PENTICTON, B.C. – For the second straight year, the San Jose Sharks rookie squad has taken part in the NHL Youngstars Tournament hosted by the Vancouver Canucks in Penticton, British Columbia. With several returning players along with plenty of new faces trying to prove themselves and one day earn a spot with the NHL club, the action was limitless. I had a chance to watch all of San Jose’s games throughout the tournament, I’ve outlined some of the players that caught my eye each game and played a big part for the Sharks. Although plenty other prospects also showed up to impress, I’ve narrowed it down to the most noticable Top 10.
1. Michael Sgarbossa – This free agent acquisition who played last season with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves entered this year’s tournament coming off of a four-point performance last year, where he scored a hat-trick and added an assist. This year, Sgarbossa seemed to pick up right where he left off. He played a big role in San Jose’s first victory of the tournament by contributing a goal, assist, and some solid physical play in the 6-1 win over Calgary. Despite the Sharks being shutout 4-0 in their second game against Winnipeg, Sgarbossa was all over the ice and by far the most noticable offensive player for the Sharks that game. Tremendous vision, smooth skating and wicked accuracy when shooting from the slot. He single-handedly created at least six quality scoring chances that I could count, but ran into a hot Jets tender. In the Sharks’ final game against Vancouver, Sgarbossa also dropped the mitts against fellow OHLer Alex Friesen, showing his willingness to compete in all areas of the game. Based on the general murmur from scouts, Sgarbossa is one of the Sharks’ rookies that could have a chance to play his overaged year in the pros with Worcester. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him suit up for the NHL pre-season and could have a shot at playing the first few games of the regular season. Sgarbossa was by-far the most developed and skilled players for the Sharks at this year’s tournament. (Sgarbossa interview from Penticton)
2. Sena Acolatse – This brute defenseman hailed from the Bay Area; basically born to be a Shark. In the Western Hockey League, Acolatse is known among his peers as one of the toughest opponents and hardest punchers in the league – he won the WHL’s Best in the West Toughest Player vote. However, Acolatse showed he can play the game just as well in Penticton, as he was one of the Sharks’ most consistant defensemen throughout the tournament and also wore an “A” for the rookie squad. Acolatse has a rocket of a shot from the point, which was evident in game one as he scored the Sharks’ sixth goal against Calgary on the powerplay. His ability to eat up ice time and play in all situations is something you could tell the Sharks were impressed with as he was one of the top-played d-men along with Taylor Doherty. Look for Acolatse to have a solid year in Worcester and possibly serve as a call-up during the regular season.
3. Brodie Reid – One of the Sharks’ top point producers in this year’s tournament, finishing the week with three points. Another player to record two points in the Sharks 6-1 victory of the Flames in the tournament opener. Although he only added one more point following that game, Reid was a visable forward in each game and continuously showed his tremendous hockey sense and ability to play a two-way game. The 21-year-old forward had a stellar freshman season with Northeastern University where he recorded 28 points in 37 games. His size and speed are only continuing to develop and Reid could fit in well on a third line after a couple more years of development in the NCAA.
4. Nathan Moon – Tied with Reid for the Sharks’ top point producer with three points throughout the tournament including a two-goal night against the Canucks in the tournament closer. Moon created an excellent play in game one with a perfect saucer pass to feed Trevor Cheek, and also showed his reliable two-way ability throughout the tournament. This OHL grad played his entire career with the Kingston Frontenacs and just recently signed with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, where he will continue to develop during the 2011-12 season. Moon was originally a draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins but never signed. There’s no doubt Moon has tremendous skill and potential as he was one of the Sharks best players in the tournament, but Moon will still have to find a specific role to fit into if he plans on making it to the next level anytime soon. The Sharks will continue to monitor Moon based on potential.
5. Taylor Doherty – Another Kingston Frontenac, Doherty was another defensemen heavily relied upon by the Sharks’ Youngstars coaching staff this year. At six-foot-seven, 230 pounds, Doherty could potentially be ready to make the transition into the pros at any time, but his skating and puckhandling is something he will continue to work on. That said, Doherty’s two-way game is only improving. He was quiet on the scoresheet throughout the tournament, but had a productive season with Kingston last year, and should he return to the OHL for 2011-12, he will resume his position as Fronts’ captain and should increase his offensive production even more. As far as his physical game goes, this large, Chara-esque man is ready to compete with the best of them. His positional play in the defensive zone is impressive and he is very hard to knock down. As a ’91, it’s hard to say whether San Jose will return him to junior to begin his AHL development. (Doherty interview from Penticton)
6. Mike Connolly – By notching 54 points in 42 games with the University of Minnesota-Duluth last year, it’s safe to say Connolly was instrumental in helping lead his team to the NCAA national championship. The 22-year-old forward continued to impress in Penticton; it was evident that his skill and development was much more mature than many of the rookies, and his speed and soft hands doesn’t hurt his reputation either. He tallied an gorgeous assist on Moon’s second goal in game three to complete a +1 rating after playing in two tournament games. I would assume Connolly will finish his University career in Minnesota before making the jump to the AHL. If he does infact return to the NCAA, watch out for him this year to be one of the league’s top producers. Connolly was a treat to watch. (Connolly interview from Penticton)
7. Freddie Hamilton – The Hockey News had Freddie Hamilton listed as one of the Sharks’ call-up centres in the Yearbook’s depth chart, and when you get to watch this kid play, you’ll understand why. Although Hamilton had a relatively quiet tournament, he still meshed well with his linemates and showed confidence, consistancy and ability to play in all key situations. In addition to being a wizard at the face-off dot, the right-handed shooter can also do a dubious job playing on his off-wing, which could prove to be a great asset when trying to fit him in on a roster. Not only did Hamilton have a solid 80-plus point season with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs in 2010-11, but he, along with younger brother Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins) come from a family of Olympic Athletes. Not to mention, both brothers have won educational awards in the OHL for having averages above 90 per cent… Those smarts definitely transfer onto the ice, and for a 19-year-old OHLer, Hamilton’s maturity both mentally and physically is level with many currently playing in the NHL. As a fifth round pick, the Sharks will want him to continue developing in major junior, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him impress at main camp and suit up for some pre-season games. Hamilton is definitely a player to keep in mind this season. (Hamilton interview from Penticton)
8. Ben Thomson – The ’93-born Kitchener Rangers forward was sure to make himself noticed each game he played throughout the tournament. With two spirited fights and a goal, Thompson fits right in with the Sharks general formula of players they like to employ. Although his point production in Kitchener has yet to take off, Thomson proved this past week that he has the capacity to do it all. His positional play was impressive, and his rambunctiousness on the ice became more noticable with each shift, as the six-foot-four, 205-pounder was not afraid to lay the body, or drop the gloves to stick up for his teammates. As such a young player, Thomson will return to the OHL to develop and with the right opportunity, could develop nicely into a solid, physical power forward.
9. Zach Bell – I had a chance to watch Zach Bell play with the Brampton Battalion many times last season, and the young defenseman impressed me with who he was willing to go toe-to-toe with. It was the same for Bell at the Youngstars tournament; the fiesty defenseman was not shy to show his love for the physical side of the game, and was always the first player to enter a scrum in defense of a teammate. Bell showed tremendous improvment at the tournament in his overall game since seeing him last year. His positional play was much improved and his big body was effective in front of the net and in the corners. Bell still has plenty of time to develop his skill to complement his already polished fighting ability, so keep a close eye on him this year in Brampton and you can be sure he will make a return with the Sharks rookies next year.
10. Thomas Heemskerk – Definitely the most impressive goaltender for the Sharks throughout the tournament. He turned away 27 shots in the Sharks 6-1 win over Calgary, and although the Jets managed to shutout San Jose in game two, Heemskerk still showed confidence and made some key saves for the club. As a ’90-birth, Heemskerk is finished his major junior career, and like most goalies, will have to continue developing in the minors to polish his game. Although JP Anderson played slightly less than Heemskerk in the tournament, Heemskerk seemed to be the better goaltender in the nearly two full games he played. Last year, the Sharks had a lack of goaltending options and had to fly out a Canadian College goalie as well as JP Anderson to serve as backup when they ran into injuries. This year, they’ve re-signed Tomas Griess, but it’s always good to have another option in Heemskerk, who finished last season in Worcester and will likely be apart of the AHL club to start this season.
By: Jeff Blay
Journalism grad from St. Catharines, ON, Canada. Newfoundland heritage. Passionate about hockey whether it’s junior or pro. News junkie and literature fanatic. Sun Media Reporter, The Hockey News intern, former Media Relations with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Niagara IceDogs, contribute to an OHL radio show called In the O Radio (www.intheoradio.com), and write prospect features for Andy Strickland’s TrueHockey.com. Follow @JeffBlay on Twitter.