Top Shelf Prospects: San Jose Sharks
As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not static rules though, as I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Ruling: Due to the combination of his age (24 years old), his NHL experience (43 career games), both being borderline, and the fact that he was signed to a 1 way NHL contract, I’m going to declare Tommy Wingels as graduated.
2012 Draft Prospects Reviewed:
Top Prospect #1; Matt Nieto, Right Wing
Born Nov 5 1992 — Long Beach, CA
Height 5.11 — Weight 183 — Shoots Right
Selected by the San Jose Sharks in round 2, #47 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
I really don’t want to write the next few paragraphs, but I feel that I have to. You see, there are a lot of rumors out there on message boards, and on the internet about our next prospect, Matt Nieto. A lot of those comments and rumors are unfair to this kid, but the only way to dispel them, is to acknowledge Nieto’s past mistakes, and the mistakes of his BU teammates and acknowledge what actions Nieto has allegedly been accused of by credible sources, and what is baseless speculation. The reality is that when you search Matt Nieto’s name some of the baseless speculation comes up and is reported at fact. I’m going to try and cut through it here.
The reality is that Matt Nieto is a talented player who is trying to recover his off-ice reputation following a 2011 suspension at the US NTDP for allegedly being involved in an incident of sexual harrassment at Pioneer High School. The facts here are unclear, and Nieto was never found guilty of any offence. However the rumors are out there and the fact is that while we cannot confirm the sexual harrasment rumor, Nieto was given a long suspension from USNTDP Hockey. Nieto has apparently being trying to move past this incident, however unfortunately for him, trouble seems to be following him around. Nieto of course is a talented winger at Boston University. Now, I stress that it appears that Nieto has done nothing wrong, while at BU, however the entire hockey program is being tainted right now by two very serious incidents. In January BU Junior defenceman Max Nicastro was arrested and charged with sexual assault on a female student. These charges were later dropped by prosecutors who felt they did not have enough evidence to convict, however the student in question stands by her allegations and may still launch a civil suit. Nicastro remains suspended from school and the hockey team despite the verdict.
The second incident involves fellow former BU teammate Corey Trivino who was arrested in December and charged with breaking and entering, assault, breaking and entering with the intent to commit rape, and trespasing. While some of the more serious charges were dropped, Trivino did plead guilty to 2 counts of assault, and the trespassing charge.
These two incidents have led to the appointment of a task force to conduct a formal investigation of the culture of hockey at the BU program. Now again Nieto has not been formally charged with anything, and there are no indications that he has done anything wrong while at BU, however for a kid who is trying to escape the alleged transgression of his past, the actions of his teammates certainly don’t help. Unfortunately for Nieto, this won’t help the whispers that follow him, and will not help him in his quest to make the rumors to go away. As a teammate with his own prior incident (one that is similar but far less serious than those alleged against Nicastro and Trivino) Nieto has been unfairly lumped in with these individuals. This is the unfortunate reality of his situation, and the fact that many people will make judgments of guilt by association. Nieto will need to keep his head up in real life, and not just on the ice, and walk an extra straight and narrow path in the coming years as a result of the situation he finds himself in. All that said, it would appear that Nieto has matured a lot and understands the situation he is faced with. He has committed to stay at BU this season, and to try to help the program rebuild in order to help the team’s tarnished reputation, and his own.
Now to the on-ice report. Nieto is a great skater who creates offence with his speed. His excellent acceleration, ability to change gears, crisp edgework and cuts, and great top end speed make him extremely difficult to defend off the rush. Defenders must back off and respect his speed, because if they don’t he can blow by them on the outside and cut hard to the net. If they do back off, Nieto is given the room to be creative. The room necessary to use his strong stickhandling, vision, and passing ability to set up teammates. He also has a very good, very quick release on his wrist shot which makes him a dangerous shooter off the wing. However he needs to add velocity to the shot before he can be considered a sniper. Nieto is willing to work on the boards and in front of the net, but quite simply is not strong enough at this point.
Defensively Nieto also shows strong skills. He is relentless in pressuring the puck carrier, causing many opponents to panic and cough up the puck. Nieto also has very good positioning, great anticipation, and quick feet which help him to create a lot of turnovers in the defensive end. Since his skating is so good and the transition game so quick, causing turnovers in the defensive zone has become a way that Nieto is able to create offence with his strong defensive play.
During his next season with BU, Nieto should focus on bulking up and preparing for the pro game. He has some very good potential, and could be a top 6 forward down the road. He is however a player the Sharks will need to be patient with, as he’ll take some time.
Top Prospect #2, Freddie Hamilton, Centre/Right Wing
Born Jan 1 1992 — Toronto, ONT
Height 6.01 — Weight 190 — Shoots Right
Selected by the San Jose Sharks in round 5, #129 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
The older brother of Bruins Top Prospect Dougie Hamilton, Freddie Hamilton is a forward who just finished his junior career playing with his brother on the Niagara Ice Dogs. The Hamilton Brothers helped lead the Ice Dogs to the OHL final, however they ran into the London Knights, who beat them in a very hard fought series. Freddie also played with his brother on Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Tournament and came home with a bronze medal. The sons of Canadian Olympians Doug Hamilton (1984 Bronze medal, and 1988, rowing) and Lynn Hamilton (nee Polson, 1984 Basketball) the Hamiltons are clearly blessed with good athletic genes.
Freddie Hamilton is a decent skater with good speed and acceleration. He is strong on the puck and has good balance. One of his best attributes is his ability to get in quickly on the forecheck and put pressure on defenders causing turnovers and helping to create offense. More a playmaker than a scorer, Hamilton’s vision and passing skills are decent. He is at his best controlling the puck down low on the cycle game. He wins his share of board battles at the OHL level, but will need to get stronger to continue to win battles against pros. Hamilton’s shot is decent, but nothing to write home about. He needs work on his release, as too often he telegraphs his intentions and it takes him too long to get shots off allowing goalies and defenders to adjust. While there is some offensive game overall it is pretty limited.
Hamilton’s future in the pro game is as a physical checking line centre. He is tenacious in puck pursuit and pressures opponents to make plays quickly and outside their comfort zone. He is a physical presence, who loves to hit, and get involved along the boards. Just like his offensive game, his defensive game would also be helped by bulking up. Hamilton has good positioning and a willingness to sacrifice his body to block shots. He also contains his opponents and forces them to work on the outside. Hamilton is an efficient penalty killer.
Freddie Hamilton will need time in Worcester playing for the Sharks AHL affiliate in order to adjust to the pro game, and get physically stronger. However I do believe he has s a good chance to make the NHL as a checking line player in the coming years.
Sleeper Pick, Matt Tennyson, Defence
Born Apr 23 1990 — Pleasanton, CA
Height 6.02 — Weight 212 — Shoots Right
Signed as a Free Agent, March 2012
Tennyson was a highly coveted free agent defenceman out of Western Michigan University who was signed by the Sharks as a free agent this spring. Tennyson was the Broncos top defenceman and -played big minutes for the squad. Coach Andy Murray used the talented rearguard in all situations.
Tennyson is a two-way defender whose game is built on a foundation of very good skating. He has good top end speed and acceleration which allows him to create offence by joining the rush. His quick cuts, good edgework, and solid pivots help him on the defensive end as he is hard to beat off the rush. His quick feet allow him to close gaps quickly and throw some big hits.
Tennyson is a power play quarterback who shows good poise with the puck on his stick, and has good stickhandling and puck protection skills. He has good vision, and crisp passing ability to set up teammates. He also has a decent slapshot.
Defensively Tennyson is a physical player who throws his weight around, is good in board battles and clears the front of the net. However he needs work on his decision making and positioning. He is a bit too much of a riverboat gambler and can get caught out of position and too deep on rushes, and by pinching at bad times at the opponent’s blue line. He also has issues where he gets himself out of position by going for a big hit, or by chasing the puck too much.
Tennyson has the tools to be a top 4 defender in the NHL. However he is a risk, and a bit of a project. He’ll need at least a full season in the AHL, and given his age will need to progress quickly. There is untapped potential here however, and it will be up to the Sharks Development team to bring it out.
The Sharks system has been hurt by trading away recent picks, and top prospects like Charlie Coyle and Michael Sgarbossa. Overall they currently have one of the weaker systems in the league. College free agent pickups like Tennyson and Travis Oleksuk certainly help to build depth, but it just isn’t enough. There is a serious lack of blue chip talent here. Recent drafting has not been good as the Sharks have not had a single pick from the 2009, 2010, or 2011 drafts play a single NHL game to date. The Sharks core led by Thornton, Marleau, and Boyle, is aging and Doug Wilson will need to make some very astute moves in the coming years or the team could be looking at a painful rebuild when those players move on. There quite simply is little in the system that will replace their elite talents.
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