Swing & a Miss?When the Columbus Blue Jackets selected Michigan defenseman Zach Werenski eighth overall, the fears of many Sharks fans were realized. All three top-rated defenseman were off the board before the Sharks’ selection.
The Sharks already have plenty of talented young forwards, both at the NHL level and in the pipeline, so a defenseman at ninth overall was ideal. Instead they ended up selecting Halifax winger Timo Meier.
Over the years the Sharks have built their squad through the middle and have been very successful. Therefore, selecting Meier was a bit of an odd decision. While colleague Larry Fisher had the Sharks selecting Meier in his first round mock draft, using a top-10 selection on a winger is a bit of a reach.
In a draft that many believe to be comparable with the awesome 2003 draft, not taking a center may prove to be a mistake. The last time the Sharks took a winger this high in the draft was in 2005 when they took Devin Setoguchi, a player already on his way out of the NHL.
It is far from shocking that the first five forwards taken in the draft are all centermen. Players with the ability to take faceoffs and play the defensive forward role on the breakout have an easier transition to playing wing if need be than vice versa. Not to mention, No. 1 centers are often the best forwards on their teams: Pavel Datsyuk, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux, Anze Kopitar, Joe Thornton, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin (both Dallas super stars are natural centers), need I go on?
Barzal Is The Type of Player They Needed
As mentioned in previous columns, yours truly has little to no eye-ball test on junior and NCAA prospects. That said, knowing the Sharks have a short supply of right-handed faceoff men outside of Joe Pavelski and Ben Smith, Barzal would have made more sense.
The British Columbia native is a right-handed center with steady production in each of his first two years in the WHL. Barzal fell to 16th in the draft but has had back-to-back 40 assist and 50 point seasons playing in 59 and 44 games. Meier on the other hand had an insane jump from 34 points to 90 points in 61 and 66 games.
That crazy jump in production is a bit of a red flag. Players don’t all of a sudden nearly triple their previous scoring total from one year to the next based off nothing but personal growth. As SB Nation’s Fear the Fin points out, Meier benefited from playing with Winnipeg Jets top prospect Nikolaj Ehlers this past season. Now most mock drafts had Meier being drafted in the top-15 of the draft so while it isn’t a huge reach, it is far from a widely applauded selection.
It may seem like the Sharks were in need of wingers but most of the Sharks centers can play wing just as easily (as mentioned above, it is an easier transition). Natural centers Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl all have the ability to be scoring wingers. Pure winger types like Matt Nieto, Tommy Wingels (some places list him as a center but he is a genuine winger), Barclay Goodrow, and top prospect Nikolay Goldobin on the other hand are likely never going to be seen in the middle. The transition is almost always center to wing and never the other way around.
With most NHL draftees not being NHL ready it will take time for Meier to develop. We won’t know how he will pan out for a good three or four years down the line. Meier could very well end up being a quality NHL player. However, taking a winger in the top-10 of a highly rated draft class just feels like a swing and infield single rather than an extra base hit.
Andrew has been credentialed to cover the Sharks since 2010 and the 49ers since 2012. He graduated with his BA in Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts in 2013 from San Francisco State University.