Sharks Drafting Future in the Capable Hands of Doug Wilson, Jr.

Well, to put it bluntly, the San Jose Sharks are out of the playoffs. Sitting seventh in the underwhelming Honda Western Division, the team is well out of a playoff spot, and management will be looking toward the future of their roster. Recently, our Sharks team has covered the possibility of a San Jose rebuild and provided insight into the trade deadline.

Another important topic to cover while looking toward their future is the Sharks’ recent drafting history. In 2016-17 Doug Wilson assigned his son, Doug Wilson Jr., as the Director of Hockey Operations. Wilson Jr. eventually took on the title of Director of Scouting in 2018-19.

He and current assistant general manager Tim Burke, a long-time scout, are the main influences on the Sharks’ NHL Draft selections. Since the 2017 Draft, this tandem has begun shaping the future of the Sharks. However, the high pick the franchise will surely have is unknown to this current Sharks drafting team.

2015 was the last time the Sharks drafted inside the top-10, selecting Timo Meier ninth overall. The Sharks have not selected within the top three since they traded down a slot in 1998 to take Brad Stuart third overall. They have never selected first overall.

Timo Meier San Jose Sharks
Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The high draft selection will surely help the franchise, so it is important to look over the current draft team’s recent selections to see how their selections have performed, while the Sharks’ future lies in their hands.

2017 NHL Draft: Best Draft

If I had to select a highlight from the Wilson Jr. era of drafting, the 2017 NHL Draft takes the cake. While their first-round selection is no longer with the organization, he is quite a highly-skilled talent. A large majority of the Sharks’ current top prospects came from this draft, as well as Mario Ferraro, the Sharks’ best defensive defenseman.

Josh Norris, selected at 19th-overall and the highest selection by Doug Wilson Jr., has really excelled in his first full NHL season in 2020-21. With five goals and 15 points in 27 games as a 21-year-old on a young and unproven Ottawa Senators roster. Traded in the Erik Karlsson acquisition, Norris has blossomed into a quality center for the Senators.

With the 49th overall selection, the Sharks selected Ferraro. After two seasons with the University of Massachusetts- Amherst, he surprised many and jumped to the NHL, mainly in a third-pairing role. This season, the 22-year-old has been a consistent top-pairing defenseman, playing over 22 minutes a game. His defensive commitment outshines his small point total, and he has taken many strides while partnering with Brent Burns.

Mario Ferraro San Jose Sharks
Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Scott Reedy was selected 102nd-overall. At first, the center who committed to the University of Minnesota looked to struggle early in college, producing less than half a point-per-game. However, in his 2020-21 senior season, he had an extremely hot start and still boasts 24 points in 23 games on a highly ranked Minnesota club (from ‘Gophers hockey beats Michigan 4-2 but Big Ten title slips away’ – Star Tribune – 3/6/21). Reedy could join the Barracuda after this college season but still needs to be given an entry-level contract.

Jake McGrew was selected with the first sixth-round selection in 2017. He was unable to participate in his final WHL season for the Spokane Chiefs in 2019-20 due to injury. This season, he has put up pretty average numbers between the AHL and ECHL, nothing to write home about.

The final two selections in 2017 for the Sharks were Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich, two of the team’s more highly touted prospects. Chmelevski saw two NHL games this season, recording an assist, before returning to minor leagues, where he produced well in a somewhat injury-riddled 2019-20 campaign. Chekhovich was underwhelming with the San Jose Barracuda last season but joined Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo of the KHL this season and exploded for 17 goals and 34 points in 43 games.

This draft class produced the team’s best defensive player currently, as well as Chmelevski and Chekhovich, who will both surely see more time on the Shark’s roster later in this season. Reedy and McGrew could be AHL-bound talents but could rise up the ranks this season to possibly make NHL impacts later in their careers.

2018 NHL Draft: Merkley and Leonard

In the 2018 NHL Draft, the Sharks had less draft capitol than 2017 but were still able to select some quality talent, including John Leonard, who has already made some NHL impact.

Ryan Merkley, a polarizing prospect in his draft year, was taken 21st overall by the Sharks. The team took the offensively gifted defenseman earlier than many anticipated, and it paid off with the top prospect notching over an assist per-game and 15 goals in 60 games last season. He has four assists in nine games in his first professional season with the Barracuda.

Ryan Merkley San Jose Sharks
Ryan Merkley, San Jose Sharks, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas Texas, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Linus Karlsson was selected in the third round, 87th overall. He wound up being flipped for a different prospect, Jonathon Dahlen and is no longer with the organization. Karlsson has produced just under a point-per-game in the second division of Swedish hockey, a pretty good total for a 21-year-old.

The Sharks then took a player a year removed from his draft season, Jasper Weatherby, 102nd overall. Now 23, the forward has had a quality junior year for the University of North Dakota, producing 11 goals and 19 points in 24 games. This improvement is great, but still not the level expected for him to make much of an NHL impact.

The only goalie drafted by Wilson Jr. was taken 176th overall, Zachary Emond. The netminder from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL. In his draft year, he put up a .897 save percentage and has improved that to a .908 in his most recent complete season. Currently, off to a rocky start in the QMJHL, it will be a while until the Sharks know what they have in this goaltender.

With the organization’s last pick in the draft, Wilson Jr. selected the only 2018 Sharks draftee with NHL experience: John Leonard. Leonard was also selected in his second season of eligibility after a solid freshman campaign for the University of Massachusetts- Amherst. After leading college hockey in goal scoring in 2019-20, he has joined the Sharks this season and has tallied three goals and six points in 17 games.

John Leonard San Jose Sharks
John Leonard, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

This draft class is mainly headlined by Merkley and Leonard for San Jose. The other prospects are unlikely to make a large if any impact for San Jose. Not the best class, but selecting likely two NHLers out of five picks is quite solid.

2019 NHL Draft: Little Capitol and Lacking Upside

If 2017 was Wilson Jr.’s best performance, the 2019 Draft saw his worst performance. Not that any particular prospect is bad, just none seem to have upside to enter the league early like Ferraro and Leonard.

Not possessing a first-round selection, the Sharks took defenseman Artemi Kniazev, a Russian from the QMJHL. With the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Kniazev had 13 goals and 34 points in 55 games in his draft year. After an improvement in his 2019-20 campaign, he was selected to the most recent Russian World Junior Championships team, where he put up four points in seven games. He is currently at 10 points in eight QMJHL games this season and will likely look to play in the AHL at the conclusion of this junior season.

Artemi Kniazev San Jose Sharks Draft
Artemi Kniazev, San Jose Sharks, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dillion Hamaliuk was selected 55th overall and is the only true “head-scratcher” of Wilson Jr.’s career. The left-winger put up 11 goals and 26 points in 31 WHL games for the Seattle Thunderbirds in his draft year. Playing for the Kelowna Rockets last season, he produced offensively at a much lower rate and is yet to make his AHL debut this season for the Barracuda. For reference, the selection after Hamaliuk, Brett Leason, outscored him in the WHL in their 2018-19 seasons and is beginning his second AHL season. There was no need to take Hamaliuk this high.

Next, the organization selected Yegor Spiridonov, a Russian defensive-minded center. In his draft year, Spiridonov totaled 15 goals and 41 points in 43 games in the MHL, the Russian junior league. His offensive production has gradually fallen off since then, but his 2020-21 has seen him play in three different leagues, play internationally, and currently being held out for a broken wrist. His skating issues at the time of selection were on full display at the World Junior Championships and part of the reason he was held scoreless. Once he is able to play in a single league consistently this season, it will be easier to see the 20-year-old’s capabilities.

Egor Spiridonov of Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk
Egor Spiridonov of Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (courtesy MHL)

In the first of two sixth-round picks, the Sharks took Timur Ibragimov, a larger winger from Russia. Producing 41 points in 63 MHL games in his draft season, he saw a decline in 2019-20 while adjusting to facing men in the VHL, Russian second division of hockey. Currently, he is on loan to the Finnish hockey league, where he has just eight goals and eleven points in 38 games.

Last, the team selected Santeri Hatakka from Finland, a six-foot-tall left defenseman. A pretty quick skater, he is able to succeed in the transition for attacking and especially defending. Just five points in 37 games in the Finnish pro league, he has been on the second pairing of a quality Ilves Tampere team that recently fell in standings due to many players testing positive for Covid-19. He was an assistant captain on the bronze-winning Finnish World Juniors team and scored a highlight-reel goal.

This class has two defensemen who performed well internationally at the World Juniors, but besides them, this class does not have the high upside of the other Wilson Jr. classes.

2020 and Beyond

It is way too early to formulate opinions on the 2020 NHL Draft Class, with many of the players yet to return to their junior leagues for the 2020-21 season. However, Thomas Bordeleau and Danil Gushchin have been nothing short of superb in their respective leagues, and Ozzy Wiesblatt, Tristen Robbins, and Brandon Coe did not look out of place in brief AHL action.

The Sharks selected all forwards in 2020, and early inclinations suggest the Sharks made very solid picks and could have a steal selecting Thomas Bordeleau in the second round given the superb season he’s enjoying with the University of Michigan.

Sharks fans should have complete faith in Wilson Jr. to control their 2021 Draft, where the front office will likely possess its highest pick in many years. With a high selection, the Sharks’ front office can begin their rebuild with a true blue-chip prospect.