The San Jose Sharks have been gradually building their prospect pool under Doug Wilson and Doug Wilson Jr. Due to their playoff appearances for many years, the club has been selecting late in each round for many seasons. Since 2007, the Sharks have had two first-round selections in the top 10, Timo Meier in 2015 and William Eklund in 2021.
To keep their roster quality high, Wilson would often try to take shots at players who slipped through the cracks of the scouting reports. One such player was Kevin Labanc, who was drafted in the sixth round in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. This mentality became more prominent as more seasons passed with no high selections. Especially as of late, this has allowed the Sharks to create a deep prospect pool.
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Now that the 2021-22 season has reached its midway point, Sharks’ prospects have been settled into a groove for a long time. Some players have been performing exactly as expected, but that is not the case for all prospects. In fact, some prospects have far exceeded what was projected of them up to this point.
Ethan Cardwell was the fourth-round selection made by the Sharks in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. He was originally supposed to play for the Barrie Colts during the 2020-21 season but was ultimately loaned to Surahammars IF in the HockeyEttan league after the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season was canceled due to COVID-19. In 18 games, he put up nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points.
Cardwell had scored at a point-per-game pace with the Barrie Colts in the OHL during the 2019-20 season following his departure from the Saginaw Spirit. However, he’s managed to maintain a much better scoring average this season. In 31 games, Cardwell has scored 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points. Despite being a fourth-round pick, he is playing like someone drafted much higher.
The chances of Cardwell making the NHL within the next few years seems likely. The Sharks offering him an entry-level contract at the end of this season would not be the most shocking scenario. Developmental time is crucial for prospects, so hopefully, the Sharks refrain from rushing his progression. Regardless, Cardwell is showing he was worth the fourth-round pick and then some.
Gannon Laroque was selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. During his draft year, he put up only one goal and six assists for seven points in 21 games playing for the Victoria Royals in the Western Hockey League (WHL). While his numbers were far from out of this world, the Sharks believed they saw something in him and took a shot on the Canadian defenseman.
This season has proven to many what the Sharks saw in Laroque all along. In 42 games, he has scored six goals and 33 assists for 39 points. His turnaround has been jarring, to say the least. The sharks have been familiar with a mostly assist-based offensive defenseman for many years. Laroque seems to fit right into that system.
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Unfortunately, Laroque fits the stereotypical Sharks defenseman maybe a little too well. While he has been crushing point totals on the Royals, his plus/minus is minus-15. However, this is far from his fault. His minus-15 is one of the team’s better plus/minus ratings. Even so, defensive abilities have held prospects back before. If Laroque wants to make his mark with the Sharks, his defensive game will need to grow.
Daniil Guschchin was drafted in the third round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He finished his second season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with 47 points in 42 games. As with most USHL players, his point-per-game performance was enough to warrant a mid-round selection.
After putting up 64 points in 46 games with the Lumberjacks in the 2020-21 season, Gushchin signed his entry-level contract with the Sharks. However, he has spent this season in the OHL with the Niagra IceDogs, and it would appear that his game translated perfectly between the two leagues. In 30 games, Gushchin has 26 goals and 16 assists for 42 points.
Gushchin will be a fantastic addition to the Sharks in a few years. He will most likely spend next season with the San Jose Barracuda before making the jump to the NHL. If he can keep up the scoring pace he is on right now with the Sharks, Gushchin could be a force to be reckoned with.
Mike Robinson was selected in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. During his draft year, he managed to maintain a .937 save percentage on the Boston Jr. Rangers in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL). From there, Robinson bounced between the Boston Jr. Bruins in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL), the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, and the Springfield Jr. Blues in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) before attending the University of New Hampshire.
Nearly seven years have passed since Robinson’s selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He has spent five seasons as the goaltender for the University of New Hampshire, and each year has been a toss-up. Only two of the five seasons have seen Robinson put up a save percentage above .900. However, with a .916 save percentage so far this season, perhaps things are beginning to look up for him.
With Robinson’s collegiate career on its final legs, he will likely be offered an entry-level contract with the Sharks for next season. From there, where his career will go is largely up for debate. Robinson will need to find and maintain consistency at the professional level if he wishes to make it to the NHL. Only time will tell what happens.
Brandon Coe was the fourth-round selection of the Sharks in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He put up 25 goals and 32 assists for 57 points playing for the North Bay Battalion in the OHL before his draft. Coe played for the San Jose Barracuda the following season but returned to the Battalion for the 2021-22 season.
While Coe put up reasonable point totals every year, this year has been a complete heel turn. In 43 games, he has scored 27 goals and 44 assists for 71 points. Considering that Coe spent a year with the Barracuda, perhaps some of that professional skill he played against rubbed off on him. Nevertheless, he has looked like one of the best draft selections the Sharks have made in recent years by far.
Coe is more or less a guarantee to make the NHL. Next season, he will most likely get a shot to play for the Sharks, or at the very least, he will return to the Barracuda. His development is progressing at a high-level pace. If the semi-retool the Sharks have started continues to progress, Coe will likely be a massive part of the young core.
Outside of these five prospects, there are many more who will be looking to make the NHL roster soon. Benjamin Gaudreau, Tristen Robins, William Eklund, and more will all be fighting to make the Sharks full-time. There is a deep roster pool forming in San Jose. If Sharks fans are lucky, they might get to see a very talented group of young players hit the ice very soon.