Emerging crop of forwards and defensemen featured in San Jose Sharks prospects awards

By Craig Fischer

Nick Petrecki - San Jose Sharks

Photo: Defenseman Nick Petrecki found his physical game during the 2012-13 season and skated in his first NHL game on January 29, 2013 (courtesy of John Hefti/Icon SMI)

The 2012-13 season will go down as a major turning point in the San Jose Sharks prospect pool. Long gone are the days of shallow pools and bleak futures. In fact, if this season was any indication of the growth and development process the Sharks management group has in place, big things could be coming to the Sharks in the coming years.

This year’s edition of the San Jose Sharks prospect awards showcases legit offensive talent up front; something the Sharks have lacked in recent years. Now, to be fair, the Sharks have always found a way to supplement their offense using their system, but the high-end potential of many of this year’s award recipients has not been evident from this franchise’s pipeline in a long time.

Hardest Worker: Sena Acolatse, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)

Sena Acolatse has given everything he physically can for the Worcester Sharks this year; his fists, his stick, his shins, his DJ skills, and even his jaw.

Coming off a noteworthy rookie campaign, Acolatse started the year on fire. All of his hard work in the off-season, as well as at camp, and practice was showing off early in the season as he was on a 0.66 point per game pace over the first 24 games, which would have put him in the upper echelon of offensive production by defensemen in the AHL.

After returning from injury, the points were harder to come by, but Acolatse, never stopped working. He is the prospect San Jose deserves, but evidently not the one it needs right now, as he was not called up this season.

Hardest Shot: Nick Petrecki, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)

Nick Petrecki is by no means a shot taking machine (he took a mere 57 shots in 42 games in 2012-13, which was about half of what Matt Irwin, another blueliner with a blistering shot, took in his shortened AHL season) but he possesses a cannon.

When Petrecki can put his full force behind a slap shot from the point he has the potential to put fear in the minds of everyone in front of him. Unfortunately for his offensive production, he is rarely used on the powerplay and a big reason why is because Petrecki lacks accuracy — the hulking defender is more likely to ping one off a fan than off the crossbar.

Luckily for Petrecki, he is counted on more for what he does away from the puck than with it.

Best Defensive Prospect: Matt Tennyson, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)

Matt Tennyson has had a fantastic year in terms of development. Not only did he find his way onto the San Jose Sharks roster late in the year and will likely compete for a roster spot next season, but Tennyson was a leader on and off the ice for the Worcester defensive corps.

Tennyson possesses an above average skill set in just about every facet of the game, and the combination of that adeptness along with his size has given rise to a very promising young defenseman. The 23-year old California native has legit NHL potential, and could easily fit into the big club’s top-four defensemen within a few years if he continues his climb.

While Dylan DeMelo and Konrad Abeltshauser have the potential for bigger offensive numbers, and Nick Petrecki has all the raw power to be a very good shutdown defenseman, Tennyson is the best all-around defensive prospect. He does all the little things right; he’s great off the rush, clears the puck confidently, and has great interior coverage. He still needs to develop, but he is a great young player.

Fastest Skater: Matt Nieto, LW, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)

For an organization that has widely been known as slow, an award such as this typically comes with a grain of salt. However, for the past few seasons the Sharks have been quietly getting quicker on the ice—and it all starts with the scarlet speedster, Matt Nieto.

Nieto has excellent four-step acceleration, and is usually first to the puck in most battles. Very few players at the college level could match his quickness, and even in his short stint with the Worcester Sharks there were times when he looked too fast to catch.

Nieto’s speed is one of his biggest assets, and he utilizes it well, even with the puck to generate scoring chances. The way he shoots in stride at such high speeds is reminiscent of Joe Sakic. This ability makes it very difficult for defenders and goaltenders alike, and will give him the ability at the pro level to be a scorer.

Prospect of the Year: Tomas Hertl, C, Slavia Praha HC (ELH)

It does not matter what league or tournament Tomas Hertl played in during the 2012-13 season, it seemed like every time he laced up his skates he put on a show. Not since Logan Couture has San Jose had such a high potential offensive powerhouse in their prospect pool.

Not only did Hertl lead his club team, Slavia Praha HC, in scoring (only Dan O’Regan did this among other Sharks prospects) but he did it as the team’s youngest player. He was clearly the best player for the Czech Republic at this winter's World Juniors, where he and Sean Kuraly were the only Sharks in attendance. It would not be until he was on a good World Championship squad in May, playing relegated minutes, that Hertl finally looked something other than superman.

Gifted with a terrific shot, excellent puck-moving skills, and above average skating, Hertl holds legitimate NHL potential and looks to be well on his way to becoming a front line player for years to come. Realistically, even after such a great season, Hertl is still at least a year away from being NHL ready, although the Sharks could potentially bring him to the fold earlier. There is no doubt though, Hertl is the best prospect that the sharks have.

Breakout Player for 2013-14: Dan O'Regan, C, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)

Dan O’Regan had an excellent rookie season for Boston University. He finished tied for fifth in Hockey East scoring with 38 points in 39 games. With many of last year’s veterans moving on for the Terriers, including Nieto, O’Regan will be counted on heavily by new head coach David Quinn to carry the bulk of Boston’s offense. When you consider early on in the season O’Regan’s minutes were sparse and he used more as a secondary option, you start to realize just how big of a season he could have.

The undersized centerman has high-end offensive potential and he possesses some of the most creative playmaking ability in all of NCAA hockey. Out from the shadow of Nieto and Wade Megan (FLA), O’Regan will likely garner attention around the country. Do not be surprised if he is a late add to the USA Juniors squad, who did well by having undersized forward John Gaudreau (CGY) play for them last season, or if he is a contender for the Hobey Baker Award.

Most Improved Prospect: Nick Petrecki, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)

For the last few years, Nick Petrecki has been considered one of the Sharks biggest underachievers. So much has always been expected of the 2007 first round pick, and up until late season it was looking like the brutish shutdown defenseman might never make it to the NHL, let alone have an established career like it was hoped when he was picked with the 28th overall pick.

This season, under the tutelage of Larry Robinson (thanks to the lockout), Petrecki played with controlled rage and power – like scouts always thought he could. He was a dominant force on the back end, and while he was healthy he was the Worcester Sharks best defenseman in his own zone.

In his fourth season with Worcester, Petrecki finally played his first NHL game, and he looked even better at the NHL level than he did in the AHL, perhaps because the pressure was finally off of him. If not for a mid-season injury, Petrecki would have found a place on the NHL roster, and likely could have been up for the Prospect of the Year Award.

Overachiever: Brodie Reid, RW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)

During the 2012-13 season in Worcester, Brodie Reid authored the book on overachieving. At the start of the year, Reid was considered one of the worst prospects in the system. His skills were lacking in numerous areas, including, skating, puck possession, and shooting. Reid overcame these deficiencies by playing smart, strategic hockey all season long. Head Coach Roy Sommer just loves the way he plays with his heart on his sleeve, and it was that respect from his coach that gave Reid an increased opportunity to play and overachieve.

In his second pro season, Reid managed to score as many goals as he had in his first year, in 32 less games. He was on pace to shatter his previous point total as well before a string of injuries sidelined him for much of the season. Despite the lack of high-end skill, Reid’s blue collar game and work ethic continue to allow Reid to play well above his means. He had a terrific season, and do not be surprised if he gets an invite to the big club’s camp next season and actually makes the team.

Underachiever: Travis Oleksuk, C, Worcester Sharks (AHL)

After concluding a stellar college career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he was touted as an offensive weapon, Travis Oleksuk’s rookie season at the professional level was anything but stellar. Signed as one of the most skilled NCAA free agents in 2012, no one could have expected the offensive struggles the Thunder Bay native would experience in Worcester. Amassing a mere three goals and 10 assists for 13 points in 60 games, Oleksuk did not come as advertised.

Everyone expected just a bit more offensive flare from Oleksuk, named HF’s ‘Best Offensive Prospect’ last season, and it was not just that he was snake-bitten, he just really struggled. The AHL was rough on him in season one, and while he did not live up to expectations in 2012-13, next season, he will have a chance to carve out more of an offensive role with a good camp.

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Konrad Abeltshauser, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

Taken with the 163rd overall pick in the 2010 draft, Konrad Abeltshauser has slowly risen up the San Jose prospect ranks due to his projected size, skill and play at the junior level. The 6'5 German defender carries the puck well and has tremendous passing abilities, and because of his size, he illuminates the minds of fans and scouts alike. It is obvious that he could become a very good NHL top-pairing defenseman.

However, as good as Abeltshauser has looked in his fourth year in the QMJHL, there are considerable questions related to his game. He is not the best defender, he does not use his size particularly well yet, and perhaps the biggest concern is how much of a factor playing with two elite talents in Halifax has had on his offensive production. Abeltshauser will likely move on to a scoring starved AHL team next season (there were rumblings about an overseas pit stop) and that move to professional hockey should be more of an indicator on what type of player the Sharks actually have. As good as the towering German projects to be, he could very well never live up to the potential; or worse, he might never find his way to the NHL.