Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Hockey Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
TSP: San Jose Sharks Prospects
The Sharks may not have won the Stanley Cup, but an impressive run through the Western Conference playoffs has helped them to shed the label of chokers. The Sharks defeated the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Cup final.
This off-season the Sharks have seen trade deadline pickups Nick Spalling, James Reimer, and Roman Polak leave as free agents. Danius Zubrus will also not be back. Free agent additions include forward Mikkel Boedker, as well as defenceman David Schlemko. The Sharks roster is aging. Improvements need to come through an influx of young talent in the prospect pool.
San Jose Sharks Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Timo Meier
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born Oct 8 1996 — Herisau, Switzerland
Height 6’1″ — Weight 209 lbs [185 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in round 1, #9 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Meier was a trade deadline acquisition by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, strengthening the QMJHL‘s top team, and helping them finish first overall in the playoffs and win the QMJHL Title. At the Memorial Cup, he helped the Huskies get to the finals, where they were one goal away from the Championship. He also had a strong showing at the World Juniors, with five points in six games.
Timo Meier continues to work on improving his skating stride and generating more speed. He’s still not a speedster, but while he entered the QMJHL as a poor skater, he’s now well above average in this regard. His acceleration and first step quickness are also decent and getting better. There is still room to improve in these areas, but with the great steps that Meier has already taken, it looks likely that the improvements in his stride will continue. Meier’s agility is decent. He has very good balance on his skates, and excellent power. This allows him to protect the puck down low, and work the cycle game extremely effectively.
Timo Meier has great hockey sense and gets to the open areas of the ice. He sets up to finish chances with an excellent shot and release. He has a very good arsenal of shots. Meier has an excellent snap shot, strong wrist shot, and very good one-timer. He can be very effective off the half-boards on the power play.
Meier is also a very physical player, establishing his position in the slot and winning board battles to create offence. He has the good hand-eye co-ordination to tip in pucks and pounce on rebounds. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and can punish opposing defencemen with hits behind the net. Meier also has good vision and passing skills, and the smarts to make a good pass when he is working the cycle. He has some finesse in his game with good stickhandling skills, and the ability to finish plays in tight.
Meier is already an effective two-way player. He killed penalties for the Mooseheads and the Huskies, anticipating plays well and using his long stick to break up passes, and start the transition. He is a willing back checker who provides excellent back pressure in support of his defencemen. Meier is not afraid to get physical in his own end, containing his man down low, and working to win battles on the boards. He is also more than willing to block shots, if necessary.
As a late birthday, Meier has fulfilled his junior requirements and can join the San Jose Barracuda in the AHL this year. He still has some learning and development to do before heading to the NHL.
#2 Prospect: Nikolay Goldobin
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Oct 7 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 5’11” — Weight 180 lbs [180 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in round 1, #27 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Goldobin spent his first full year playing pro hockey in North America. He scored 21 goals and 44 points in 60 games with the Barracuda. He also had nine games up with the Sharks, scoring a goal and and assist.
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 has outstanding offensive skill; there is no doubt about that. He knows how to put up points, and has all the tools to do so. He can 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 needs to add strength. He can be knocked off the puck by bigger and stronger players. This also hurts him in his ability to win board battles and protect against the cycle. He also needs to be more consistent in his effort levels in his own end. There are times he works really hard, and there are others when he cheats, looking to create offense. That won’t work at the NHL level.
Goldobin has the offensive skills to crack the Sharks lineup, but needs to continue working on his all around game. He could start the year in the AHL and find himself being a mid-season callup due to injuries. He should be a full-time NHLer by 2017.
#3 Prospect: Mirco Mueller
Defense — shoots Left
Born Mar 21 1995 — Winterthur, Switzerlan
Height 6’3″ — Weight 205 lbs [191 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in round 1, #18 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Mueller’s second season of pro hockey didn’t go quite as well as his first. He got in 11 games with the Sharks, but failed to put up any points. He spent 50 games with the San Jose Barracuda, putting up a goal and 10 assists.
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. Mueller’s first step quickness and acceleration are also very good. He has really worked on developing a stronger and more powerful stride, and has approved his top end speed since being drafted.
Mueller has shown good offensive skills, but doesn’t seem to put up a lot of points. 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 power play. 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 6’3″ Mueller has great size. He went from 185 lbs in his draft year, to coming in at 201 lbs last year, to 209 lbs on his latest measurement. He has really 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.
There is plenty of competition in San Jose, and Mueller will need an excellent camp to crack the Sharks roster. He is very close to NHL ready though, and this could be the year he makes the jump full time..
#4 Prospect: Jeremy Roy
Defense — shoots Right
Born May 14 1997 — Richelieu, PQ
Height 6’0″ — Weight 188 lbs [183 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in round 2, #31 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Roy’s season with the Sherbrooke Phoenix was somewhat disappointing. The team was expected to take the leap, and become a contender in the QMJHL. That didn’t happen. Roy also struggled at times, and his point total dropped by nine from his draft year. Injury issues also limited his playing time. In the off-season, the rebuilding Sherbrooke team traded him to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
Roy is a good, but not great skater. He has a bit of a choppy stride and is slow in his first few steps and in his acceleration, but when going full out his decent speed moving both forwards and backwards. Roy has the strong edge work, pivots and agility though to cover all areas in the defensive zone, and walk the line to create chances in the offensive zone. He takes good angles and maintains good gap control, and is very difficult to get around on the rush. Roy also has the balance necessary to battle along the boards and in front of the net, though he could add a little bit more lower body strength as he matures. He already has some decent strength on his skates and is tough to knock off the puck, but will need more for the pro game.
Roy is an extremely smart player, who almost always makes the right pass out of his own end, or on the point at the power play. Roy is developing a hard one-timer, and understands that by keeping it low and on net, he creates second chance opportunities for the Sherbrooke forwards. He is poised with the puck on his stick whether it be at the point, in his own end skating it out of danger, or leading the rush. He uses his good stickhandling ability to generate offense off the rush, and is a threat to go end to end any time he touches the puck. Roy also has a very accurate wrist shot, which he can utilize off the rush, or from the point when he doesn’t have time to let go of the big wind-up. He has a good release that can fool goaltenders.
Defensively, Roy’s hockey sense and positioning are extremely good, and he battles hard in the corners and in his own end. He played all situations and against top competition for the Phoenix over the past two years. As mentionned, he is willing to battle in the corners or in front of the net. The best part of Roy’s defensive game is how quickly he can take the puck and transition to offence though. This will aid his team in puck possession and ensure they don’t spend much time in their own end of the rink when he is on the ice. While he doesn’t get himself out of position to throw big hits, he can be physical, and has even fought on a few occassions.
Expect Roy to spend another year in the QMJHL. He has the potential to be a high-end offensive defenceman, but there are areas he must continue to develop.
#5 Prospect: Kevin Labanc
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born Dec 12 1995 — Staten Island, NY
Height 5’11” — Weight 179 lbs [180 cm/81 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in round 6, #171 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
As an overager, Kevin Labanc lit up the OHL. He scored 127 points in just 65 games to take home the OHL scoring title. He also won the OHL Overage Player of the Year (Leo Lalonde Trophy) and was a second team all-star
Skating used to be a real liability for Labanc. However, he has really worked to improve that aspect of his game. He has a quicker first step, better acceleration, and good top end speed now. While no one will confuse him for a speedster, his skating ability is adequate for the next level. He has decent agility and strength as well.
Lebanc is an outstanding stickhandler. He can control the puck, extend plays and wait for teammates to get open. His stickhandling ability creates openings in the defence and opens up passing lanes. He has very high hockey IQ and excellent vision, allowing him to make the smart play, and hit a teammate with a tape-to-tape pass. Leblanc has a good shot and a quick release. He also has the soft hands to score in tight to the goal.
Labanc is very good defensively. He uses his high end hockey IQ to play a solid positional game, anticipate plays and create turnovers. He even scored eight shorthanded goals this year. He could still stand to bulk up as he will face stronger opponents at the next level.
Labanc will need at least a year in the AHL, maybe two. He needs to continue to work on his skating, and work on rounding out his game for the pros. He could get call-ups for injuries.
Sleeper Danny O’Regan
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born Jan 30 1994 — Needham, MA
Height 5’10” — Weight 175 lbs [178 cm / 79 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in round 5, #138 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
O’Regan finished a strong four year career with Boston University and signed his entry level contract with the Sharks. He scored 44 points in 39 games in his senior season.
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. O’Regan also must improve his strength in order to be a better player on the boards and in front of the net.
O’Regan is a willing and able backchecker. He plays a responsible game and supports the defence down low. More strength would be a real help in his game. He is sometimes overpowered when trying to contain against a big forward in the cycle game.
O’Regan begins his pro career with the San Jose Barracudas this fall. He needs some time to develop and make the jump to the pro level.
The depth on defence is a strength for the Sharks with Mueller, Roy, Dylan DeMelo, and Michael Brodzinski. The group is varied, has a wide variety of styles, and each player has legitimate NHL potential. Up front Noah Rod, Rourke Chartier, Dylan Gambrell, Noah Gregor, Marcus Sorenson, and Maxim Letunov provide depth. The Sharks need one of their goalie prospects to step up and set himself apart from the pack, or will need to find a prospect to do so to round out the pool. That said it isn’t a major concern as starting goalie Martin Jones is relatively young.