After reaching the Western Conference Final in 2018-19, the San Jose Sharks have had two seasons finishing near the bottom of the NHL. While this isn’t the result that the team hoped for, it has allowed them to restock their cupboards with high-quality prospects. While not the best in the league, the Sharks now have the fifth-best skaters and top goalie prospect pool in the league, according to Hockey Prospecting.
It is important to keep in mind that development is nonlinear. Nikolai Knyzhov is a perfect example of this. In the last prospect pyramid, Knyzhov was listed in tier five. I was not optimistic about his chances of becoming a full-time NHL, but that is exactly what happened. Knyzhov played all 56 games for the Sharks and was so impressive, he was their rookie of the year. Here is a breakdown of the current state of the Sharks’ prospects system.
What is a Prospect Pyramid?
Sportsnet correspondent Steve Dangle first created the idea of a prospect pyramid for the Toronto Maple Leafs and has since become the new standard of sorting prospects in an organization. Dangle says that rather than trying to sort prospects in a numbered list, ranking them into tiers makes more sense than trying to decide who’s 15th and who’s 16th. The tiers look at their potential and group them accordingly rather than ranking them subjectively.
To explain the six tiers, here’s a written out breakdown, courtesy of THW’s own Brandon Share-Cohen:
Tier 1 – Elite talent (Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid-level talent)
Tier 2 – Very, very good prospects with a real chance of being top-six forwards, top-two defenders, or good starting goalies
Tier 3 – Good players who fall just short of tier 2, perhaps due to lower ceilings, but who are distinctly better than tier’s below them
Tier 4 – Distinct shot at making an NHL roster and being a contributor (top-nine forward, bottom-four defender, fringe starter, or backup goaltenders
Tier 5 – Players who likely don’t project to be anything more than a role player in the NHL as their ceiling – these players chances of making the NHL aren’t very high compared to their comrades (sometimes due to being relatively unknown at this point)
Tier 6 – Players who have an uphill battle to make the NHL, or there isn’t enough information to make an informed decision
Also, there’s always talk about who classifies as a prospect. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman uses a good definition in his work, which I will apply here:
“A skater no longer qualifies as an NHL prospect if he has played 25 games in the NHL in any campaign, regular season and playoffs combined, or 50 games total; or reaches age 27 by Sept. 15.
“A goalie no longer qualifies as an NHL prospect if he has played 10 games in the NHL in any campaign, regular season and playoffs combined, or 25 games total; or reaches age 27 by Sept. 15.” (From: “Pronman: 2019-20 NHL Farm System Rankings”).
Additions, Subtractions, and Graduates
There have been some key additions and subtractions since the inaugural Sharks Prospect Pyramid in September of 2020 since the inaugural Sharks Prospect Pyramid. The 2021 offseason also saw the Seattle Kraken join the league and the Sharks lost prospect Alexander True to the Kraken.
Trades: Barabanov, Chrona, Pederson
Free Agents: None
Draft: Eklund, Gaudreau, Laroque, Cardwell, Guryev, McCue, Gilmartin, Jacobsson, Kashnikov
Kraken Expansion: True
Free Agency: Letunov, Yurtaikin
Played more than 25 games: Leonard, Knyzhov
Played more than 50 games, overall: None
Tier 1: Empty
Most teams don’t have a top-tier prospect and the Sharks are no different. Most players in this tier are drafted first overall, something the Sharks have never done. Their seventh overall pick in 2021 is the highest they have picked since they took Milan Michalek sixth overall in 2003. Even though this tier is empty, William Eklund is no doubt as close as it comes to a Tier 1 player. Top Down Hockey has Eklund rated as having a 74% chance of being a star and 97% chance of being an NHLer. While nothing is certain in the real of prospecting, that is about as sure a thing as you can have.
The only player the Sharks have had in his prime that might have qualified for this tier is Joe Thornton, whom they acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins. This is a tough tier to join and the way the Sharks seem to like to trade away their first-round picks, I’m not sure they will ever have a prospect in it. If they continue to be near the bottom of the league and win the lottery for either the 2022 or 2023 draft, there is a good chance they get a Tier 1 prospect.
Tier 2: Eklund, Bordeleau, Merkley, Dahlen, Robins, Kniazev, & Melnichuk
Even though the Sharks have no one in tier one, this tier is full of potential. Everyone in this tier could be a top-end contributor to the Sharks in relatively short order. What is especially exciting is that there are forwards, defensemen, and one goalie in this tier. That kind of balance is what you need to continue to field a playoff contender year after year. Let’s dig into the outlook of William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, Ryan Merkley, Jonathan Dahlen, Tristen Robins, Artemi Kniazev, and Alexei Melnichuk.
The moment he was drafted, Eklund instantly became the top prospect in the Sharks organization. Regarded by some as a top-three prospect in the draft, it was surprising that he fell all the way to the Sharks at seven. A draft-eligible prospect rarely spends the majority of his draft season in the SHL, the fourth toughest league in the world. It is even more rare to play a prominent role for their team. This is exactly what Eklund did for Djurgardens IF in 2020-21. He scored 23 points in 40 games while averaging just 15:21 time on ice per game. Eklund was born October 12, 2002, so he spent basically his entire draft-eligible season as an 18-year-old, save for five games. Despite his young age, he could drive play in the SHL with a 52% Corsi.
Eklund’s accomplishment deserves more context as very few players have ever been able to accomplish what he did. In fact, here is the list of players who had more points per game than Eklund in the SHL in their draft season; Daniel Sedin, Peter Forsberg, Henrik Sedin, Kevin Fiala, Elias Lindholm, Patrick Erickson, and Markus Naslund. Except for Erickson, whose career was cut short due to concussion problems, everyone on that list is either a star NHL player or a valuable contributor. Eklund is even ahead of Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Holtz. Not only did Eklund outperform Holtz compared to their draft seasons, but he was better than Holtz in 2020-21. They are not the same kind of player, with Eklund being more of a two-way force and a playmaker, while Holtz is a goal scorer. Either way, it is impressive nonetheless.
According to Top Down Hockey, Eklund has by far the best combination of NHL star probability and chance of making the NHL in the 2021 draft class. Star probability is defined by a projection of being in the top 18.5% of wins above replacement (WAR) per 82 games over his career. The NHLer probability is a projection that he will play more than 200 NHL games with a positive WAR. This is a tremendous value for the Sharks to get at seventh overall.
Eklund will attend Sharks development camp and could compete for a roster spot on the Sharks as early as the 2021-22 season. Considering his success at the SHL level, it is not inconceivable that he makes the sharks for the 2021-22 season. The most likely scenario is that he learns a lot from the camp and goes back to the SHL for 2021-22 and makes the jump to the NHL in 2022-23. Because of the strong organizational need, the Sharks may try to make him a center. Whatever happens with Eklund, the likelihood is strong that he is at least a 2nd line winger and the possibility is still there that he is a top-line player for the Sharks in two to three years.
Thomas Bordeleau was taken 38th overall by the Sharks and was one of the top Americans available in the 2020 draft. Concerns about his height that existed in his draft season have waned slightly as he is now listed at 5-foot-10. He had a fantastic rookie season for the Michigan Wolverines, scoring a team-high 30 points in 24 games, winning both the Big 10 rookie of the year and NCAA top collegiate rookie (Tim Taylor Award). Bordeleau joins Cole Caufield, Kyle Connor, and Dylan Larkin as winners of the Big 10 rookie of the year and Alex Newhook, Joel Farabee, Clayton Keller, Jack Eichel and fellow Wolverine Kyle Connor as winners of the Tim Taylor Award.
It wasn’t all positive this season, though, as Bordeleau could not compete at the under 20 World Junior Championship due to a positive COVID-19 test by his roommate John Beecher. The Wolverines had three players selected in the top five of the 2021 NHL draft, with Owen Power going first, Matthew Beniers second, and Kent Johnson fifth. Despite the talent on the team, they weren’t able to win the Big 10 championship and were forced to exit the NCAA tournament due to COVID-19.
Bordeleau excelled at Michigan in many areas, but his best attribute is his playmaking. His expected primary assists per 60 minutes (xA1/60) were nearly two standard deviations above his peers. He has a good shot, so defenders and goalies need to respect that, which sets up everything else he does. He’s able to make space for himself and his teammates. He can find linemates through small spaces and tight checks. At least, this is all true at the collegiate level and it was true when he played for the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP).
Bordeleau was very adept at faceoffs at the USNTDP, winning 53% of his draws. I was curious to see how he would do against tougher competition, but his 54% faceoff wins at Michigan suggest that was not an issue for him. He was also able to drive play exceptionally well in college with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) right around 61. Bordeleau was back in action at the World Junior Summer Showcase, where The Athletic’s top prospect writer Corey Pronman has this to say about the Sharks’ prospect:
Bordeleau stood out consistently with the puck on his stick with his great puck skills and his even better playmaking ability. He showed NHL ability to man a power play from the flank and was a dual-threat with his passes and shot. What’s impressed me about Bordeleau’s development is the improved pace in his game from his draft season, with more of a jump in his step that will help his game translate to the higher levels. (From “World Junior showcase: Jake Sanderson looks NHL ready, Aatu Raty gets buzz; plus USA’s projected roster,” The Athletic, August 2, 2021)
It remains to be seen whether Bordeleau can translate his skills to the NHL. He probably needs another year of college and at least one year in the AHL before we see him suit up for the Sharks. When he does, it’s looking more and more like he could be a center in the toughest league in the world. At worst, a creative playmaking winger that is good defensively as well seems like a modest projection.
Ryan Merkley was long considered the only top prospect in the Sharks’ system. That was before the 2020 draft and now that the 2021 draft has passed, he is for sure no longer at the top. Though he clearly has a bit of a checkered past and murky future, there is no denying he is an elite talent. Drafted 21st overall in 2018 by the Sharks, the right-handed shot rearguard will be behind Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson on the depth chart and learn from two Norris Trophy winners.
2020-21 was Merkley’s first professional hockey season after four seasons in the OHL. While 11 points in 31 games may seem like a disappointment, it was clear the coaching staff wanted him to work on his defensive game. His 51 CF% suggests that he was able to at least hold his own in the defensive zone while still generating offense.
One of the biggest stories regarding Merkley continues to be that for the second straight season, we have heard no stories about his attitude. He seems to get along really well with his teammates and the coaching staff. After early career questions about how coachable he can be, it hasn’t seemed to be an issue for years now and that is a very positive thing for Merkley’s future.
According to Hockey Prospecting, Merkley, in his draft season, had an equal chance to Quinn Hughes of becoming a star defenseman in the NHL (.45 points per game NHL career player). That number has faded since but still sits at seventh-best amongst a crop of budding NHL stars like Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk, Ty Smith, and Evan Bouchard. This type of hype and projected star power will give Merkley about the longest leash you can imagine to be an impactful NHL regular.
Jonathan Dahlen is the son of former Shark Ulf Dahlen, who had a very successful NHL career. The younger Dahlen has had a bit of a rollercoaster of development after being drafted 42nd overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2016. The Senators traded him to the Vancouver Canucks for Alexandre Burrows. After a couple of years frustrated that he wasn’t being called up and playing pretty well for the Utica Comets of the AHL, Dahlen was traded to the Sharks for Linus Karlsson, a player with a higher floor but lower ceiling.
On the surface, it may seem like a curious choice for Dahlen to play in the 2nd tier of the Swedish hockey system, the HockeyAllsvenskan, and Timra IK for 2020-21. But after several difficult seasons in North America, Dahlen wanted to play for Timra, the team he played for early development. It was a stated goal of Dahlen that he wanted to help Timra get promoted back to the SHL. During the 2018-19 season, when Dahlen left to play in the AHL, Timra was relegated to the Allsvenskan after he had helped them get promoted to the SHL in 2017-18.
With 71 points in 45 games and another 22 in 15 playoff games, Dahlen was clearly the driving force behind them once again being promoted to the SHL. Once again, they will have to try and stay in the SHL without Dahlen as the winger signed a 1-year contract with the Sharks on June 14th, 2021. He is not minors exempt, so we should see him on the Sharks in 2021-22.
According to Patrick Bacon’s NHL equivalency model, the Allsvenskan equivalency is not that much lower than the AHL. A goal in the AHL is worth .389 what a goal is worth in the NHL and the Allsvenskan is .351. Under that assumption and rough equivalency, Dahlen would have had a spectacular season in the AHL. According to Bacon’s model, Dahlen has a 39% chance of being a star and a 95% chance of making the NHL.
Tristen Robins was taken 56th overall by the Sharks in 2020 and remained one of their best prospects. What Robins brings to the table is goal scoring. He ranked in the 91st percentile in expected goals per 60 in the CHL according to Mitchell Brown’s tracking data for the 2020 eligible skaters. That dropped to the 60th percentile in 2021, but his transition play improved immensely. Part of his decline might be explained by the fact that he started the season with the Barracuda and played two games, then went back to the WHL, where he suffered an MCL sprain on April 11.
Robins scored at the same rate in his draft year as the 2019 third-overall pick and former Saskatoon Blades teammate Kirby Dach. Robins got to play with Kirby’s younger brother Colton Dach this season with the Blades, who was taken 62nd overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2021 NHL draft. One of many familial connections in the 2021 NHL draft.
Robins has a good shot, and he lets it go from all over the ice, but his preferred shooting spot is the right faceoff dot. He can create deception with his shot, bringing it into his feet as he releases, making it much harder for the goalie to see and save. His ability to make plays also makes him a more effective scorer. Known as more of a goal scorer, it was good to see his primary expected assists per 60 (xA1/60) and shot assist per 60 outperform his goal number in 2020-21.
There aren’t too many holes in Robins’ game. He is a pretty good skater, good stick-handler, and decent defensively. He’ll never be the zone entry and exit machine that Wiesblatt is, but he closed that gap considerably this season. Wiesblatt and Robins are rivals in the WHL, but Robins will be old enough to play in the AHL this season, while Ozzy is not, so that rivalry might be coming to an end. If Robins can make appreciable steps forward, we may see him in the NHL in 1-2 years.
Joachim Blichfeld shot up the depth chart to tier two in the 2020 prospect pyramid. The 2016 seventh-round pick (210th overall) just completed his second season of professional hockey, where in the AHL, he bested his rookie scoring pace of 32 points in 44 games with 22 points in 25 games. He even earned a call up to the Sharks. Still, unfortunately, that will most likely be remembered primarily for the hit he delivered on Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon more than anything. The hit earned Blichfeld a two-game suspension from the NHL.
In his AHL time, Blichfeld established a dominant 58 CF% this season and a .76 net expected goal (NxG). NxG is expected goals for minus expected goals against. Anything over 0.5 is good, so .76 is very good. Blichfeld was a surprisingly good 0.6 in his rookie AHL season. All things point to Blichfeld being a contributor at the next level. In addition, he has something that no other current Shark has other than Kevin LaBanc, that is, he is a right-handed right wing. If the sharks move LaBanc, which they are rumored to be doing, Blichfeld could be in for a deployment upgrade.
Artemi Kniazev (sometimes spelled Knyazev) was a 2019 second-round pick (48th overall). The Russian left-handed defenseman began his season in Russia, playing in the MHL and then the VHL. He came to Alberta to represent Russia at the under 20 World Junior Championships (U20WJC). He played 20:20 time on ice for Russia in the tournament, including penalty kill and power-play time. After the U20WJC, he rejoined his squad the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. In his 14 games, he put up 18 points and another nine in nine playoff games.
Kniazev is already 20, so he is old enough to play in the AHL. It will be interesting to see where the Sharks feel his development is best suited. It doesn’t seem like he has much more to prove in the QMJHL. His 59 CF% and .95 NxG suggest he’s too good for that league now. The AHL should offer him new challenges and the Sharks could use more depth on the left side after Mario Ferraro, Knyzhov, Radim Simek, and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. I imagine it will be at least one more season before Kniazev makes his Sharks debut and when he does, he should work his way up to at least a middle pairing.
Alexei Melnichuk was not drafted by any NHL team and there was a fair bit of interest from teams in signing him in the Spring of 2020, but he chose the Sharks. 2020 marked the first time we saw Melnichuk suit up for an organization other than SKA when he was loaned to Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. In his 14 games, he went 6-6-2 with a .912 save percentage (SV%) and 2.68 goals-against average (GAA). It may seem like a step back from his 2019-20 numbers with SKA St. Petersburg, but SKA was third in the KHL that season and Torpedo was 14th in 2020-21. Digging in deeper, Melnichuk had an expected goal per goal conceded (xGPG) of 1.27 with Torpedo. Giving up fewer goals than expected is a better measure of goals allowed.
It was a difficult transition to North America for Melnichuk. In 14 games with the Barracuda, he went 7-7-4 with a .868 SV% and 3.47 GAA. His starts were a bit irregular, so I’m sure it was tough to get into a rhythm. Even though the raw numbers were bad, his xGPG was 1.26 for the Barracuda, similar to his stellar number in Russia. Toward the end of the NHL season, he made his anticipated NHL debut and let in 11 goals in two starts against the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes. The bright side to those bad starts is it helped the Sharks land the seventh pick in 2021 and draft Eklund. It probably doesn’t mean much for his future as the Sharks want to take their time with what they hope will be a future starter or at least 1B goalie.
According to the Hockey Prospecting model, Melnichuk has an 84% chance of being an NHLer. Melnichuk’s 84% combined with Adin Hill’s 75% combines for the highest NHLer percentage of any team when combining their top two prospects. Hill doesn’t count as a prospect in this pyramid but in the Hockey Prospecting model. The moves made by the Sharks to acquire Hill and James Reimer will allow Melnichuk further time to develop in the AHL without the pressure to prove it at the NHL level. When he does arrive, probably in 2022-23, I expect a much better performance than we saw in 2020-21.
Tier 3: Chekhovich, Wiesblatt, Gushchin, Chmelevski, Coe, Pasichnuk, and Chrona
Like the tier above, tier three has players with a fair amount of potential. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of the players in this tier surpassed one or two of the players in tier 2. The tier three players are Ivan Chekhovich, Ozzy Wiesblatt, Daniil Gushchin, Sasha Chmelevski, Brandon Coe, Brinson Pasichnuk, and Magnus Chrona.
Chekhovich had a rough transition to the AHL after finishing his junior career strong with 105 points in 66 games for Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL. Chekhovich only managed 12 points in 42 AHL games in 2019-20. In last year’s pyramid, I mentioned that he’d have to have an impressive season to turn his fortunes around, and well, he did just that. Chekhovich returned to Russia to play on loan for Torpedo Nizhny Novogorod, alongside fellow Sharks’ prospect Melnichuk. His 34 points in 43 games were exactly what Chekhovich needed to re-establish his confidence and improve his chances of making the NHL. After the KHL season, he came to North America and put up seven points in 17 AHL games earning him an NHL call-up.
Chekhovich had one assist in four games with the Sharks, but there is reason to be optimistic again about his chances of sticking in the NHL. During his stint in the KHL, the second hardest league in the world, Chekhovich had a 49 CF% and a NxG of .54. Really not bad at all for the now 22-year-old. He is minor’s exempt with one year remaining on his entry-level contract. I expect he will make it difficult for the Sharks to leave him off the opening night starting roster.
Wiesblatt was the Sharks’ first-round pick in 2020 at 31st overall. He was a bit of a safe pick with a very high floor with many traits that are highly projectable to the NHL. He made my pre-draft list of the top right wingers available in the 2020 draft at number eight. The fact that he was the fourth right wing taken suggests it might have been a bit of a reach. According to hockey prospecting, he has a 53% chance of making the NHL, an 8% increase from his draft season.
According to Mitchell Brown of Elite Prospects, Wiesblatt “is a human cheat code in transition” (Elite Prospects 2020 Draft Guide). Brown means that he was already elite both at gaining the offensive blue line and exiting his own zone with control in his draft season. He continued to be elite at transition hockey in 2020-21, even though he only played 23 games in the WHL this season.
Wiesblatt got a taste of AHL action this season with three games at the beginning and three at the end. He definitely looked more comfortable in the later three games after time in the WHL. He had a 40 CF% in his six AHL games, far lower than his 51 CF% in 23 WHL games. Despite some work that needs to be done, he registered three points in those six games.
Wiesblatt’s shot and expected goal number continue not to be great. As he transitions to tougher competition, it will be even harder for him to contribute offense. Even as such, though, he projects as a very effective transition player and defensive winger, albeit one that probably won’t chip in much offense. It sounds like some CHL players who played in the AHL this season may get an exception to return to the AHL, but since Wiesblatt only played six games, he might be headed back to the WHL for the 2021-22 season. If that is the case, it might be two to three more seasons until we see Wiesblatt battle for a spot on the Sharks.
In the third round of the 2020 draft, the Sharks selected Daniil Gushchin at 78th overall. 5-foot-8 when he was drafted, the skillful winger grew two inches since then. He was one of the many prospects affected by the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) not playing any games this season. He was supposed to play for the Niagara IceDogs, who selected him fourth overall in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) import draft but had to find somewhere else to play when the league didn’t get going.
Fortunately, Gushchin’s old team, the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League (USHL), took him back. He continued to dominate the lesser competition of the USHL. His 64 points in 46 games were good for fifth in the league and all four of the players ahead of him played for the stacked Chicago Steel. He had six more points than the next closest player on his team and he did it in five fewer games.
Gushchin was able to drive play against USHL competition, as demonstrated by his 53 CF% and .62 NxG. He even threw a hit nearly every other game. Hopefully, for his sake, Gushchin gets to play against tougher competition in 2021-22. He needs to prove he can be successful against better players and that should be the case as a member of the Niagara IceDogs. According to Hockey Prospecting, he has a 53% chance of making the NHL, and a strong OHL season will go a long way toward improving that likelihood.
Sasha Chmelevski’s development is a path you might imagine most prospects would take, slow and steady. While he has never been an elite scorer at the junior level, he made steady progress in the OHL over four seasons. His last season playing for the Ottawa 67’s, he was pretty great, scoring 75 points in 56 games and 31 points in 18 playoff games as the team fell just short of an OHL championship.
2019-20 was his first full year with the Barracuda and he was good for 27 points in 42 games. In 2020-21, he improved on those totals by posting 20 points in 27 games for the Barracuda. His strong play earned him a call up to the Sharks, where he looked creative and dangerous offensively at times.
Chmelevski’s season was so impressive, he was selected to represent the United States at the World Championships in Riga, Latvia. Though he only played 9:35 per game on average, he put up four points in eight games and bring home the bronze medal. It would seem that Chmelevski has a strong chance to make the Sharks roster for the 2021-22 season. He only has one more year on his entry-level contract, so the Sharks really need to understand what they have in him this season.
Brandon Coe was impacted by the OHL shut down, but since he didn’t really have any other options, he came to San Jose to play in the AHL for the Barracuda. This was a huge jump in skill for him, as he won’t turn 20 until Dec. 1, 2021. Coe struggled in the AHL, which isn’t terribly surprising for the youngster. He failed to generate an average of even one shot on goal per game (.67) for the Barracuda. He similarly struggled with a poor NxG (.23) and Corsi of 42 percent. I wouldn’t expect such a young player to drive play in the AHL, and frankly, it could have been much worse for him. Toward the end of the AHL season, Coe increased his time on ice, capping out at 17:31 in his final game on May 23, 2021. He also had a handful of games with a positive NxG and Corsi.
Coe should be back in the AHL for 2021-22, though he could also return to the OHL, which wouldn’t be a bad outcome for him either. He will look to build on the limited success he had and be a more consistent producer. He’ll use the offseason to work on skating and strength while integrating what he learned this season to build strong habits. He has a lot of work to do in order to overcome the low 33 percent of becoming an NHLer.
After serving as Captain for the Arizona State University Sun Devils for two seasons, the highly coveted undrafted 22-year-old Brinson Pasichnuk signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Sharks. He finished his final collegiate season with 47 points in 36 games. He’s a good skater with an above-average hockey IQ and hopes to follow the path of Torey Krug as an undrafted college star to make an impact in the NHL. No doubt the allure of playing alongside either Burns or Karlsson, as well as the relative paucity of talent on the left, attracted him to sign with the Sharks instead of elsewhere. I doubt he has high points upside, but he has a fairly high floor to be a serviceable NHL defenseman.
Magnus Chrona was acquired at the 2021 trade deadline by the Sharks for Fredrik Claesson. The 6-foot-6 Swede was drafted back in 2018 by the Lightning in the 5th round. In his draft plus one season, he took a bit of a step back when he went up in level of competition from the J18 to the J20 league in Sweden. In 2019-20, he had a fantastic rookie season for the University of Denver Pioneers posting a .920 SV% and 2.15 GAA, being named to the NCAA (NCHC) all-rookie team.
In his second season for the Pioneers, his numbers regressed slightly to .907 SV% and 2.47 GAA, while his wins fell from 16 to seven. A deeper dive shows that Chrona outperformed his expected goals in both seasons in College and was even better in 2020-21. His xGPG was 1.08 in 2019-20 and was an even better 1.19 in 2020-21. Being able to give up fewer goals than expected is always good. Chrona should return to the University of Denver for his third season of College. His NHLer probability has risen every season since being drafted and hopefully, he can continue to do that.
Tier 4: Meloche, Spiridonov, Viel, Pederson & Hatakka
The Sharks currently have four players who could make the NHL roster but in more of a role-player position. These players include Nicolas Meloche, Yegor Spridonov, Jeffrey Viel, Lane Pederson, and Santeri Hatakka.
Meloche was originally drafted in 2015 by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round (40th overall). The Sharks acquired him for Antoine Bibeau in September of 2019. A puck-moving right-handed defenseman, Meloche had high expectations when he was drafted but had been trending downward, both in his final seasons in the QMJHL and recently in the AHL. According to Hockey Prospecting, though he did improve upon his first AHL season in terms of points and Corsi, there is only about a 30% chance of him becoming an NHLer. He did play seven NHL games this season in a limited third-pairing role. I imagine that is his best outcome.
Spiridonov was drafted by the Sharks in 2019, in the fourth round (108th overall). The 6-foot-2 winger put up near a point per game in the Russian junior MHL in his draft season. The last two seasons have seen him split time between the MHL and VHL (analogous to the AHL). He even got into two KHL games. According to Hockey Prospecting, Spiridonov’s NHL equivalency has been trending downward, so he will need to have a strong showing at either the VHL or KHL next season to improve his chances of making the NHL.
Viel is a 24-year-old undrafted winger that the Sharks signed after an impressive QMJHL career for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. He was Captain of the team his final two seasons and in his final year, they won both the QMJHL title and the Memorial Cup. He also took home CHL Memorial Cup All-Star honors and QMJHL Playoffs MVP along the way. Though never a big point producer, topping out at 62 points in 59 games, he clearly has some intangible leadership and championship qualities that the Sharks covet.
2020-21 was his third professional season and the Sharks liked what they saw from the tough Viel. After 11 games, he had no points but 23 penalty minutes and an average of two hits per game. While he isn’t winning the Corsi or expected goals battle, he provides the team with some much-needed grit. If he continues to provide that kind of value, he could find himself in a bottom-six NHL role.
Pederson was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes for a fourth-round pick on July 28th, 2021. Pederson has been around a point per game in his last two seasons in the AHL for the Tucson Roadrunners. His performance earned him a call-up to the Coyotes and he managed three points in 15 games. In his limited NHL time, Pederson managed to drive play pretty well according to Evolving Hockey, as demonstrated by his Corsi for per 60 over one standard deviation above the mean. He should get a pretty good opportunity to succeed for the Sharks and it will be interesting to see what he does with it.
Hatakka was a 2019 sixth-round pick (184th overall). Hatakka played the entire 2020-21 season for Ilves in the Liiga. He only picked up seven points in 44 games, but he has never been known for his offense. His 43 CF% and .01 NxG were a bit concerning. Those are awful numbers suggesting he struggled quite a bit, despite his 16:37 average time on ice. He did look much better against his peers at the under 20 World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. If Hatakka hopes to transition to the NHL, he will first have to show better results in the Liiga.
Tier 5: Halbgewachs, Raska, Emond, Middleton, Kotkov, Hamaliuk, Ibragimov, Cardwell, Gilmartin, Jacobsson, & Kashnikov
Jayden Halbgewachs, Adam Raska, Zachary Emond, Jacob Middleton, Vladislav Kotkov, Dillon Hamaliuk, Ethan Cardwell, Liam Gilmartin, Theo Jacobsson, and Timur Ibragimov fill out the fifth tier, all players who could make the NHL. Still, at this point, it looks like a long shot for them to become regulars with the Sharks.
Halbgewachs is an undersized (5-foot-8) undrafted left winger who the Sharks signed in December of 2017. At that time, he was in the midst of his 4th and best season for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL that concluded totaling 129 points in 64 games. The 24-year-old has now played three seasons for the Barracuda going from .55 to .64 to .42 points per game in those campaigns. He has one more year left on his contract and time is running out to prove he has what it takes to make the jump to the NHL.
Raska began his draft plus one season in the Czech league on loan to HC Ocelari Trinec, where he had no points in two games and then HC Frydek-Mistek, where he had one assist in 11 games. Back in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) for the Rimouski Oceanic, he excelled, eclipsing the point-per-game mark with 25 points in 22 games and six more in eight playoff games. He also appeared in four games for the Czech Republic at the Under 20 World Junior Championship in Red Deer, Alberta.
One issue that Raska has is crossing the line and racking up the penalty minutes. In his draft season, he accumulated almost a minor penalty per game, costing his team on many occasions. This, to go along with his almost three hits per game, signifies the kind of grittiness he can bring. This season, he almost cut his penalty minutes in half while gaining an average two-minute increase of ice time, which was a real positive sign. All of this while maintaining a 2.7 hits per game average. He’s eligible for the AHL in 2021-22 but would probably benefit from another season in the QMJHL.
After a strong post-draft season in 2018-19, Emond has been steadily trending downward. The 2020-21 season got off to a bad start in his final QMJHL season and a mid-season trade from the Rouyn-Norada Huskies to the Saint John Sea Dogs didn’t seem to make matters any better. His .86 xGPG in 2020-21 suggests he struggled quite a bit though he did sport a 1.3 xGPG in 2019-20 despite having a subpar SV% and GAA. Emond should compete for playing time on the Barracuda and he needs to show well to turn his career around. His fall from tier three last season to five this season represents his recent struggles, but there is still an upside to his game.
Middleton was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings back in 2014 in the 7th round (210th overall). After three years with the Ottawa 67’s, the final one in which he was named Captain, he was not offered a contract by the Kings, so the Sharks signed him. He was never a big point producer, not even reaching .5 points per game in junior, but he was an assistant captain for the Barracuda for two years and has 14 NHL games to his name. He has one more year on his contract and is not waivers exempt, so it will be interesting to see what the Sharks do with him this season. Regardless of what they do, I doubt he becomes more than a 7th or 8th defenseman.
Kotkov is a 21-year-old Russian who was undrafted out of the CSKA Moskva system. The 6-foot-4 winger came to the QMJHL in his draft year and posted 49 points in 61 games for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. After the draft, the Sharks signed him to a three-year entry-level contract only to see his production dip in year two to 46 points in 51 games. He was recently traded to the Saint John Sea Dogs and surpassed the point per game mark, albeit in just 16 games. He should compete for ice time on the Barracuda in 2021-22 and if it goes well, he could compete for ice time on the Sharks in one to two years. If not, he will likely return to Russia to continue his career.
Hamaliuk is a 2019 2nd round pick by the Sharks (55th overall). His draft year was shortened to 31 games by injury, but he still put up 26 points for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. In his draft plus one season, he played for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and saw a regression to 31 points in 56 games. You never want to see regression like that from your prospects, but hopefully, he can turn the tide and compete for a roster spot on the Barracuda in 2020-21. He still has a lot of upside as a left winger with a good combination of size and skill. The Sharks certainly hope he can become a power forward utilizing his strength to win battles in the corner and beat goalies with his above-average shot.
Ibragimov is a Russian prospect who the Sharks selected in the 6th round in 2019 (164th overall) from the SKA-St. Petersburg system. He is a creative offensive player that has work to do in his own zone. In his draft year, he seemed like a bit of a long shot to make the NHL and in his draft plus one year, he took a bit of a step back, his NHL equivalency going down from 19 to 15 as he transitioned from the MHL to the VHL. He was loaned to TPS of the Liiga for the 2020-21 season and he managed a meager 14 points in 51 games, his NHL equivalency cratering to 12. He should play for the Barracuda in 2021-22 and seems like a longshot now to make the NHL.
Cardwell was drafted 121st overall in 2021 after being passed over in his first eligible season of 2020. Cardwell played 2019-20, his first draft-eligible season, in the OHL, splitting time between the Saginaw Spirit and the Barrie Colts. He reached a point per game for the Colts and was closer to half a point per game in Saginaw.
With the OHL shut down, Cardwell went to Sweden to play for Surahammars IF in the HockeyEttan, the third division of professional hockey. He was able to pick up 27 points in 18 games, which is very good, but he will need to show he can do something similar in the OHL in 2021-22. Coming into the 2021 draft, Cardwell was one of the best overagers available and currently has the highest NHLer probability of the players the Sharks drafted after Eklund.
Gilmartin was taken in the sixth round of this past draft, 167th overall. The 6-foot-2 winger played his draft season for the under 18 USNTDP scoring 35 points in 50 games with another 15 in 23 USHL games. He’s committed to the London Knights for the 2021-22 season, a program known for developing NHL talent. He has a way to go to develop into an NHL talent. His best skill is in hands and ability to make plays, but he needs to work on consistency in his compete level. Luckily his skating isn’t a huge issue.
Jacobsson was taken just 10 picks later, 177th overall. He played in several different Swedish leagues in 2020-21. His numbers at the lowest divisions are great, but he struggled when playing at the higher levels, even the Allsvenskan. He will need to make some big steps forward to have a chance of playing professionally in North America.
Kashnikov was taken 199th overall in 2021, one of the last picks taken. The big Russian defender spent most of the 2020-21 season in the MHL, where he put up 10 points in 22 games. He also played in the QMJHL for the Gatineau Olympiques, where he was over a half point per game in a small sample size. He’s a decent skater who likes to use his frame to separate the opposition from the puck. He registered over a hit per game in his draft season. It will be fun to see how he develops. There is potential here.
Tier 6: Laroque, Guryev, McCue, Gallant, Weatherby, Reedy, Wiederer, McGrew, Sund, Oberg, Young, Spitserov, Sawchenko, & Robinson
The sixth tier is for those who either really won’t have a shot at the NHL, or there isn’t enough information to make an informed decision.
This includes Gonnon Laroque, Artem Guryev, Max McCue, Zach Gallant, Jasper Weatherby, Scott Reedy, Manuel Wiederer, Jake McGrew, Tony Sund, Linus Oberg, Alex Young, Timofei Spitserov, Zachary Sawchenko, and Mike Robinson.
The Prospect Pyramid is Constantly Changing
As prospects continue their career, they can rise and fall through the tiers on this list. Many of these prospects could slide up or down the tiers depending on what happens next. The point is, these groupings are not a fixed evaluation of these prospects but a fluid guide that is constantly changing as moves are made in the organization, drafts occur and the general progression or regression of their play.
Insights by InStat
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12