Beneath the veil of the San Jose Sharks’ poor performance lurks a crop of highly talented prospects chomping at the bit for a shot at NHL ice time. This season promised to put San Jose’s prospect pool to the test with many of them beginning their first full season of professional hockey in North America. A few of them have exceeded expectations in what’s shaping up to be a promising future for Sharks hockey. So much so that the organization is running out of excuses to bring many of these kids up as they continue to post call-up-worthy numbers in the American Hockey League (AHL).
It’s not just the numbers they’re posting, it’s their style of play that is an encouraging sign that each of these kids is nearing NHL readiness. Bearing that in mind, here are my adjusted Sharks’ prospect rankings based on their 20-plus game sample size with the San Jose Barracuda.
1. Thomas Bordeleau
Thomas Bordeleau‘s stock has been rising since his clutch performances in the NCAA’s Frozen Four. He immediately followed that up with five assists in eight NHL games in 2021-22, making the Sharks’ third line the most formidable of the past three playoff-less seasons. The trio of Bordeleau, Noah Gregor, and Rudolfs Balcers combined for 15 points across those eight contests, with Bordeleau noticeably shouldering the load.
Though he started this season in the AHL, the Michigan Wolverine alum has picked up where he left off in his development. In his first full season with the Barracuda, he’s tallied a team-leading 11 goals and six assists for 17 points across 24 games. His 11 tallies are also tied for ninth in the AHL. Moreover, Bordeleau appears to be progressing with each contest, catching fire of late with three goals and three assists in his last five games.
While displaying an unteachable vision, he also possesses the skating ability to pivot on a dime to exploit unique passing lanes. This has transformed him into a powerplay specialist for the Barracuda, something the NHL club desperately needs to improve their 20th-ranked powerplay. At this pace, it may not be long before their top prospect gets top-six minutes with a midseason callup.
2. William Eklund
William Eklund was believed to have taken a step back after scoring just one goal across 29 games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) last season. That’s the primary reason it was a toss-up between Eklund and No. 3 on my list. Mind you that was as a member of Djurgardens, one of the worst teams in the league. Regardless, his performance initiated a growing concern among fans that he may not be all he’s cracked up to be.
Latest News & Highlights
This season, he’s put all those concerns to rest, carrying the first line with eight goals, eight assists, and 16 points in 23 contests. The most encouraging sign is the added use of his terrific shot, which is one of the primary things the Sharks wanted to see more of before recalling him. That precision rocket has been on full display at the new Tech CU Arena and it’s a sight to behold.
Moreover, his already lethal playmaking ability is getting even scarier, almost Joe Thornton-esque at the AHL level. Feast your eyes on the work of Ryan Merkley, Bordeleau, and Eklund to exemplify what exactly I’m talking about:
You could argue Bordeleau’s quickness makes this play happen by beating his man to the puck off the draw to feed Merkley at the blue line. Yet, it was Eklund executing an intentionally deceptive no-look cross-ice pass to tee up Bordeleau’s wicked one-timer. Very few players can look off the defenders and execute a blind pinpoint cross-ice dish outside their peripheral. This is just an unstoppable pass that would be a high-danger scoring chance at any level.
Related: San Jose Sharks’ Future Is at a Crossroads
It appears Sharks’ fans can breathe a sigh of relief at the numbers their former seventh-overall pick is putting up after a disappointing performance abroad. He looks to be back to his initial projection of being a force to be reckoned with at the NHL level one day.
3. Tristen Robins
Tristen Robins’ seamless transition from the major junior league to the AHL is what puts him over the top as the Sharks’ No. 3 prospect. At the ripe age of 20, he has logged 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 21 games. It’s not easy to make the transition from the Western Hockey League (WHL) to the AHL, especially when you factor in his 5-foot-10 frame. However, like the others on this list, the first-year Barracuda center has done so with relative ease thus far.
The secret to Robin’s success is his maturity beyond his years. His movement off the puck and intuitive ability to feed off his linemates on the rush and cycle is what makes him so special. All this despite his smaller frame. At this trajectory, the Sharks could have a very good problem having to make room for Robins on the NHL roster in the near future.
4. Ryan Merkley
When the Sharks drafted Ryan Merkley in 2018, he was by far the top prospect in the system. With that in mind, his placement on this list isn’t a reflection of his lack of progress as much as it reflects San Jose’s expanded talent pool since then. In correlation, his demotion to the Barracuda this season could be the greatest thing that ever happened for his growth. The Sharks’ top defensive prospect has 14 points, all assists, in 22 games. The most note-worthy statistic, considering his prior defensive liabilities, is his plus-4 rating.
Merkley’s offensive and natural abilities have never been in question. Growth in the defensive aspects of the game, however, was a concern from day one. Thankfully, he’s come a long way. If he starts shooting the puck more in the AHL, it could lead to an opportunity with the big club later in the year.
Reinforcements Are on the Way for the Sharks
The top-line capabilities displayed by the aforementioned ‘baby’ Sharks speak volumes that reinforcements are on the way. The high-end picks circling in the Sharks’ farm system are creating a very good problem for their short- and long-term outlook. This list of prospects nearing NHL readiness could even be extended by the likes of Danil Gushchin, Brandon Coe, and beyond.
Ironically, the more these prospects produce, the more murky the Sharks’ path to contention and the length thereof seems to become. A young AHL club brimming with at least three or more potential top-six threats only makes general manager Mike Grier’s decisions that much more difficult moving forward. There’s no doubt a shakeup of sorts is in order. But as with an earthquake, there’s no telling of the magnitude, damage, or aftermath until the front office reveals its cards. If Grier plays his cards right, he could have a very formidable NHL club in the near future with several top prospects chomping at the bit for NHL minutes. At this point, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Whenever that is, it’s sure to be a fun new generation of Sharks hockey.