The San Jose Sharks prospect depth chart does not stack up against some of the recent rebuild efforts elsewhere in the NHL's Western Conference. A 14-win Stanley Cup Playoff run, a brilliant trade for a young starting netminder and a franchise that has missed the playoffs once in the past dozen years will do that. Despite the success, every draft year cohort features prospects cut from similar cloth.
What General Manager Doug Wilson has been able to do is keep a steady contingent of smart, versatile hockey players in the Sharks pipeline. European signings Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson have augmented players like Chris Tierney and Matt Nieto that have made the jump to the NHL.
The Sharks have a knack for stealing late-round talent, as well. San Jose has only one true "blue chip" prospect in the system. Timo Meier, selected ninth overall in 2015 after a disastrous Sharks regular season that saw coach Todd McLellen dismissed and Joe Thornton stripped of his captaincy. Meier was the silver lining after that miserable season, and he headlines San Jose's prospect pool.
Top 10 Fantasy Hockey Prospects (updated August, 2016)
Timo Meier – Big, strong, skilled, and most of all ready. The crown jewel in the Sharks prospect pool, will duke it out with Sorensen for a roster spot this fall. More offensive potential than Sorensen.
Marcus Sorensen – Small, speedy winger address team need. Skills evident in SHL, could be the latest in Scandinavian finds for San Jose.
Nikolay Goldobin – Immense skill with the puck, lost at times without it. A professional game away from the play needs to materialize.
Kevin Labanc – Led OHL in scoring, likely a top role with the Barracuda next year.
Jeremy Roy – Smooth skating rearguard a candidate for Team Canada. Pivotal year if he can stay healthy for once.
Rourke Chartier – Not big at 5’11 but no holes in his game either. Took at step back after 48 goal 2014-15 campaign, interested to see what he can do at AHL level.
Dylan Demelo – Solid bottom-pairing time in his 45 games in San Jose last year. David Schlemko signing hurt his ice time chances.
Maxim Letunov – Tantalizing blend of hands, skills, and height. Needs serious gym time to put on 20+ pounds of lean mass to survive pro game.
Adam Helewka – Big winger oozes leadership, could develop into complimentary power winger.
Micro Mueller – Excellent skater, rest of his game has not translated yet.
Depth Chart – Top Prospects
In what has become an annual tradition of the Sharks, Sorensen is the latest Scandinavian player to head to San Jose. Originally a draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, Sorensen, 24, was one of the older players at the Sharks development camp held in mid-July. He was impressive in all facets of his game, except size. He is listed at 5'11 and 168 pounds but looked thicker than that weight.
His quickness and speed, both with and without the puck, is an essential need for the Sharks. During the Stanley Cup Final, the Pittsburgh Penguins speed overmatched the Sharks puck skills. It was an area of need Wilson identified (and likely was a key component behind the signing of Mikkel Boedker). Sorensen fits that bill, and his professional play in the Swedish Hockey League, recording 15 goals and 17 assists in 47 contests, points to a player ready for a chance. His experience and one-year deal put him as a favorite to land on the opening night roster.
Meier was incredibly close to landing on the Sharks opening night roster last year. He was one of the final cuts of the main camp and went back to the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL for more seasoning. However, it might not have been needed.
Sent back to Major Juniors, Meier was dominant in the Quebec league, posting 36 points in 23 games with the Mooseheads before being part of their midseason firesale. Meier was sent to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and proceeded to put up 51 more points in 29 games. In the postseason, the Huskies won the QMJHL championship and qualified for the Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Alberta. Meier put up another 23 points in those 18 playoff games.
Once at the Memorial Cup, Meier continued his season of dominance with five goals and three helpers in five games, losing in the championship game to the juggernaut London Knights. All told, it was another 31 points in 23 hard-fought postseason games for the Sharks top prospect.
There is little to nothing left for Meier at the junior level. Luckily he is old enough to play in the AHL next year due to his October birthday. If it were not for the signing of Sorensen, he would be a lock for the Sharks roster. No other player comes close to his pro-ready frame, tantalizing skill set, and versatility, as he played all three forward positions last year.
Taken with the 171st-overall pick in 2014, Labanc appears ready to join the growing list of late-round gems the Sharks have mined from the NHL Entry Draft.
In his three years with the OHL's Barrie Colts, Labanc has seen his point totals go from 35 points during the 2013-14 campaign to 39 goals and 88 assists last year. His 127 points were good for the OHL's scoring lead ahead of a laundry list of other top prospects.
Labanc will head to the AHL's San Jose Barracuda this fall. He has been able to adjust and elevate his game at every step. There is every reason to believe that Labanc and fellow youngsters Adam Helewka, Rourke Chartier and Nikolay Goldobin will make the Sharks farm team must-watch hockey next year.
He is both the top left-handed defenseman prospect and a faller. Mueller's play took a step back last year after stabilizing in the last third of the AHL season. After the Sharks drafted the young Swiss rearguard in 2014, they played Mueller in 41 games the following season, but he was not yet ready for the NHL.
In the early stages of last season, Mueller’s game lacked confidence in multiple viewings. His play was predictable to a fault with at least one head scratcher with the puck in each match. What Mueller does have is perhaps the best skating stride and footwork in the Sharks prospect pool and ideal pro-ready size.
The Sharks still have high hopes for the 6'3, 205-pound lefty, but he'll need to come into the AHL ready to dominate as he did with the Everett Silvertips under former Sharks head coach Kevin Constantine. A defenseman generally develops more slowly, but a big step forward is needed by Muller to solidify his spot in the rankings.
Much like Mueller, Goldobin's play at the AHL level waxed and waned. Showing both excellent skills while going silent for long stretches, the skilled Russian logged 21 goals and 23 assists in 60 games with the Barracuda. Despite the good numbers, there were long stretches where Goldobin simply wasn't playing good hockey. When he was on his game, he was excellent and treated fans to the offensive upside that made him a first-round selection.
The defensive toolbox has to improve in addition to his overall play away from the puck. With the signing of Sorensen and Meier headed to either the AHL or NHL next year, Goldobin has slid down the rankings until he can hone his professional game.
The Sharks signed Grosenick to a two-year deal last summer with the first season being a two-way contract and the second year being a one-way deal. Grosenick's play, however, was not up to par. He was part of the platoon with the Worlds Okayest Goalie, Aaron Dell. With the Barracuda charging hard for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs, Grosenick only played three of the last 18 games and statistically finished the year far behind Dell.
The Sharks also recently re-signed Aaron Dell to a two-year pact and brought over SHL goalie Mantas Armalis, as well. The three of them are likely to battle it out for the right to start maybe a dozen games behind Martin Jones, but Grosenick, barring a phenomenal showing at camp and in the preseason, is likely slated for the AHL, despite his contract status.
Bounce-back years are the norm for goalies, and Grosenick will need a big one to earn another contract, either from the Sharks or another organization.
Acquired from the Coyotes and originally drafted by the Blues, Letunov is already well traveled despite never signing an NHL contract. The University of Connecticut Huskies centerman lead them in points last year with 16 goals and 24 assists in 36 games ahead of (ironically) the St. Louis Blues 2016 first-round pick, Tage Thompson.
Letunov has excellent hands and at development camp his abilities with the puck were impressive. He also has a good shot and excellent vision on the ice. He is tall at 6'4 but exceedingly thin at only 170 pounds, which might have been slightly generous. A big appetite and more gym time, both of which are possible at the NCAA level, are needed.
The hope for the future on the Sharks blueline, San Jose traded three draft picks to move up to get Roy with the 31st selection in the 2015 draft. Roy has battled injury issues and was not able to skate last year in the summer. This offseason saw him attend the Sharks development camp (but he missed the first day on ice due to undisclosed reasons) and also play with Team Canada at the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Plymouth, MI.
Roy is not the biggest player at 6' and around 190 pounds, but he's an excellent skater with a first pass and vision to match. No other Sharks defensive prospect quite has his ability with the puck, and his skating is only a shade behind Mirco Mueller's smooth strides. Roy was traded this summer from the Sherbrooke Phoenix to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and will spend another year in the QMJHL. He has a decent shot at Team Canada's World Juniors roster as well, so he could be poised for a big year. Check out an interview with Roy while he was at NJEC here.
News and Notes
The San Jose Sharks will participate in the Rookie Showcase September 17-19 along with youngsters from the Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks. Each squad will play a pair of games in a round-robin format. More information is here.
The San Jose Sharks allowed writers fantastic access to prospects during their development camp. Below is a link of more interviews with a few of the players at camp: