Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 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) and 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 2014 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 2014-15 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 (including playoffs) or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
It was yet another strong regular season for the San Jose Sharks, who accumulated 111 points, but yet another disappointing post-season. This one may be the most disappointing of all though, as the Sharks looked dominant in the first two games of their opening round series against the Los Angeles Kings, earning a pair of blowout victories. Then they took a commanding 3 games to none lead after winning game 3 in overtime in Los Angeles. Four straight victories though would give the Kings the series and they would eventually go on to the Stanley Cup.
This brought about some changes in San Jose, as long time defensive stalwart Dan Boyle is gone to the New York Rangers. Rumors have swirled around stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, but neither have been traded. Whether this is because the rumors were unfounded, the players refused to waive their no trade clauses, or because Doug Wilson didn’t get a fair offer is something that only Sharks management knows with 100% certainty, though much speculation has been made in the media. The Sharks have also announced that Brent Burns will be moving back to defence after a couple of successful seasons at forward. However, this isn’t the whole sale changes that some rumors seemed to imply would occur. Instead it looks like the Sharks will take at least one more try at the Cup with their current core intact.
Top San Jose Sharks Prospects
Top Prospect: Tomas Hertl, C/LW
Born Nov 12 1993 – Prague, Czech Republic
Height 6.02 — Weight 209 — Shoots Left
Drafted in the first round, 17th Overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Tomas Hertl had a tremendous rookie campaign, despite the fact that it was marred by an injury that cost him over half of it. He was looking like the early leader for the Calder Trophy when a knee injury put him out of action for several months (SIA Profile). Overall he had 15 goals and 25 points in the regular season, and 2 goals and 5 points in the playoffs. He is still a prospect by our criteria though (44 games played including playoffs and 20 years old) and so we have included him here.
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, though he played mostly wing in the NHL. He has good passing skills and vision, and can be both a playmaker and a goal 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, and has improved his shot since being drafted, as he has more power and a quicker release.
Given his age, Hertl has shown signs of being a strong two way player. As with almost any teenager, he did have some issues with the speed of the NHL game, but showed a willingness to work as well good hockey sense and positioning defensively. He has been effective at the junior level though, and so should continue to improve. He was very effective on faceoffs in the World Junior Championships. A key penalty killer on the Czech squad, he showed good positioning and instincts in the defensive zone. He proved to be a conscientious back checker who uses his size, strength and active stick to keep defenders to the outside at that level.
There is no doubt that Hertl will be back in the NHL with the San Jose Sharks come October. The only question is if he is back in a top 6 role as he was to start last season (and with Burns on defence one has opened up) or on the bottom lines as he was in the playoffs.
#2 Prospect Mirco Mueller, D,
Born Mar 21 1995 — Winterthur, Switzerland
Height 6.04 — Weight 201 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the Sharks in the 1st round, 18th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Now the true number one defenceman on the Everett Silvertips, Mirco Mueller had another solid WHL campaign, putting up 5 goals and 27 points in 60 games. He also played for the Swiss team at the World Juniors, and was named a top 3 player on the team. He finished the year getting his feet wet in the AHL with 9 games for the Worcester Sharks, and didn’t look out of place. He even picked up his first professional point, an assist.
Mueller is a smooth skating, mobile defenceman, whose game is based on this ability. His lateral agility is very good, especially given his size. His crossovers, pivots, and edgework are also very solid, giving him the ability to cover a lot of ice defensively, or to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes offensively. His first step quickness and acceleration are also very good but he could use some work on his top end speed, as it is merely average.
Mueller has shown good offensive ability this season. He keeps his head up and makes a good first pass most of the time. He also shows solid vision and playmaking skill from the point on the powerplay. Mueller has a hard shot which he keeps low and on net. He has good stickhandling ability and combined with his good skating he is able to both lead the rush and join it as a trailer.
At 6’04″ Mueller has great size. He went from 185 lbs in his draft year, to coming in at 201 lbs on his latest measurement and has started to add some meat to his frame. There is still even more room to add muscle though, espectially at his height, to deal with the rigors of the pro game. This is a common problem for many 18//19 year olds and shouldn’t be too much of a concern.
Defensively Mueller shows good positioning and high hockey IQ. He diagnoses the play well, maintains good gap control, and keeps his man to the outside. He is not afraid to block shots, and he cuts down passing lanes well. He gets involved in board battles and works hard to clear the crease. However he could stand to use his size more effectively and this can come with the added muscle mass I talked about above.
Expect Mueller to spend another year in the WHL, and he could be moved at the trade deadline if Everett isn’t looking like a contender.
#3 Prospect Chris Tierney, C
Born Jul 1 1994 — Keswick, ONT
Height 6.01 — Weight 187 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2nd round, 55th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
The Sharks went off the board when the took Chris Tierney in the second round of the 2012 draft, but it seemed to pay off this years. Tierney took over as the captain of the London Knights this past season and put up extremely good numbers centring the second line finishing with 40 goals and 89 points in 67 games. He also had 17 points in 9 playoff games, and an assist at the Memorial Cup. Unfortnately for Tierney and the Knights things did not go well for the host team at their third straight Mem Cup, as they were the first club eliminated.
Tierney is a strong skater, with good speed and acceleration, and very good agility and edgework. He’s also got very good strength and balance on his skates which greatly helps him in board battles while his skating helps him to get in quickly on the forecheck. Tierney’s game really improved this past season when he got a lot more power on his wrist shot. Adding a goal scoring dynamic to his game changed him as a player and helped to make him an offensive threat. He’s always been strong on the boards and willing to play in tough areas. He’s also always been a decent passer, but with the lack of a goal scoring presence teams keyed on that. Now that he could shoot he opened up a lot more options for his line out there this year.
Tierney is also a good defensive player, having a key role on the Knights penalty kill. He is also very good on faceoffs. Tierney is a willing shot blocker, and uses an active stick to cut down on passing lanes. He has good hockey sense and anticipates plays well, causing turnovers. Once he creates a turnover, he is quick to transition the puck up and can be dangerous off the rush with his speed.
Tierney is expected to start next year with the Worcester Sharks in the AHL.
Super Sleeper Konrad Albetshauser, D
Born Sep 2 1992 — Bad Tolz, Germany
Height 6.05 — Weight 225 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 6th round, 163rd overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
After winning the Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013, Abeltshauser went pro with the Worcester Sharks in the AHL last season. The giant blue liner had a good first pro season putting up 6 goals and 21 points in 57 games for Worcester.
The first thing you notice about Albetshauser is his excellent size at 6′ 5″ tall. Given that size he is a very good skater. Most players that tall can be awkward in their turns and pivots at his age, but that isn’t really the case with Albetshauser who shows excellent mobility given that height. Combine that with a long stick, and decent speed in both directions, and you have a player who can cover a lot of ice.
Albetshauser has a strong slapshot and is good on the powerplay. He also has good poise with the puck and can make some strong passes. He starts the rush with a good first pass, and is not afraid to be the fourth man and trailer. He makes smart pinches in the offensive zone to keep the play alive.
Defensively Albetshauser is a bit of a work in progress. His long stick and good mobility are excellent assets, as is his hockey IQ and positioning. However despite his size he doesn’t clear the crease effectively, or win enough battles on the boards. Bulking up more could help, but he also needs to make better use of his size and get better leverage in his battles going forward. If he can master this, he really can be an effective NHL defender.
Expect Albetshauser to spend another year in the AHL getting slightly more seasoning, but he could make an NHL impact in 2015-16.
With the number of years that San Jose has spent near the top of the NHL standings, it is no surprise that the Sharks prospect pool is not as deep as some other NHL teams, as they have made late draft picks, or traded picks to improve their team at the trade deadline in recent years. That said there are still some talented players in the pool in addition to the four listed above. Gabryel Boudreau had a strong campaign in the QMJHL this year, while Taylor Dougherty and Freddie Hamilton are knocking on the door of the NHL, with strong seasons with the Worcester Sharks in the AHL. Harri Sateri is another in a long line of Sharks goalie prospects who is pushing for NHL time as well. The 2014 draft brings a real boom or bust prospect in Nikolay Goldobin, one who I am a big fan of at the OHL level. Solid drafting without high picks has brought depth, but the question remains if there is a true superstar in the group. Of course those type of prospects are hard to get where the Sharks have been drafting.
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