Today is the day. At 7pm Eastern, the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry draft will commence with 17 and 18-year old kids realizing their draft fate at the home of the Florida Panthers.
Will they go to a team in contention or to a team that is rebuilding? Or will they go to a team like the Sharks, a club that can’t seem to decide between the two?
Speaking of Team Teal, the Bay Area club is currently slated to select ninth overall in the first round. The last time the Sharks selected as high as ninth was back in 2007 when they traded up to the same slot to select Logan Couture. He’s turned out alright.
This time around the Sharks are likely to land a similar impact player at ninth overall. The 2015 draft class has been compared to the epic 2003 draft that produced first round talents such as Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Brent Burns, Brent Seabrook, Dustin Brown, Dion Phaneuf (9th overall), Ryan Suter, Thomas Vanek, Eric Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Milan Michalek, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter. Not to mention second round picks like Shea Weber, and Patrice Bergeron. Oh and some guy named Joe Pavelski way down in the seventh round.
Hanifin, Provorov, Werenski
Always in full disclosure with my column, I admit to having next to no personal eye-ball test of the prospects going into this draft. However, given the Sharks needs, it is clear that San Jose should target a defenseman with their first round choice.
Three defense prospects are projected to go in the first 10 selections. Noah Hanifin out of Boston College is a top-5 projected pick, whereas Michigan’s Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings are projected to go anywhere from sixth to tenth.
While there is a chance all three defenseman are gone by the time the Sharks pick, if either one of them is available at ninth overall, the Sharks would be making a mistake to draft a forward instead. Behind Marc-Edouard Vlasic the Sharks still have limited depth on the blue line. While young left-handed shooters Mirco Mueller and Brenden Dillon have potential to play the left-side on a second pairing, neither looked good last season. The 19-year-old Mueller might be better suited spending time in the AHL. Dillon has potential to be a shut down second pair guy but he had hiccups defensively and brought little value offensively. Far too many of his point shots were blocked by the first shot blocker.
Both Werenski and Provorov are left-handed shots that are projected as much stronger two-way prospects than Mueller or Dillon. The most recent mock draft from NHL.com has the Sharks taking Werenski at nine after Provorov is taken eighth by Columbus. Author Adam Kimelman writes in this mock that some scouts believe Provorov could make an impact at the NHL level as soon as next season. Either player would be the best choice the Sharks could make given their defensive deficiencies.
Defensemen Bigger Need Than Forwards
Currently the Sharks have plenty of young forwards capable of playing supporting roles. The main need up front in the next couple years is a blue chip center prospect capable of taking over for Joe Thornton. Outside of that, with young forwards at the NHL level like Matt Nieto, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Barclay Goodrow, and Chris Tierney, as well as prospects like Nikolay Goldobin, Rourke Chartier, and Kevin Labanc, the Sharks look pretty good at the forward position.
Keeping the puck out of their own net is the bigger issue moving forward. While the Sharks did struggle at both ends in 2014-15, the bigger question marks are on defense. Forwards like Hertl and Patrick Marleau are likely to bounce back. But beyond Vlasic, the Sharks have major concerns defensively.
The next two best defensemen are Brent Burns and Justin Braun. Both played below expectations defensively last year. While Vlasic, Burns and Braun will take up three top-four defense spots, that fourth slot is anybody’s guess in the next few years.
Two seasons ago the Sharks collapsed in the 2014 playoffs when Vlasic went down with injury. Last year the defense was again weak behind No. 44. I’m certainly going out on a limb here by saying the Sharks should aim for a defenseman at ninth overall.