The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
Since their inception in 1991, the San Jose Sharks have had a decent amount of draft success. While they have never won the lottery to pick first overall, they have extracted value from late picks, which have allowed them to make the playoffs in all but seven of the 28 non-lockout seasons they have been in the NHL.
As early as their first draft, they got an NHL player in the seventh round. Later on, in the Doug Wilson era, they would pick a future captain, a stout shutdown defender, and a few other serviceable players all in the seventh round of the draft. Join me as I stroll down memory lane of Sharks’ seventh-round picks.
Jaroslav Otevřel 1991 (133rd overall)
The large left-winger was drafted out of his native Czechoslovakia in 1991 as the Sharks’ last pick in their first draft. He played his draft plus one season in the Czech league before coming to North America. He played seven games for the Sharks in 1992-93 collecting two assists before being sent to the Kansas City Blades of the IHL, their main affiliate at the time.
In the IHL, Otevrel garnered 44 points in 62 games in 1992-93. There was optimism he would translate that to the NHL and started out well with five points in his first nine games in 1993-94, but he was again sent to the IHL where he was even better. Despite his modest IHL and NHL success, Otevrel spent the final two seasons of his professional career in the Finnish SM-Liiga.
1992 – 2001
During this timeframe, no seventh-round picks made the NHL. The Sharks technically didn’t have seventh-round picks in 1998, 1999, or 2000. During this span, some picks later than the seventh round made the NHL, most notably Evgeni Nabokov who was taken in the ninth round in 1994.
Tim Conboy 2002 (217th overall)
Tim Conboy was a big defensive defenseman who was tough to play against. He was a physical presence and racked up 121 PIMs in just 59 NHL games. None of those games were played for the Sharks, though – they were all for the Carolina Hurricanes. He also only scored six points in his NHL career.
Joe Pavelski 2003 (205th overall)
Joe Pavelski was the first seventh-round pick of the Doug Wilson era and what a steal he ended up being. For sure, this was the best seventh-round pick in franchise history. By many accounts, the Sharks got a top 10 pick at the end of the draft with their last pick.
Pavelski has played the third-most games in a Sharks uniform all time. He’s also third in assists and points. He’s second in goals and power-play goals. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are the two Sharks ahead or right behind him in those categories, and were taken first and second overall in 1997. The Sharks got tremendous value from Pavelski so late in the draft.
In his time with the Dallas Stars this past postseason, Pavelski continued to be a strong playoff performer. In fact, Pavelski now owns the record for the most playoff goals by an American-born player in NHL history. Brett Hull has represented the United States, but he was born in Belleville, Ontario.
John McCarthy 2006 (202nd overall)
John McCarthy was no Pavelski, but the versatile forward suited up for 88 NHL games and was the captain of the AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda for four years. Unfortunately, his playing career was cut short due to an ischemic stroke in 2019, but he has stayed on the Barracuda staff as a coach. McCarthy has proven very valuable to the organization in various capacities and was certainly a good find in the seventh round of the draft.
Justin Braun 2007 (201st overall)
Justin Braun was a top-pairing defenseman with Marc-Edouard Vlasic for many years. The two of them together regularly received the toughest matchups from their coaches and handled them extremely well. More often than not, they would blank the other team’s top scorers.
Only at the end of his time in San Jose did his game start to slip and he was ultimately traded in 2019. His 587 games in teal demonstrated remarkable service to the organization and tremendous value for such a late pick. If only things had gone differently in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, he could have added a Cup to his resume.
Jason Demers 2008 (186th overall)
Jason Demers was a serviceable right-shot defenseman who filled out the bottom-pairing for the Sharks for 300 games of NHL action. He never quite found the scoring touch that he possessed in the QMJHL, but nonetheless did an admirable job on most nights.
Demers’ NHL career continued with the Stars, Florida Panthers, and now Arizona Coyotes where he has played in 658 games to date. Not too many seventh-round picks end up playing that many games in the NHL.
Joakim Ryan 2012 (198th overall)
Joakim Ryan took a while to make the NHL. He played in the USHL before playing for the big red of Cornell University for four years. He then spent two full seasons in the AHL before making it to the NHL. He played 106 games for the Sharks, primarily in a depth role, but was serviceable. He signed with the Los Angeles Kings for the 2019-20 season and with the Carolina Hurricanes for the 2020-21 season.
The Sharks have two promising seventh-round picks from recent drafts in Joachim Blichfeld (210th overall) and Ivan Chekhovich in 2017 (212th overall). Chekhovich played 2019-20 in the AHL where had a disappointing 12 points in 42 games after good numbers for Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL. He is on loan to Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod of the KHL where he has looked good amassing 17 points in 20 games, winning KHL rookie of the month for November. According to the Hockey Prospecting model, Chekhovich has a 35% chance of making the NHL.
Blichfeld capped off his third season for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL with 114 points in 68 points, an impressive explosion that was a bit unexpected after his 56 points in 56 games the previous season. In his first season with the Barracuda, he had 32 points in 44 games as an AHL rookie, earning him AHL All-Star honors. He even got into three NHL games where he didn’t look too out of place.
Blichfeld has been playing in his native Denmark and has 12 points in 12 games for the Frederikshavn White Hawks. His NHL probability is much better than Chekhovich at 52% and he’s even a breakout candidate for the Sharks in 2020-21. Of course, we won’t know the outcome of Chekhovich or Blichfeld in terms of NHL success or failure for years. We certainly won’t know about their 2020 draftees either, but the Sharks did take four players in the seventh round. If their track record indicates anything is that at least one of those four has a good shot of being an NHL player someday.
The Sharks have certainly done well in their history in terms of identifying and developing NHL players from late in the draft. There is no question that Pavelski is the best amongst these, but even without him, there is has unquestionably been repeated success. Particularly in the Wilson era of the team, they have done exceptionally well and hopefully for them, it continues. The organization selected four players in the seventh round in the 2020 draft, so perhaps an updated list will include one of them in the future.