The NHL regular season has yet to even conclude and already talk about the San Jose Sharks and the 2015 NHL Entry Draft? That’s right, this is certainly new territory with the Sharks having been eliminated from postseason contention. The last time the Sharks failed to qualify for the playoffs was 12 years ago when they finished 13th in the Western Conference back in 2002-03.
With the playoffs not in the Sharks’ future, the next thing Sharks fans have to look forward to is the late June draft. It is still to be determined where the Sharks will select in the first round but they will have a top-14 selection. They will also have a chance at landing the No. 1 pick and the coveted Connor McDavid. Realistically though they will pick somewhere between 10th and 14th. If recent past is any indication, the Sharks are likely to find their next top prospect with this selection. Their last three first round picks (Tomas Hertl 2012, Mirco Mueller 2013, and Nikolay Goldobin 2014) are all on track for where they are supposed to be at their respective ages and potential.
As for the draft as a whole, the Sharks have three significant areas of need. Now of course depending on talent level, taking the best player available is often the smart way to choose players. However, if debating between equally touted players, certain characteristics will be preferred. Without further ado, the following are San Jose’s top 3 needs.
1. Right-handed Puck Moving Defensemen
This is pretty simple. While it is unlikely Brent Burns returns to forward under GM Doug Wilson, a new GM may realize Burns fits better up front. If that happens, the only reliable right side puck mover remaining on the current roster is Justin Braun. Other right handed shooters like Taylor Fedun and Matt Tennyson appear to be more fill-in bottom pair types that don’t project to have much of an NHL future. On the other side of the blue-line, the Sharks look pretty much set in terms of long term future of left handed stay-at-home types. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is locked up long term as the team’s top pair shut down guy on the left side and the aforementioned Mueller and Brenden Dillon are likely to take up the other two left-handed spots. Not to mention there is a chance Matt Irwin returns, and he is also a left handed shooter. On a defense that struggled this past season, right side puck movers were clearly the weak spot both in the top-6 and depth wise.
2. Right-handed Center
Speaking of successful first round picks, the Sharks have actually scored on all four of their past four selections. They didn’t make one in 2011 but in 2010 they drafted Charlie Coyle late in the first round. The right-handed shooting center has played every game for the Minnesota Wild this season. While he isn’t quite the top-6 talent yet, he is still only 23-years-old and is having a career year in his third season with the Wild. He has scored 35 points this year in his second full season and has raised his plus/minus rating from minus-7 to plus-12. The Sharks could use a player with Coyle’s skill set. Every single one of San Jose’s young forwards with top six ability or potential are left-handed shooters. Logan Couture, Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney, and the aforementioned Hertl and Goldobin are all left handed shooters. Currently speaking the only real right-handed shooting center the Sharks have in their top-9 forwards is Joe Pavelski. He takes quite a bit of faceoffs while on Thornton’s wing. While Tommy Wingels does take faceoffs as well, his career .407 faceoff percentage is barely worthy of taking right-side faceoffs over a regular left handed center. Ideally speaking in the coming years the Sharks will have at least one of their top 3 centers shoot right-handed. Currently with Thornton, Couture, and Tierney, all three of them are left-handed and outside Pavelski, they don’t have many right-handed options in the circle.
The San Jose Sharks have struggled mightily to find a goaltender in the draft over the entirety of the Doug Wilson era. Wilson took over as GM in 2003 and has failed to draft a No. 1 starting goaltender in that span. Long time starter Evgeni Nabokov (primary No. 1 guy from 2000-2010) was drafted in the 9th round back in 1994 and current starter Antti Niemi was acquired as a free agent. The biggest name the Sharks have drafted at the goaltending position since Wilson took over? That would be their current backup Alex Stalock drafted in the fourth round back in 2005. That is simply bad drafting. Goaltending would be higher on this list but goaltenders are more frequently found in later rounds and as undrafted free agents from college or overseas. That said, some goaltenders do get drafted early with lots of success (Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury) are a couple current examples that come to mind. The Sharks shouldn’t reach for a goaltender but spending multiple draft selections on goaltenders in this draft would be a wise choice. They need to give themselves a couple of opportunities to score at the goaltending position.