2020 NHL Hall of Fame inductee Doug Wilson became the general manager of the San Jose Sharks in 2003, and during his tenure has built a perennial contender. Part of the Sharks’ success is their ability to find value in the late rounds of the entry draft. In the 17 seasons since Wilson took over, the Sharks have only failed to make the playoffs twice, in 2014-15 and 2019-20 (in 2004-05, the season was cancelled due to the lockout).
What Constitutes a “Late Round?”
The NHL Draft has had a variable number of rounds in its history, but when Wilson took over in 2003, it had 9. In 2005, this was changed to 7 rounds and has been consistent ever since. Therefore, for the purposes of this exercise, we will consider anything in the 5th round or later a “late-round” pick.
Started with a Bang
Probably one of the biggest success stories is Plover, Wisconsin native Joe Pavelski drafted in the 7th round, 205th overall, in 2003. In his very first draft, Wilson picked the future Sharks captain from the scraps of the feast of the first few rounds. Never a great skater, Pavelski’s work ethic is almost unparalleled. A consummate professional, he kept getting better and better each year.
Though he was drafted out of the USHL, Pavelski began to leave his mark in college, where he was named captain for the University of Wisconsin Badgers and helped them win a 2006 NCAA National Championship. During that run, he also led the team in points. In his first couple of professional seasons with the Sharks, he hovered around a half-point per game, but he was soon a consistent 60-plus-point player. Then in 2013-14, he exploded to become a point-per-game player and continued to be for a few seasons. Getting 963 NHL games out of a 7th-round pick is amazing, but getting 761 points as well is unreal.
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Pavelski is tied for 5th, with Zach Parise (taken 17th overall), in scoring for his draft class. Only Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, and Corey Perry are ahead of him, all of whom were 1st or 2nd-round picks. Pavelski is known as one of the best at tipping in pucks in front of the net.
Detailing all of his accolades would take too long, but here are some of the highlights: He was part of Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, winning a silver medal in 2010 in Vancouver; he served as captain for the United States at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey where he earned the nickname “Captain America”; He led his team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 pacing the league with 14 goals.
From 2013-2016, Pavelski was second only to Alexander Ovechkin (drafted first overall in 2004) in power-play goals. He was selected as an NHL All-Star in 2016, 2017, and 2018. After the 2018-19 season, the Sharks refused to offer him the term he wanted and left in free agency to sign with the Dallas Stars. For the former captain known as “Little Joe” next to Jumbo Joe Thornton, Pavelski will forever be considered a Shark and go down in history as one of the best 7th-round picks ever to play in the NHL.
Although not a huge success, McCarthy played 88 NHL games and was a mainstay for the AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda. His playing career was cut short by an ischemic stroke in 2019 and the former captain transitioned to become a member of the Barracuda coaching staff.
Not bad for a 7th-round pick (202nd overall). Not all late picks can turn into Pavelski, most don’t even play in the NHL. McCarthy has proven valuable to the organization and was a good find by Wilson.
In 2007, the Sharks hit on Braun in the 7th round (201st overall), a fantastic shutdown defenseman who played 607 games with the Sharks.
He was a top 4 rearguard for much of his career and, in his prime, an excellent partner with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Those two earned the tough assignments for many years and more often than not stymied their opponents.
The Pick that Keeps on Giving
After the 2018-19 season, the Sharks traded Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 2019 2nd-round pick and a 2020 3rd-round pick. The Sharks flipped the 2019 2nd-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights for a later second (48th overall) in 2019 and a 2019 3rd-round pick. With the 48th overall pick, they took defenseman Artemi Kniazev from the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL who is a promising prospect. According to Hockey Prospecting, Kniazev has a 41% chance of making the NHL.
The Sharks then packaged their own 3rd-round pick along with the one they received from the Golden Knights and sent it to the New Jersey Devils for their 2nd-round pick that they used to select Dillon Hamaliuk (LW) from the WHL. A bit of a longshot, Hamaliuk is estimated to have a 33% chance of making it to the NHL after regressing a bit from his draft year when he had a 46% chance.
Braun provided 607 games of service, which is tremendous for a 7th-round pick. He was also valuable in the trade that helped land two more picks that may turn in to future NHL players. In the end, this is another fantastic late-round pick by Wilson.
Wingels and Demers
A pair of late-round talents, Tommy Wingels and Jason Demers were selected in 2008. Wingels was a 6th-rounder (177th overall) and Demers a 7th-rounder (186th overall). Neither were huge offensive producers but were excellent depth players. Wingels played in 337 games for the Sharks where he brought energy and a physical element that was much needed. He never scored 20 goals but had two seasons of at least 15 in 2013-14 and 2014-15. He played in 22 playoff games during the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015-16, chipping in 2 goals.
Wingels was traded in January 2017 to the Ottawa Senators for Buddy Robinson, Zack Stortini, and a 2017 7th-round pick. Robinson moved on to the Calgary Flames organization where he did well in the AHL and even got into five games with the Flames signaling that he may have an NHL future. Stortini is more of a journeyman AHLer who has since moved on to the Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate. The pick that the Sharks got for Wingels was used to select Ivan Chekhovich (see below).
Demers suited up for exactly 300 NHL games with the Sharks where he was a serviceable right-handed shot, bottom-pairing defenseman. He had more of a scoring touch in the QMJHL that never really materialized in the NHL, and he was moved in 2014 to the Stars for Brenden Dillon. Dillon played 439 games for the Sharks and was more of a physical force that played top-4 minutes. A definite upgrade from Demers.
Even Further Value
Due to cap constraints, the Sharks traded fan favorite Dillon to the Washington Capitals in February 2020 for a 2020 2nd-round pick (previously of the Colorado Avalanche) and a 3rd-round pick in either 2020 or 2021. Both of these late-round picks by the Sharks in 2008 continue to be valuable today and show the wisdom of Wilson’s late draft decisions.
In 2011, the Sharks selected Demelo with their 6th-round pick (179th overall). He played 133 games for the Sharks as an effective right-handed defender. He was a valuable piece of the blue line and his value continued as an important piece of the package that landed Erik Karlsson in 2018. In 2019-20, DeMelo split time between the Senators and the Winnipeg Jets.
Even though he only got into 10 games with the Jets, he was their best defender in expected goal rates (a measure of expected goals against per 60 minutes versus expected goals for per 60 minutes). DeMelo is another example of a quality NHL player taken late by Wilson and the Sharks.
Ryan was a 2012 7th-round pick (198th overall). He played 106 games for the Sharks, mostly in a depth role. He signed with the Los Angeles Kings in 2019-20 where he continues to play regular minutes.
He doesn’t have much offensive upside but is an adept defensive defenseman. As a 7th-round pick, that is pretty good value.
Labanc was a 6th-round pick in 2014 (171st overall). His 5-foot-11 frame is probably a big reason he was available so late; that and the fact that he only put up 35 points in 65 games for the Barrie Colts of the OHL. Labanc then posted 107 points in 68 games and 127 points in 65 games in his final two seasons of junior before transitioning to the AHL in 2016-17 where he scored at a clip of 24 points in 19 games.
Labanc clearly has offensive talent, even at the NHL level, as evidenced by his 149 points in 284 games, though he continues to have issues on the defensive side of the puck that may limit his opportunities moving forward. Regardless, getting 284 NHL games and scoring in over half of them with the Sharks is an impressive feat for a 6th-rounder.
Jury is Still Out
The following players have yet to make an impact in the NHL, but the trend of finding talent late in the NHL draft seems to have continued. If any of these players live up to half their post-draft hype, it will be a huge success. The Sharks don’t have a great prospect pool, but these late-round talents help make up for it.
The Sharks may have uncovered another diamond in the rough with their 7th-round pick (210th overall) in 2016. A native of Denmark, Blichfeld played in nearby Sweden during his draft year posting 28 points in 45 games as a 17-year-old in the ultra-competitive SuperElit for Malmo Redhawks (J20).
He transitioned to North America in 2016-17, playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, where he posted 58 points in 63 games. In 2017-18, he was a point-per-game player, and in 2018-19, he torched the league to a tune of 114 points in 68 games. He also wore the assistant captain’s “A” as a testament to his maturity and leadership. Though he has only played three NHL games, he has rocketed up the prospect depth chart in his first year as a professional in 2019-20, posting 32 points in 44 games in his inaugural campaign with the Barracuda.
He possesses blazing speed and can think the game pretty quickly for how fast he is. Blichfeld is probably the prospect that is the closest to NHL-ready in the organization, and I expect to see him make the team in 2020-21. He’s another 7th-rounder who has made it to the NHL.
The Sharks may have hit on both their 6th and 7th-round picks in 2017 with Sasha Chmelevski (185th) and Ivan Chekhovich (212th). As described by Darryl Dobbs of Dobber Hockey, Chmelevski is “one of the most underrated prospects in the game.” Dobber is extremely high on his upside seeing shades of David Pastrnak in his game.
I’m not sure I see that, but for Chmelevski to get anywhere near Pastrnak in terms of an NHL career would be a huge success for a 6th-rounder. He has continued to increase his point total every year in both the OHL and AHL, and he was one of the best players for Team USA at the 2019 World Junior Championships posting 7 points in 7 games for the disappointing squad.
Chmelevski failed to make the Sharks team out of camp in 2019-20, he looked a bit lost at times and that the pace of the NHL game was a bit too much for him. He is regarded as a highly intelligent player who is motivated to keep improving. Hopefully, with more time and another camp before 2020-21, he will be ready to contribute when he will be on the second year of his entry-level contract valued at $773,333. The Sharks need their players on entry-level deals to contribute. Hockey Prospecting rates his chances of being an NHLer at 44%.
Ivan Chekhovich scored 59 points in 60 QMJHL games in his draft year and followed that up with a disappointing 60 points in 65 games in 2017-18. Things were headed in the wrong direction, and he started to look like a bust, but then he joined the Barracuda for the end of the regular season and put up nine points in six games and two points in four playoff games.
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This was his turning point because his third year in the QMJHL, all for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Chekhovich lit up the league for 105 points in 66 games in 2018-19. In 2019-20 he played his first full season in the AHL, and the transition was not so great, posting only 12 points in 42 games, though the Barracuda were not good this season.
He did have the Barracuda’s goal of the year though, so it wasn’t all bad. Chekhovich, who will be entering the second year of his entry-level contract at $776,667, needs to improve as he did in his final year of junior to make this pick work out well for the Sharks.
The 2018 6th-round pick (182nd overall) has come a long way since he was drafted. The Amherst, Massachusetts native just completed his junior season at UMass-Amherst where he led the NCAA in goals with 27 in 33 games and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
The left-winger should see some time in the AHL in 2020-21 but could see a call up earlier than expected due to the Sharks’ need for goal scoring. Leonard signed a 2-year entry-level deal at the conclusion of his 2019-20 season for the maximum $925,000 cap hit. If he could provide cheap scoring for the Sharks even in 2021-22, that would be a big win for the club. His probability of being and NHLer has risen since his draft year from 25% to 35% (Hockey Prospecting).
Will the Trend of Late-Round Draft Success Continue?
Wilson and his team have shown they can be successful in finding NHL talent late in the draft. Will his success continue? The Sharks will be a team to watch in the 2020 Entry Draft. For Sharks fans who won’t be able to watch the team play for months, the draft will be one of our few sources of excitement.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife.