Welcome to the 2015 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2015 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 2015 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 2015-16 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.
Things didn’t go as exactly as planned for the San Jose Sharks last season. Considered a perennial playoff team going into the year, they finished with just 89 points and found themselves on the outside looking in come April. That meant that head coach Todd McLellan is now in Edmonton, with Peter DeBoer taking over in San Jose. Goalie Antti Niemi is off to Dallas, with the starting job being handed to former Los Angeles backup Martin Jones who arrives via Boston. Paul Martin was brought in from Pittsburgh to add some more stability to the defence, while Joel Ward arrives from Washington to provide some extra depth up front. It seems the Sharks are going to take at least one more shot with long-time core pieces like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau before the rebuild really begins in earnest.
Players Drafted: Timo Meier, Jeremy Roy, Mike Robinson, Adam Helewka, Karlis Cukste, Rudolfs Balcers, Adam Parsells, Marcus Vela, John Kupsky.
Graduates: Tomas Hertl, Barclay Goodrow, Melker Karlsson, Matt Tennyson (age)
San Jose Sharks Prospects
Top Prospect: Mirco Mueller
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.
Mirco Mueller made the Sharks out of training camp last year, despite being just 19 years old. This was a bit surprising, but the talented youngster did not look out of place in his 39 NHL games, even scoring his first NHL goal. Sure there were some growing pains along the way, and that is only natural with any young defender, but overall his play was worthy of a spot on the Sharks blueline for a good portion of the year.
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. He did this a lot in junior, but seemed to play a simpler game with the Sharks last year. As he grows in confidence, expect the offensive parts of his game to improve, as he will feel more comfortable jumping into the play.
At 6’03″ Mueller has great size. He went from 185 lbs in his draft year, to coming in at 201 lbs last year, to 205 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, especially at his height. This is a common problem for many teenagers though, and hes slowly adding muscle which will help going forward.
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. The game sometimes seemed a little quick for him last year, but that was to be expected as he adjusted to the NHL.
Mueller will again head to training camp looking for a spot on the Sharks blueline. There is a good chance he will make the team, and be a stallwart on the backend for years to come.
Nikolay Goldobin, Right Wing
Born Oct 7 1995 — Mockobckar, Russia
Height 6.0 — Weight 185 [186 cm/84 kg] – Shoots Left
Drafted by the Sharks in the 1st round, 27th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Goldobin, drafted out of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, opted to spend last season playing pro hockey in Finland’s SM-Liiga for HIFK. The 19-year-old played against men, and put up a very respectable 21 points in 38 games. He added a further six points in eight playoff games. Once the year was done, he joined the Sharks AHL affiliate in Worcester, scoring a further three goals and five points in nine games. He also helped Russia to a silver at the World Junior Championships.
Nikolay Goldobin has outstanding offensive skill. There is no doubt about that, the guy knows how to put up points, and has all the tools to do so. He is blessed with the ability to stickhandle in a phone booth. His wide array of moves can leave defenders spinning. He also has a killer wrist shot, and an outstanding release. Goldobin also has a very effective one-timer. Add to all of this great hockey sense and the ability to find holes in the defense. Top it all of with some incredible vision and passing skils, and there is no doubt about Goldobin’s abilities in the offensive end of the ice. When he is on his game, he is quite simply a dynamic offensive catalyst. Goldobin can play a high speed game off the rush, or he can show poise with the puck and be patient and wait for an opening in the offensive zone. He doesn’t seem to get flustered often with the puck on his stick, and if he has the time and space out there, chances are that he will take advantage of it.
Goldobin is a very good skater. His top end speed and his acceleration are both well above average. He also has outstanding agility and edge work which makes him extremely elusive both off the rush and in the cycle game. His balance could be improved, as he will need to add strength. He can sometimes be knocked off the puck by bigger and stronger defenders, and this also hurts him in his ability to win board battles.
Goldobin will also need to improve his defensive game. He sometimes can get puck watching out there, and he likes to cheat to create offensive chances. He needs a lot of coaching in this aspect, and it is something that is very much a work in progress at this point in his career. He also needs to bring the same intensity at the defensive end of the ice that he brings at the offensive end. This improved during his time in Finland, but is still not completely there.
Expect Goldobin to make a push for a spot in camp, but the Sharks feature such a deep forward group, and he has some areas of his game that can be a lot more well-rounded so I expect him to start in the AHL. It would not be a surprise if he finishes the year in San Jose though.
Rourke Chartier, Centre/Left Wing
Born Apr 3 1996 — Saskatoon, SASK
Height 5.11 — Weight 190 [180 cm/86 kg] – Shoots Left
Drafted by the Sharks in the 5th round, 149th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Rourke Chartier had a monster season with Kelowna, scoring 48 goals in 58 games in the regular season (good enough for third in the league) and added another 13 goals in 16 playoff games. He helped the Rockets to the WHL Championship and added two more goals at the Memorial Cup where they fell in the final game, in overtime, to the Oshawa Generals. Overall he really put himself on the map as an offensive force this season.
Chartier is a very quick skater who never seems to stop moving his feet. He has very good top end speed and excellent acceleration. He is always first in on the forecheck and creating turnovers in the offensive zone. A quick first step helps him to win races to loose pucks all over the ice. Chartier also has good agility and edgework. He might be a little undersized, but he is very strong on his skates and has excellent balance.
Chartier is a pure goal scorer. When his teammates get the puck he seems to find the soft spots in the defence and is always open to bury a feed in the back of the net with a strong, hard shot and good release. He has the soft hands to finish in tight and the coordination and quickness to get tip-ins and pounce on rebounds. Through sheer hard work down low he is also able to create chances for teammates and picks up assists that way.
Uses that effort level on the backcheck as well. He is willing to do whatever it takes to win, blocking shots, cutting down passing lanes, and taking a hit to make sure the puck gets out at the defensive blue line.
Questions about size and consistency plagued Chartier in his draft year and he fell to the fifth round as a result. However, he answered those questions and then some last season and is looking like a gem of a draft pick. He will likely be back in Kelowna to start the year, and has a real chance to make Canada’s World Junior team.
Danny O’Regan, Centre/Right Wing
Born Jan 30 1994 — Needham, MA
Height 5.10 — Weight 175 — Shoots Right
Drafted by San Jose Sharks in the 5th round, 138th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
O’Regan had 50 points in 41 games, giving the Boston University Terriers a real secondary scoring threat behind the Jack Eichel line. The Terriers went all the way to the National Championship game, before falling to Providence.
Another pint-sized scorer, this 5’10″ centre has very good speed and skating ability, and the ability to make plays with the puck while skating at top speed. He’s got outstanding edge work and agility, which combines with his great stick handling to make him extremely dangerous off the rush.
O’Regan has great vision, and has excellent passing ability. He is able to thread passes tape-to-tape through the smallest of openings. He can score goals, as O’Regan has good hands, and a good release on his shot, but will need to improve its power to become a big-time goal scoring threat. He also must improve his strength in order to be a better player on the boards and in front of the net, as well as in the defensive end of the ice.
O’Regan will be back at Boston University this fall. There is talent here but some weaknesses that must be overcome going forward. O’Regan has made good progress since being a low risk, high reward pick in 2012; and he could be looking at making the NHL down the road.
Rebuilding the Sharks prospect pool has been a process, but it is one that is starting to show some dividends. Timo Meier and Jeremy Roy were huge additions to the pool this year. Chris Tierney also qualifies as a prospect under our 50 game criteria and has played some quality minutes at the NHL level already. Noah Rod has also looked good. While the system is starting to rebound, and some players like Barclay Goodrow, Tomas Hertl, and Melker Karlsson have all made the jump in recent years, Doug Wilson and company must continue to show vigilance in continuing to add to the pool now, in order to minimize the length of the Sharks rebuild when player like Thornton, Marleau and others begin to walk away.