Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 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 2013-14 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 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
It was the same old story for the San Jose Sharks this year. A good regular season, and just didn’t have enough when it came to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks playoff drive certainly started off well, as they swept the Vancouver Canucks in 4 games. In the second round they gave the LA Kings all they could handle in an all California battle that went seven games, but once again it was the Sharks coming up short.
The Sharks have given some big long term contracts now on their books with younger players such as Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Marc Edouard-Vlassic. With that in mind, and the fact that Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Dan Boyle are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2013-14 season, one must ask if this is the year there is a passing of the torch from the core of the Sharks that has been such a good regular season team for so long, into a new group that will try to finally get over that playoff hump.
Top Prospect, Tomas Hertl, Centre/Left Wing
Born Nov 12 1993 – Prague, Czech Republic
Height 6.02 — Weight 200 — Shoots Left
Drafted #17 Overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
After being drafted 17th overall by the Sharks in the 2012 draft, Hertl finished up another solid season playing against men in the Czech Extraliga with 30 points in 42 games for Slavia Praha. After the season ended he played a bottom line role in the IIHF Mens World Championships and was pretty impressive for a 19-year-old, despite not scoring any points. At this point, Hertl decided to sign his Entry Level Contract with the Sharks and will be coming to San Jose for training camp this fall.
The first thing that jumps out at you when you watch Tomas Hertl, is his very unorthodox skating style. The best way to describe it is “herky-jerky”. However despite the fact that its not a pretty, it is still reasonably effective. While Hertl is by no means a fast skater, he’s not a slow one either. He’s very much “average” in terms of speed when compared to his peers. This unorthodox stride gets him where he’s going, and his good hockey sense and instincts keep him heavily involved in the play. He also shows decent agility and balance on his skates which really helps him in the offensive zone.
Hertl is a big, strong, versatile forward. He is capable of playing both centre and wing. He has good passing skills and vision, and is more a playmaker than a scorer. He is at his best playing a puck control game. Hertl is great at working the boards and cycling the puck in the offensive zone. When the puck is on his stick, he shows good stickhandling and puck protection skills, as well as the ability to find and hit an open teammate with a tape to tape pass. Without the puck he is able to find open spaces and has good hockey sense and instincts. He’s not a huge hitter, but he uses his size and strength to win board battles. In terms of goal scoring, Hertl has soft hands in tight, but could use work on his shot and his release, which are below average when compared to other top prospects.
Hertl is an excellent two way player. He was also very effective on faceoffs in the World Junior Championships. A key penalty killer on the squad, he shows good positioning and instincts in the defensive zone. He is a conscientious back checker who uses his size, strength and active stick to keep defenders to the outside.
Hertl has the potential to be a top 6 centre in the NHL. He’ll be a bit of a project as his skating and his shot need a little bit of work, but his other skills are well developped. At just 19 he may need to start his pro career with the Sharks AHL affiliate as he is still raw, but he’s the clear top prospect in the San Jose system, and a huge part of the Sharks future.
Top Prospect #2; 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
After a difficult year for the Boston University hockey program in 2011-12 Matt Nieto decided to go back for another season to help the program past the off-ice difficulties of 2011-12 season, and try to restore the tarnished reputation of what had once been a great hockey program. On the ice it was a much better year for B.U., with the help of Nieto who finished second on the team in scoring. Off the ice the team took the first step in restoring its reputation by staying out of the negative headlines.
Nieto is a great skater who creates offence with his speed. He has excellent acceleration, the ability to change gears, crisp edgework and cuts, and great top end speed which he uses to make him extremely difficult to defend off the rush. Defenders must back off and respect Nieto’s speed, because if they don’t he will blow by them on the outside and cut hard to the net creating a great scoring chance. If the defenders do back off, Nieto is given the room to be creative. He uses this room to take advantage of 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 true sniper. Nieto is also willing to work on the boards and in front of the net, and really improved that aspect of his game this past season by adding additional upper body strength. He might need a little bit more bulking up to be effective in the pros though.
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 is great at helping his defensemen with strong backpressure when opponents are entering the zone. He 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.
After the season, Nieto signed an Entry level contract and found himself playing 11 games for the Worcester Sharks in the AHL. Its a place he will likely find himself again in 2012-13 as he may need a year of seasoning (with the occasional NHL callup for injuries), before he is ready to be a full-timer in the San Jose system.
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
After jumping to the AHL after signing with the Sharks as a highly coveted free agent defenceman out of Western Michigan University in 2012, Tennyson had a nice first season in Worcester putting up 27 points in 60 games and even earning a short stint in the NHL where he scored his first 2 NHL points. Tennyson played a big role as a rookie in Worcester as the AHL club used his two way play in nearly 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 still a bit of a project. He made some great strides in his first season in pro hockey but there is still room to improve. I expect to see him spend some more time in Worcester this fall, while being available as an injury callup for the Sharks.
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 Matt Tennyson and Travis Oleksuk certainly help to build depth, but it just isn’t enough. When we look at the San Jose system, we see a lack of blue chip elite talent. Hertl is a good prospect, but he’s not a surefire great one. There are some potential third liners in players like Freddie Hamilton and Chris Tierney and some undersized scorers like a Dan O’Regan, but overall these players wouldn’t always crack the top 10 prospects if they were with other teams. Its a serious lack of depth in San Jose that has been added to the lack of blue chip talent and the Sharks system has some big issues. Recent drafting has not been good as the Sharks have not had a single pick from the 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2012 drafts play a single NHL game as a San Jose Shark (the only player who has played in the NHL is Coyle). This makes the decisions surrounding Thornton, Marleau, and Boyle after this season all the more pressing for Sharks management. There are no prospects ready to step in and fill the gaps that they will leave. The Sharks had an excellent talent to add some real serious depth to their pool in the 2013 draft as they had a bevy of second round picks through some astute trade deadline maneuvers. However their moves on draft day left me scratching my head, and it looks like an opportunity wasted.
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