’2 Wt: 225 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 3-22-1982 Farmington, Minnesota
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

After racking up 134 penalty minutes in 61 AHL games last season, Tim Conboy’s game has gained a level of discipline to his game to make him less of a liability.

Once a fearsome fighter in the USHL for the now defunct Rochester Mustangs and Topeka Scarecrows, Sommer has noticed a difference in Conboy’s game.

“He took a lot of bad penalties and this year he’s been real disciplined as far as that goes, he’s picked that part of his game up.”

At 6’2, 225 pounds, Conboy has good size, and he plays an aggressive, physical game, but Sommer also complimented Conboy for his puckmoving abilities, hard point shot, and his offensive vision, which can make him an effective power play option, where he has four of his five goals this season. However, Conboy still has some areas of improvement.

“I think one of the things he needs to work on is defensive play,” Sommer said. “At times he kind of falls asleep, but for the most part, when he keeps his game real simple, he’s real effective.”

The 2002 seventh round draft pick is still a ways from the NHL, but this season he’s a regular in the Barons line-up and a regular at one position, defense.

Josh Gorges, D
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 180 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 5-26-1983 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
2005-06: San Jose (NHL), Cleveland (AHL)

An undrafted free agent acquisition signed by the Sharks Sept. 20, 2002, Josh Gorges went on to become one of the top defensemen in the WHL and even a member of Team Canada’s 2004 World Junior Championship team. Named the Cleveland Barons Rookie of the Year last season, Gorges’ development has brought him to the NHL this season.

The 21-year-old started the season up with the Sharks, but was sent back down to Cleveland October 11. After injuring his knee October 21 against Rochester, Gorges was not in the lineup again until November 17. Less than a month later, the former Kelowna Rocket was recalled December 15 to replace the injured Kyle McLaren on the roster. Known for his solid two-way play in the WHL, Gorges has added the same thing at the AHL and now the NHL level.

“[Gorges] is extremely competitive, he has a lot of hockey sense, he’s got a good stick, he blocks a lot of pucks, and makes good decisions with the puck,” Sommer said. “He’s a special player, he’ll play in the National Hockey League, he’s got all of the tools.”

The second-year pro’s top strength may be his consistency.

“He practices hard, always comes to play, you always know what you’re going to get,” Sommer said. “He’s real consistent with his game, he doesn’t have a lot of peaks and valleys in his game.”

Although Sommer said that the 6’0 190-pound Gorges could afford to get a little stronger and improve his shot, the former Memorial Cup winner has been proving himself an NHL-worthy defenseman in his latest recall, even receiving nearly 19 minutes of ice time against St. Louis December 23. Long doubted for being too small or too slow, Gorges’ hockey sense, competitiveness and stick skills should keep the young blueliner in the new NHL for years to come.

Doug Murray, D
Ht: 6’3 Wt: 240 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 3-12-1980 Bromma, Sweden
2005-06: San Jose (NHL), Cleveland (AHL)

An eighth round pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft out of the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s New York Apple Core, former Hobey Baker top ten finalist Doug Murray is now paying the dividends the Sharks always hoped he would.

Murray was recalled December 2 by San Jose after Brad Stuart was traded along with Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau to Boston for Joe Thornton. The Swede has played 11 games for the Sharks since and has not looked back, pairing with Shark stalwart Scott Hannan to help shut down other team’s top forwards. The 25-year-old blueliner will add a physical dimension to San Jose’s lineup.

“He’s a house,” said Sommer. “He’s a real physical guy, keeps the game simple, has a lot of hockey sense, plays within his strengths and he’s very punishing.”

The third-year pro was expected to challenge for a spot in the Sharks line-up in 2004-05, but the NHL lockout eliminated that opportunity. A nagging shoulder injury that required surgery in the 2004 offseason and a nagging hip injury mid-season limited Murray to 54 games in 2004-05. Injuries have proven to be a setback in Murray’s graduation to the NHL.

“He’d be playing really well and then he’d get an injury, but he kept battling through it,” Sommer said. “He’s a kid that plays hurt, so you knew that when he was out he was really out, he’s not always at 100 percent but he always gives it 100 percent.”

Murray is known as a responsible defensive defenseman who plays a physical game but is also useful on the power play with a hard point shot. Sommer also added that Murray “makes good decisions, has a good first pass, his one-on-one game is good, he reads the rush well, he gets pucks through, and he keeps it simple.”

The Cornell Big Red grad has improved his skating the past two seasons, but will have to continue to improve it at the NHL level. Like most other rookie defensemen, he’ll also have to adjust to the NHL pace, just as he had to adjust to the quicker AHL game over the ECAC college game. However, the 6’3 240-pound Murray is built like a skating linebacker, and gives the Sharks an open-ice hitter of Bryan Marchment caliber, only less likely to pick up suspensions.

“He was probably one of the more physical defensemen in the American League level that I saw,” Sommer said. “[Murray’s] hard to play against, he’s one of those guys that are real hard to play against.

“We probably won’t see him again.”

Garrett Stafford, D
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 190 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 1-28-1980 Los Angeles, California
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

A member of the 2003-04 AHL All-Rookie Team and the AHL Second All-Star Team, the undrafted Garrett Stafford has not yet been able to crack San Jose’s line-up.

The former University of New Hampshire Wildcat is second in Barons defensive scoring behind ECHL veteran offensive defenseman Ray DiLauro, and for good reason.

“He’s got a lot of offensive ability,” Sommer said. “I think he’s got NHL hockey sense for moving the puck and he makes good decisions.”

“The new rules favor a guy like him because he’s not overly big, but he’s pretty competitive against whoever he’s playing against.”

The 6’0 190-pound Stafford’s competitiveness sometimes gets the best of him, as Sommer said. “Sometimes he tries to get in and overpower guys where he should stay back and let the battle come to him, instead of him going to the battle.”

Sommer said that Stafford also needs to improve on defensive aspects of his game, such as boxing guys out, not getting beat off the wall, keeping two hands on his stick and getting in underneath opponent’s sticks. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has compared Stafford to Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle, whom Sommer coached in Kentucky during the 1998-99 season.

“I had Boyle in Kentucky his first year, and they’re real similar as far as what they bring to the table offensively,” said Sommer.

However, Boyle had an edge over Stafford.

“Boyle, one of the things about him is he’s just so competitive, and at times I thought he saw the ice a little better than Staff in certain situations,” Sommer said. “I think the biggest thing Garrett needs to work on is just to be more consistent in his game, sometimes he has peaks and valleys.

“Boyle was more consistent with what he did, what he brought every night.”

However, Sommer noted that Stafford has been playing well of late, and that if he keeps playing as he has been and how he can play, the 25-year-old defenseman will get his chance. In the meantime, he’s one of Cleveland’s top defensemen, especially with Murray and Gorges in San Jose.

I think his defensive play, we always knew he had the offense, but I think his defensive play has improved a lot. Reading the rush, his skating, as far as controlling his gap with his skating, and the thing with him is he’s just got to keep his game a little simpler, sometimes he tries to do too much and that’s when he gets in trouble.

Brad Staubitz, D
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 210 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 7-28-1984 Edmonton, Alberta
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

After being traded to the Ottawa 67’s late last season, defenseman Brad Staubitz finished his final junior season strong and managed to earn a contract from San Jose during training camp September 18. Slated to be Cleveland’s seventh or eighth defenseman this year, injuries to veteran Matt Carkner and Gorges and the recall of Gorges and Murray to San Jose have kept the physical defenseman in the line-up most nights.

“He’s coming along really well,” Sommer said. “I think the biggest thing with him is he’s got to get back and move the pucks a little bit quicker and keep working on his feet and the skill part of his game.”

Staubitz is similar to Carkner and San Jose Shark Rob Davison in that he came out of juniors as a physical defenseman, but both Davison and Carkner have more size and were more established as solid defensive defensemen in the OHL. Sommer credited Staubitz for his toughness, but said, “He’s still a puppy, he’s a project, so to speak.”

“But I think there’s a lot of upside to his game.”

Staubitz leads the Barons in penalty minutes with 81 after 30 games, thanks in large part to seven fighting majors. Not particular big by NHL standards, Staubitz will need develop his skills to ever warrant NHL consideration. However, he averaged nearly a point per game for the 67’s in the postseason last spring, showing he does have some potential to expand his game beyond that of an aggressive, physical, fighting defenseman in the AHL.

Tom Cavanagh, C
Ht: 5’10 Wt: 180 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 3-24-1982 Warwick, Rhode Island
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

Tom Cavanagh’s season may have been delayed by a knee injury he suffered late last season, but he started his AHL career off with a bang and has looked fine in his rookie pro season.

The Harvard grad 2001 sixth round draft pick scored a goal and added two assists in his first AHL game, a 3-5 Cleveland loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins Nov. 19 in which Cavanagh was named the First Star of the Game. Since then, the 23-year-old forward has only one more goal and one more assist.

“Right now he’s still kind of finding his game,” Sommer said. “He’s got a lot of hockey sense and he’s a dog, he hounds pucks, and he’s real competitive.”

Sommer said that Cavanagh needs to improve his skating and get a bit quicker, but also conceded that Cavanagh’s knee injury rendered him unable to train properly over the summer. At 5’10 180 pounds, Cavanagh needs to get not only stronger, but leaner, Sommer added.

Named the ECAC’s Best Defensive Forward and the New England Hockey Writers’ Best Defensive Forward, Cavanagh’s hockey sense is sound, but he could afford to bury more of the numerous offensive chances he creates each game. The key to Cavanagh’s development will be staying healthy the rest of 2005-06 and hitting the gym hard in the offseason so he can start the season ahead of the game, instead of behind the injury eight ball.

Josh Hennessy, C
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 190 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 2-7-1985 Brockton, Massachusetts
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

One of the top scoring centers in the QMJHL over the past three seasons, center Josh Hennessy has made a fairly smooth transition to the AHL and has continued to improve.

“I think he’s improved every game,” Sommer said.

Known for his speed, skating, and offensive awareness with the Quebec Remparts, the 2003 second round draft pick has been working on his defensive play with the Barons in 2005-06, which Sommer said Hennessy has been improving.

“One of the things he’s learning down here is getting a second effort to his game,” Sommer said. “Where he was getting ties to losses along the boards, now he’s getting ties to wins.

“He’s winning those battles and getting under sticks where before he wasn’t doing that.”

Offensively, Hennessy is doing quite well as a 20-year-old rookie pro. The Brockton, Mass., native is third in Cleveland scoring with 8 goals and 16 assists in 37 games.

“Every time he’s out there he’s an offensive threat, he’s creating a lot of things,” Sommer said. “Most of the times at the end of the games he’s involved in the majority of our offensive opportunities.”

The new AHL and NHL rules should continue to help Hennessy. With his speed, he can burn flat-footed defensemen who are now penalized for obstruction infractions. Improvements in his defensive game and a greater second effort should only help create even more offensive chances for Hennessy, perhaps one day as San Jose’s second line center.

Josh Prudden, C
Ht: 5’11 Wt: 190 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 1-10-1980 Andover, Massachusetts
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

Yet another undrafted free agent prospect pickup, Josh Prudden earned a one-year contract from the Sharks in August after a good rookie AHL season with Cleveland in 2004-05.

A teammate of Garrett Stafford and Shark prospect defenseman Michael Hutchins a the University of New Hampshire, Prudden earned a contract from Cleveland in 2004-05 after a good rookie pro season with Atlantic City in the ECHL. Not a major point producer over his four years at UNH, Prudden is more of a defensive center in the AHL.

“He’s real solid defensively,” Sommer said. “He’s one of those guys who’s good on face-offs, and another of his strengths, I think, is down low.”

Sommer added the Prudden excels down low because the 25-year-old pivot plays a detailed game, has a good stick, good hockey sense, and the third-year pro knows where to go. His hockey sense and his year of AHL experience has helped him pick up the scoring pace in 2005-06, as he has 7 goals and 5 assists in 33 games compared to 14 goals and 8 assists in 73 games last season. While Prudden is decent at everything, he “has to do things quicker and faster, at a higher pace.”

On top of his hockey sense, Prudden does put forth a fairly consistent effort.

“You know what you’re going to get every game from him, and he’s pretty consistent with everything,” Sommer said.

Craig Valette, C
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 190 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 10-7-1982 Shellbrook, Saskatchewan
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

An undrafted prospect signed by the Sharks in training camp in 2003, Craig Valette is in his third season of AHL service in Cleveland and is working toward becoming an energy line forward in the NHL.

“He’s another kid who I think will play in the National Hockey League,” Sommer said. “He’s quick, takes pucks to the net, and he’s worked on the defensive part of his game.”

The former Portland Winterhawk is a tenacious forechecker who uses his speed and quickness to finish his checks. The third-year pro must improve his stick skills, particularly his shot, if he is to become San Jose’s next Mark Smith.

“There are a lot of similarities [between Smith and Valette], but Smitty had more offense to his game that Valette right now.”

Sommer also said he believes Smith had more hockey sense at the same age than Valette. Although the 23-year-old forward must significantly increase his offensive production to ever warrant NHL consideration from San Jose, Valette has a decent shot to return to Cleveland next season, as the only Shark prospect due to graduate to the AHL next season is Northeastern University right winger Mike Morris.

Ryane Clowe, LW
Ht: 6’2 Wt: 215 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 9-30-1982 St. John’s, Newfoundland
2005-06: San Jose (NHL), Cleveland (AHL)

A third-year pro, 2001 sixth round draft pick Ryane Clowe is on the verge of making the Sharks full-time. With Scott Parker back on injured reserve, Clowe has been recalled by San Jose again for his third stint with the team this season.

The 6’2 215-pound power forward started the season in San Jose, even playing on the top line with Patrick Marleau in training camp and at times during the season. However, aside from two assists tallied against the struggling St. Louis Blues Oct. 8, Clowe had no points in his 15-game stint before being sent down to Cleveland on November 21. The 23-year-old forward was recalled again on December 3 when the Sharks placed Parker on injured reserve and played one game for the team before being sent down again December 14.

Although Clowe has been up and down as far as location is concerned, he’s having a very strong AHL season, just like last season.

“Last year he was everything for us,” Sommer said. “He led our team in scoring, goals and assists, and he’s tough.”

Clowe has 7 goals and 5 assists in 10 games for the Barons this season, an even better pace than his 27 goals and 35 assists in 74 games in 2004-05. Although he’s been struggling to score in the NHL, Sommer thinks Clowe has a place in the new NHL.

“The way the game is going, he’s a guy who could play the third line or the fourth line for you, or he could play the top line,” Sommer said. “He’s got a lot of hockey sense and he’s got a good shot, he’s good on the walls, he’s real competitive, and can shoot the puck.

“I love the way he plays.”

With Parker back on the injured reserve, Clowe’s ticket to the NHL this season. A major minute cruncher at forward for the Barons, Clowe’s biggest adjustment may be playing less.

“The biggest thing is, when you first start out, it’s not like when he played here when he played 20-22 minutes, you go up there and you’re playing seven or eight, you have to be ready for every shift,” Sommer said. “I think that’s kind of an adjustment for him.”

Once Clowe makes those adjustments, he should provide San Jose with an excellent energy line forward who is effective along the boards, forechecks hard, finishes his checks, and is able to provide some scoring now and then.

Lukas Kaspar – LW
Ht: 6’2″ Wt: 200 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 9-23-1985 Most, Czech Republic
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

Rookie pro Lukas Kaspar started the AHL season on fire with three goals and one assist in his first five pro games, but has struggled to find the back of the net, going 18 games between goals before scoring in Cleveland’s lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Grand Rapids December 23. The 2004 first round draft pick might benefit from simplifying his game.

“I think he tries to do too much himself, he’s got to use his linemates a little more,” Sommer said. “He’s got a lot of talent, he just has to figure this level out.”

The 2005-06 season marks Kaspar’s second straight season of figuring out a new level of hockey. The Czech made the jump to major juniors last year, where he was fifth in OHL rookie scoring with 21 goals and 30 assists in 59 games. Kaspar finished the season strong with 6 goals and 14 assists in 20 postseason games, as Ottawa won the OHL championship and advanced to the Memorial Cup. This season Kaspar is having to adapt to the AHL after only one season of North American hockey in the OHL. He started the season on a top line, but is now playing on the third and fourth line.

“[Kaspar] was playing with Hennessy and Iggulden, but he struggled, so now he’s kind of fallen off,” Sommer said. “So now he’s playing with Prudden and Valette.”

With San Jose relatively healthy, although Milan Michalek, Marcel Goc, and Scott Parker are banged up, Grant Stevenson is the only forward who’s played with the Barons this season up with San Jose. Although they have played in San Jose, power forwards Ryane Clowe and Steve Bernier are both back in Cleveland.

“Clowe’s kind of taken [Kaspar’s] spot and Iggulden is playing so well he’s kind of taken his spot,” Sommer said.

Only 20 years old, Kaspar has time to develop. Known for his hard shot and sniping abilities, despite his scoring slump in the AHL this season, Kaspar primarily needs to adjust to the North American pro game and become a consistent contributor in Cleveland. Improvements in his skating and separation (a combination of acceleration, quickness, and intelligence) could help Kaspar further utilize his considerable shooting skills in becoming a sniper at the AHL and NHL levels.

Glenn Olson – LW
Ht: 6’4 Wt: 220 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 5-1-1984 Port McNeil, British Columbia

2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

Signed by San Jose after training camp in 2003, Glenn Olson is trying to become more than a fighter in his second year of his three-year entry level contract.

An undrafted free agent acquisition signed out of Cowichan Valley of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, Olson’s lone season of major junior hockey for Kootenay of the WHL was limited to 41 games by a broken hand suffered in Sharks camp and a wrist injury suffered with Kootenay. Olson was also limited to 14 ECHL games between San Jose’s two ECHL affiliates in 2004-05, Fresno and Johnstown, and six games with Cleveland. This season Olson is relatively healthy and trying to bring his game up to the AHL level.

“I think his game has improved, his passing his skating, all of that stuff,” Sommer said. “He just has to continue making strides in that regard and keep working on those things after practice.”

Sommer said that just playing in the high paced AHL and Cleveland Barons practice has helped improve his skill level, but it cannot compensate for game conditioning, something Olson has not developed playing as a fighter since his days in the BCHL.

I think just playing at this pace, and working in practices, they’re pretty high tempo, and think his game has picked up in that regard. He’s a tough kid, guys like him, he’s just another guy who needs to play and improve, especially game conditioning.

Olson is a good fighter, extremely tough, and well-liked in the locker room according to Sommer. However, the 21-year-old fighter will have to significantly improve his skill level to one day replace Scott Parker in San Jose.

Tomas Plihal – LW
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 195 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 3-28-1983 Frydlant, Czech Republic
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

Drafted by the Sharks in the fifth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, forward Tomas Plihal is in the final year of his entry-level contract, and although he’s been stifled offensively this season, the Czech is healthy and playing sound defensive hockey.

“He’s real smart, a good defensive player,” Sommer said. “He’s got a good second effort to his game, gets under sticks, can make plays, he’s real detailed, his game is real detailed.”

Plihal missed 18 games last season due to injury, but he managed to boost his offensive totals to 17 goals and 11 assists. In 2005-06, the former offensive threat for the Kootenay Ice in the WHL has been limited to two goals and 16 assists in 33 games.

“You take that way from him, and he’s been playing pretty good,” Sommer said. “I think he’s really improved, he just can’t find the back of the net right now.”

Despite being unable to find the back of the net this season, Plihal has a hard shot which is normally fairly accurate. The 22-year-old also has good passing skills and is generally a decent playmaker. However, at the AHL level Plihal has been unable to establish himself as a consistent offensive threat. Despite these offensive inconsistencies, Sommer compares Plihal to a former Shark that’s currently with the Montreal Canadiens.

”I wish he would, shoot, if he had 8 or 9 goals we’d probably have three or four more wins right now. He plays a lot like a [Niklas] Sundstrom I think,” Sommer said. “Unless you really watch him, you don’t notice how good he is.”

Sommer also noted that Plihal’s game has matured a lot over the past two years and that the Czech competes harder than he did when he first came to Cleveland. Drafted as an offensive player out of Czech juniors, if Plihal makes it to the NHL, it will be as a defensive forward who can chip in offensively. First, he’ll need to find the net again in the AHL.

Riley Armstrong – RW
Ht: 5’11 Wt: 185 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 11-8-1984 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

An undrafted prospect signed by San Jose Sept. 15, 2004, Riley Armstrong is in his second season of pro hockey and is endeavoring to become more than a fourth line AHL forward.

“I think he’s got to produce more offense than he has, and his game’s got to be more consistent,” Sommer said. “He’s another kid who’s got a pretty good stick, he can make plays, he’s pretty quick, and he’s a hard kid to play against.

“He’s just got to be more consistent in his game.”

The former Everett Silvertip is similar to Valette in that they are both energy line forwards out of the WHL roughly the same size. Armstrong, who’s brother Colby plays for the Penguins organization in Wilkes-Barre, has had an up and down season according to Sommer. Valette also holds an edge over Armstrong in that the third-year pro his faster and quicker than the second-year Baron.

To describe both Valette and Armstrong, Sommer said, “They’re both kind of hard to play against, they both play a pretty gritty style, and they hound pucks.”

If the 21-year-old forward could improve his offensive production, he’d have a good shot at improving his -9 rating, which is not particularly abnormal on the Barons, but does not compare favorable to Valette’s -2 rating.

Steve Bernier – RW
Ht: 6’2 Wt: 230 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 3-31-1985 Quebec City, Quebec
2005-06: San Jose (NHL), Cleveland (AHL)

One year out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he was one of the league’s top power forwards, Steve Bernier has already had a cup of coffee of the San Jose Sharks and is scoring goals in the AHL.

Never scoring less than 30 goals in any of his four QMJHL seasons, Bernier has 12 goals and 11 assists for the Cleveland Barons, including two in the team’s 3-0 shutout of the San Antonio Rampage December 26. Bernier’s scoring prowess isn’t much of a surprise.

“He’s got a good shot, he goes to the net, he stays at the net, he’s got a good one-timer, he’s solid,” Sommer said. “He’s a big kid, definitely a power forward, finishes his hits…”

There’s one catch though.

“…he’s just got to get more consistent.”

Although Bernier has improved his defensive play the past two seasons in the QMJHL, there are still areas for improvement., especially if Bernier is to be an effective NHL power forward.

“He has a tendency where sometimes he stands and watches where he should be getting the puck himself, instead of watching the puck,” Sommer said. “He’s a guy that needs to go get the puck himself instead of letting everyone else do it.”

Sommer said that Bernier needs to keep his game simpler and drive to the net, but the Cleveland coach also added that Bernier has been doing a better job of that lately.

”When he’s playing like that he’s pretty good. He just needs to keep the game simpler, drive pucks to the net, and go to the net. Those are some of the things he kind of got away from a little bit, but he’s starting to do that again.”

When Bernier was drafted by San Jose with the 16th overall pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, he was criticized for his conditioning, but the 6’2 230-pound right winger is nine pounds lighter than he was before the draft but has lost even more fat and replaced it with muscle. The leaner Bernier was recalled November 5 by San Jose and played five games before being sent back down November 21. However, he didn’t return to Cleveland without reaching a milestone, he scored his first NHL goal November 12 in a 3-2 overtime loss to Dallas. Although Bernier is in Cleveland now, his future is in San Jose.

“The pro game is made for him, with his size and everything,” Sommer said. “He’s just down right now because they’re healthy, I’m sure he’ll get another opportunity again this year.”

Shane Joseph – RW
Ht: 5’10 Wt: 180 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 7-26-1981 Brooks, Alberta
2005-06: Cleveland (AHL)

Once part of a dynamic offensive duo with Grant Stevenson both in Cleveland and with Minnesota State University-Mankato, Shane Joseph remains in Cleveland while Stevenson is averaging a point per game with San Jose.

Now in his second full season of AHL action, Joseph has failed to make the impact his collegiate teammate has made in 2005-06. The 24-year-old does have offensive potential, but he must become more competitive in order to succeed.

“Shane’s good, he’s a good power play guy, but he’s got to be a better five-on-five guy for us, he’s got to be better on the walls and get pucks out,” Sommer said. “I think he’s got to be more tenacious without the puck and with the puck.

“When he was playing well he was driving the net and taking puck to the net and getting second and third chances, when he’s not doing that, he’s not effective for us,” Sommer added.

Joseph is a speedy winger with a good shot who can be very effective using his strength driving to the net, down low, and using his speed and moves to shake defensemen. Sommer said that Joseph should be “eating teams up” with the new rules, but the former Maverick needs give a more consistent effort.

Grant Stevenson – RW
Ht: 6’0 Wt: 180 lb. Shoots: Left
Born: 5-26-1983 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
2005-06: San Jose (NHL), Cleveland (AHL)

While Joseph is still toiling in Cleveland, third-year pro Grant Stevenson is now up with San Jose and averaging nearly a point per game. What has separated Stevenson from his former college linemate is his tenacious effort, be it on the forecheck, on defense, or in the attack zone.

“He’s really put it all together this summer,” Sommer said. “He went in and worked hard in the offseason, got himself bigger and stronger, came in and had a pretty good camp, came down here and was our best forward.”

“He played both ends of the ice, got pucks in, got pucks out, made plays, killed penalties, was a power play guy, was our leading scorer, was averaging two or three quality chances a game, and he did everything that was asked of him and that’s why he got the opportunity,” Sommer added.

The undrafted free agent signed after his sophomore season at MSU-Mankato got off to slow starts in his first two AHL seasons, but that has not been the case in 2005-06. The 24-year-old had 8 goals and 8 assists in 17 games for Cleveland before being recalled by San Jose November 23. Cleveland’s leading scorer before his recall, Stevenson is an offensive threat for San Jose as well, scoring 5 goals and 6 assists in 15 games, although he has been pointless his last four games for San Jose.

Stevenson’s effort is not the only thing that has helped him in 2005-06.

“He’s quick and I think the new rules have helped his game,” Sommer said. “When he gets a step on a defenseman he takes the puck to the net, he’s good hockey sense, he can shoot the puck, he’s got a lot of skill, he’s real competitive for his size, and that’s the way he’s got to play.”

“He’s a real competitive guy who kind of figured it out.”

Jonathan Tremblay – RW
Ht: 6’3″ Wt: 240 lb. Shoots: Right
Born: 3-3-1984 Fauquier, Quebec
2005-06: Toledo (ECHL) Kalamazoo (UHL), Quad City (UHL)

Like Glenn Olson, Jonathan Tremblay is a fighter first and foremost, but unlike Olson, Tremblay is picking up playing time with the Quad City Mallards of the United Hockey League after playing one game for Toledo of the ECHL and 8 games with the UHL Kalamazoo K-Wings.

The 2003 seventh round draft pick split last season between the St. Eustache Gladiateurs of the Quebec Junior A Hockey League and the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL, as well as one game with the Cleveland Barons. Scoring 3 goals and 1 assist in 164 career QMJHL games with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, Tremblay has yet to become another more than an extremely dangerous fighter. Few NHL teams send prospects to the UHL for development.

“[Tremblay’s] just a big tough, strong kid, that’s just got to play, that’s why he’s playing in the Quad Cities, just got to get some ice time,” Sommer said.

Sommer’s list of improvements Tremblay needed to make included “his skating, he’s always going to have to work on that, and then his skills, that part of his game, hockey skills, passing, shooting, all of those things.”

During the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, San Jose held the rights to minor pro fighter Yuri Moscevsky, who became Cleveland’s pugilist for two seasons. Both Olson and Tremblay play a similar role to Moscevsky, but there is a major difference.

“I think Yuri was a better skater, but I think these guys are tougher than Yuri was,” Sommer said. “I think Yuri could skate and that’s where these guys need work.”

Perhaps the biggest project player that San Jose has ever drafted, at least from a skill standpoint, Tremblay will have work extremely hard on his skills while playing in the UHL to become more than just a fighter in that league. Should Tremblay ever sufficiently develop his skills to become an NHL fighter, a task made even more difficult by the new rules, the Sharks will have one of the hardest throwing fighters in all of hockey.

San Jose Sharks AHL Prospect Player Stats 2005-06
Riley Armstrong AHL35145-94100
Steve Bernier NHL5101000009
Tom Cavanagh AHL19235-31200
Ryane CloweNHL16022-1900012
Tim Conboy AHL365510-165440
Josh Gorges NHL5000-150006
Josh Hennessy AHL3781624-103010
Mike Iggulden AHL36111526-61841
Shane Joseph AHL356915-3810
Lukas Kaspar AHL3551116+23000
Doug Murray NHL11000+4110004
Glenn Olson AHL11000-42300
Tomas Plihal AHL34268-101810
Josh Prudden AHL337512-72410
Garrett StaffordAHL3751217-82631
Brad StaubitzAHL31022-128100
Grant Stevenson NHL155611-3420125
Jonathan Tremblay ECHL1000000000
San Jose Sharks AHL Prospect Goalie Stats 2005-06
Dimitri Patzold AHL11658380028746.8624.20
Nolan Schaefer NHL7352510112711.9201.88

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