#1 Will Smith, C
Acquired: SJS 2023 NHL Draft, 1st Round, 4th Overall
2022-2023: USA USNTDP
Just a casual 127 points in 60 games last season for Will Smith. Super casual. A casual 20 points in 7 WJC-18 games after. Pretty good, huh?
I hope you've gotten the sense that Will Smith is a dynamic offensive forward by those ludicrous numbers above. That's very true. Will Smith had a near-historic season for the USNTDP last season, posting one of the highest point totals for a draft eligible prospect ever.
He's a dynamic forward who uses his puck-skills to beat players one-on-one, his cerebral playmaking mind to pass through defenders, and a laser wrist-shot to snipe corners when the prior two aren't available. He's exactly what the doctor ordered for the San Jose prospect pool at this number 1 slot.
He's got the potential to be a #1C for San Jose, even if there are legitimate question marks to his game that we'll get into now. There is no other prospect in the Sharks system who has this potential, more than likely, highlighting his importance here.
Smith is headed off to Boston College of the NCAA, and a lot is expected of him, both there and at the World Junior Championship in December. He's possibly going to supplant Cutter Gauthier at the #1C, both at BC and at the WJC, but needs to improve his 200-foot game in order to do so.
Smith isn't exactly lazy when it comes to defensive play, but he certainly can lag just a bit. He's not the most physical overall, and can fade on the back-check. This is why he isn't stepping right into the NHL. This is why he needs 1-2 more years of college play to really round out his game as a center.
The worry is he turns into a Dylan Strome type if he doesn't really round out his game: a dynamic offensive forward who bounces between wing and center for awhile until he becomes serviceable as a center. I'm hopeful for a more Jack Hughes-lite path for him. His development is the most important thing to watch headed into the 2023-2024 season for Sharks fans.
NHL Potential 8.0: 1st-line Playmaking Center
#2 William Eklund, W
Acquired: SJS 2021 NHL Draft, 1st Round, 7th Overall
2022-2023 Season: AHL San Jose
At this point I think William Eklund is a member of San Jose's top-six next season, so he better be up this high for the Sharks.
I have watched so much Eklund going back to his draft year, his Sweden D+1 year, and his AHL year last season. I've written for San Jose Hockey Now a long article about where I see his game currently, if you're interested in that sort of thing. He also got a video on the prospect series last year here.
Needless to say, I think he's on track. He's coming in as the solid #2, after holding the top spot since he was drafted #7 overall in 2021. He's being bumped down by a dynamic, possible #1C, so let's cut the Gecko some slack.
He's first and foremost a fantastic skater. I wouldn't say his top-speed is light-years ahead of everyone, but his mobility, edges, and turns are incredible. He's just now learning how to leverage that to create offense in the AHL/NHL.
He's still not a fully-armed and operational battle station yet, but the light it starting to shine through. This went away a bit in his draft+1 year, but came back with a vengeance with the Barracuda last year. Eklund was routinely their best player, earning an 8 game NHL call-up at the end of the year. He had flashes of offense there too, but got sent down, then injured on the Barracuda to end his season.
Still though, Eklund had the AHL season he needed to after a disappointing D+1 campaign. He proved he can be a goal-scorer in North America, something he took a specific interest in prior to this past season.
I see him long-term as a second-line playmaking winger for the Sharks, who can step into a top-line occasionally and create. I think fans may have expected a bit more than this, but that's a bit unfair to Eklund. He's going to be an important Shark for a long time.
NHL Potential 7.0-7.5: Second-line Playmaking Winger
#3 Shakir Mukhamadullin, D
Acquired: Trade NJD-SJS Feb 2023
2022-2023 Season: KHL Salavat Ufa / AHL San Jose
Shakir Mukhamadullin is probably the most important prospect (currently) for the Sharks' rebuild outside of Will Smith. The Sharks really, really, really, need him to develop into what they think he can become.
Many fans are not optimistic about his NHL future or the future of the Sharks, especially when players like Holtz, Nemec and Hughes (the Luke variety) were not included in the blockbuster deal that sent Timo away.
I'm here to say I think that's a bunch of malarkey. He's a legitimate defense prospect with top-4 potential for the Sharks, something they simply don't have a lot of farther down this list. They have guys that may, if all goes well, land into this spot, but for Shakir, not a lot has to go right-er than it already has for him to get there....if that makes sense.
When he first came over to the AHL after a very successful KHL campaign that saw him put up 25 points in 67 games, I wrote about his transition on San Jose Hockey Now here.
He's got impressive speed for his size, and is able to cover a lot of ice with ease. He's defensively okay currently, but has some issues with turning to defend players coming up the wall. He's physical, but still very lanky, with lots of muscle left to put on his frame. His offense is slowly but surely evolving. He's got a big point-shot which can give him some powerplay utility, and his passing is above average.
The #3 spot between him and Bystedt was a big battle for me. On the one hand, I think Bystedt has the potential to really become an integral member for the Sharks, and a good floor, as we'll talk about in a second. On the other, I think Shakir just has a hair more of an upside than Bystedt. An upside that could turn him, and the entire Timo Meier trade into a win for the Sharks.
It also doesn't hurt that Joe Thornton, through a David Quinn quote said:
“Everybody says he passes the eye test, for sure,” San Jose Sharks head coach David Quinn said on Monday. “But just talking to Joe Thornton about him, I said how’s he looking, he goes he looks like an NHL’er. So that’s good enough for me.”
Also Logan Couture skated with him this summer and thinks he has an NHL future, which is a great endorsement. Couture's quote you can find below on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast!
NHL Potential 7.0: Top-4 Two-way Defender
#4 Filip Bystedt, C
Acquired: SJS 2022 NHL Draft, 1st Round, 27th Overall
2022-2023: SHL Linköping HC
Bystedt has quickly proven all the doubters wrong about how high he was drafted. Even for me, I saw Bystedt in his draft year as an uncoordinated, lanky, below NHL average skater who had some interesting tools but lots of question marks. Now after a full year in the SHL, multiple international tournaments later, and consistent, steady growth, I can confidently say he has proven me wrong.
He's a prospect who got a video last year, and if he got a video this year would have significant improvements in his physical play, and his speed grades above most everything else in his repertoire.
Bystedt is a prospect that I think could become an important middle-six center for the Sharks. He plays a well-rounded game, with absolutely fantastic positioning. He's always aware of where the puck is, where it is going, and how to position himself to get in front of it when it break loose. He's got an uncanny knack for turning loose pucks into scoring chances, and getting those pucks loose himself. This is the hallmark of a good defensive center, one that can turn loose pucks into points by nothing more than recognition of play.
I see that future for Bystedt, even if he isn't wow'ing everyone with points every night. He has some good rush patterns that he leans on, and can make a man miss in open-ice with some impressive wheels for a guy his size. This was something missing from his tape a year ago, and it is obvious he has worked on his acceleration to keep up with play in the SHL. His shot is still a work-in-progress, especially his one-timer. He over-relies on dropping to his knees to get a shot off, causing a delay in his release. His wrister is still good off the rush, and he gets lots of power behind it.
Bystedt is going back to the SHL next season, and is very likely to take on a top 2 center role for his club. I'm excited for hopefully a 0.7-1 point per game season from him, as I think that's the logical next step in his development before coming over to NA full time.
NHL Potential 6.5-7.0: Middle-six Two-way Center
#5 Quentin Musty, W
Acquired: SJS 2023 NHl Draft, 1st Round, 26th Overall
2022-2023 Season: OHL Sudbury
Musty was such a good pick by the Sharks. He's exactly what their prospect system was missing. A big, highly skilled winger, with the potential to play a middle-of-the-lineup power forward game if his development continues. Think Brandon Coe with some more skill and pace.
First and foremost Musty is a gifted playmaker. His touch on his passes is amongst the best in the Sharks system behind Eklund and Smith. He's got a good shot from distance, that I think will only improve with time. He absolutely lit up the prospect scrimmage this summer, even above the #1 player on this list Will Smith. The format really played to his strengths, as his creativity and individual puck skills shined through.
As of now though, I don't think he has all the elements to play a power forward game. He will sometimes take games off, and not really lean into his physical tools as much, opting for peripheral plays instead of trying to get inside. I think there's definitely the potential for him to grow in this area though as he physically matures.
I watched him at the World Junior Summer Showcase and he was a bit of a mixed bag. His last game, which has the highlight reel winning goal below, was excellent. He was hard on the boards, continually cut inside to get shots off, and was overall one of USA's best forwards.
I suspect he goes back to the OHL and absolutely crushes it. He has all the elements, although his skating is fine but not a standout, to really dominate juniors. I think once he takes a few more years to really become the power-forward that the Sharks are hoping he can become, that he'll step into the AHL briefly, and into an NHL role eventually. I see him as a long-term middle-six power forward winger.
NHL Potential 6.5-7.0: Middle-six Power Forward / Playmaking forward
#6 Henry Thrun, D
Acquired: Trade SJS-ANA, February 2023
2022-2023 Season: NCAA Harvard / San Jose Sharks
Steady as she goes Number Thrun. NO. WAIT. Welcome to the Thrunderdome.
Henry Thrun came out of nowhere to rocket up this prospect list. He stepped right out of the NCAA, a league he has been basically a point per game in for two years as a defenseman, and onto the Sharks after serving as Harvard's captain. He added a steadying presence to the blueline right away, as well as showcased some of his talents as a breakout passer.
Not overly physical or dynamic offensively, but there's a lot about Thrun that looks NHL caliber. He's of ideal size for a defender at 6'2", which certainly helps him rise to this part of the list for the Sharks, ahead of smaller defenders like Pohlkamp, Cagnoni and Hävelid.
He rose up many prospect lists, and mine included. He reminds me of when Braun stepped into the league. Good instincts for the position, good defensive footwork, and able to advance play up-ice. The Sharks did a great job in targeting him, trading only a third for him, and ultimately showcasing him at the end of the year.
There's a possibility he heads back down to the AHL next year given just how many defensemen the Sharks have on the roster. I would assume he makes his way back up to the NHL soon if that does happen. I don't think this changes his projection though, as ultimately he seems to slot in as a #4-5 defensemen that provides steady defense, but not enough dynamic capabilities to advance further.
NHL Potential 6.5: #4-5 Two-way Defenseman
#7 Danil Gushchin, W
Acquired: SJS 2020 NHL Draft, 3rd Round, 76th Overall
2022-2023 Season: AHL San Jose Barracuda
Speaking of undersized skilled forwards from the 2020 NHL draft, we have Danil Gushchin! I wrote an article for San Jose Hockey Now a few months back here that highlights much of what I'm going to say here. Click it!
Anyways, Gushchin possesses an impressive shot, smooth hands, and a decent set of puck skills overall. He is small, but tenacious as a backchecker, and attempts to be physical on the boards as well. He's at his best when he's focused on stealing pucks out from under skates, attacking the net off the rush, and ripping shots from the slot.
I really like Gushchin. He's a player I've watched so much of, in juniors and now professionally, and I'm actively rooting for him to make the NHL. The homer in me cannot be stopped when it comes to this player. He's just has an "it" factor to him when he's on his game that is hard to ignore, and hard to find among the Sharks prospect system.
All of that being said, he's still a 5'8" winger, and that physical profile is hard to slot into the NHL. It's not that he's soft or unwilling to board battle, I just don't think his checking form is up to snuff. A guy like Wiesblatt or even Bordeleau have physicality despite their size, whereas Gushchin hasn't really developed this area of his game as much. Again, he attempts, but most checks fall flat, rather than make the opponent fall flat.
He needs more time, and most importantly a coaching staff to be patient with him, and not cut him out of the league too early if he struggles. He's a notorious slow starter when he moves up levels, and this past year wasn't any different with the Barracuda. Once he found his place and found ample powerplay time he turned into a legitimate AHL scorer. He netted his first NHL goal above as well, hopefully the first of many. For the longest time he was placed behind Bordeleau on the prospect tier from the 2020 draft, but I think based on how both their seasons ended, he deserves the spot above.
I see his projection as a middle-six scoring winger, with powerplay productivity, if all goes well, but there is certainly risk here given his physical profile. Let's hope he pulls it out and we can see him scoring goals in bunches soon for San Jose.
NHL Potential 6.5: Middle-six Scoring Winger
#8 Thomas Bordeleau, C
Acquired: SJS 2020 NHL Draft, 2nd round, 38th Overall
2022-2023 Season: AHL San Jose Barracuda
I've said a lot about Bordeleau over the past two years. He also got a video in last summer's prospect series if you're interested here. It's been a highs and lows journey for him since he was drafted, so let's review how we got here.
Bordeleau was a fairly high second round pick for the Sharks. Undersized and skilled was the theme of the 2020 draft for the Sharks. Wiesblatt, Robins, Gushchin, and Bordeleau all sort of fit this mold. It's been a question ever since how these players would translate as they moved up against bigger and faster competition. It still remains a question, but Bordeleau jumped out ahead of the pack in his draft+1 year.
As a freshman he put up 30 points in 24 games in 2020-2021, and if not for a COVID-19 precaution, would have made team USA's gold medal winning team in 2021. He followed up his final season in Michigan, his sophomore year, with 37 points in 37 games in 2021-2022. Respectable, but he did move down the lineup a bit with budding star Matty Beniers sucking up a lot of icetime.
He then played a few games for the Cuda and Sharks at the end of that season, and put up 5 points in 8 NHL games. Expectations were sky-high for him to make the NHL after this, heading into last season.
And then he didn't. He played the majority of last year on the Cuda. More highs and lows there as well. He started off hot, sporting a refined shot (and willingness to shoot), and became a powerplay one-timer option for the AHL affiliate. He earned himself an AHL all-star selection with his play for the first half of the year.
It then sort of faded. He got moved off center, which doesn't seem to fit with his style of play. His creative playmaking wasn't on display like it has been in prior seasons. His defensive positioning has always been an issue, and is still remains one as we ended last year. He did manage a prolonged NHL debut, but only put up 2 points in 8 games.
It's a question for Bordeleau of what he is at the NHL level. He's small for a center, and defensively not responsible enough for coaches to want to play him there. He's ineffective as a winger, mostly because he does his best work in the center of the ice offensively. His shot, while improved, hasn't been on display during his NHL debuts at all. Possibly from an inability to muscle into shooting position, or just that his one-timer is pretty predictable.
Anyways, it's a bit of a quandary where to put Bordeleau in an NHL lineup, and on this list. As high as #2 overall in the Sharks system, I think he's fallen a bit. If all of it starts to click, and he improves his defensive positioning, find a way to get shots through, and a coach is willing to give him time as a center, I think he could be a third-line playmaking center who provides you offense in the bottom six. However, he needs to really hit his stride this year, and lots of congestion in the Sharks forward group might put him on the outs.
NHL Potential 6.0-6.5: Third-line Playmaking Center
#9 Mattias Hävelid, D
Acquired: SJS 2022 NHL Draft, 2nd Round, 45th Overall
2022-2023 Season: SHL Linköping HC
Hävelid was a good pick for the Sharks at 45th overall last year. Fresh off a U18 tournament which saw him put up 12 points in 6 games, and an impressive playoff for his J20 team, his stock was sky high.
It's not as if his stock has fallen in my opinion, just that he had a bit of a slow start this year. He had injury trouble before he had to transition to the SHL. I thought throughout the year he got more comfortable in limited minutes.
First thing you should know about Hävelid is that his shot is a weapon. His wrister is explosive and accurate. He can get it on net from the blueline, create rebounds and opportunities through this skill alone. He jumps into play frequently, and can laser shots even at the SHL level right now.
He's a skilled puck-mover as well, with good skating and puckhandling to transition the puck. He's small for a defenseman is the biggest knock on him, at only 5'10" or so. However, he's not your typical soft, playmaking first, allergic to contact smaller defenseman. He's got real retrieval skills in the defensive zone, even if he can get a bit puck-focused and lose coverage. He's a decent hitter, and can clog play along the boards until he can hit his partner for a breakout.
I really like him as a prospect, as I think he has a well-rounded game to back up an actual above NHL average shooting talent. His size could be an issue, and given his lack of truly elite dynamic playmaking, he might not be able to advance too too far up NHL lineups. For now a safe NHL potential of a third pairing, PP guy, with the potential to move up the lineup in a pinch seems right. A comp for him would be a Torey Krug-lite.
NHL Potential 6.0-6.5: Third-pairing Offensive Defenseman
#10 Kasper Halttunen, W
Acquired: SJS 2023 NHL Draft, 2nd Round, 36th Overall
2022-2023 Season: Liiga HIFK
Halttunen is very similar to Cam Lund in his projection. They're similar size, R shot, skilled wingers with a very raw game. Halttunen is a better shooter than Lund, who is a good shooter in his own right. Halttunen also has a lot of issues with his game currently.
This is what I wrote for my Top 100 article before the draft on Halttunen:
...Halttunen is a project. He's an above-average skater for his size, and an aggressive player. He's a great shooter who knows where to place the puck. He's....hardheaded...in how he attacks defenders, using his frame to muscle the puck through or around them. The handling needs work in my opinion, as too often he is missing those subtle keeps that high-end forwards possess. His playmaking isn't great either, and too often he's focused on getting his shot on goal and not much else. In his limited Liiga minutes, he was very ineffective. At the U18s though on a poor Finland roster, he was brilliant. I think the projection is important here, as his size, shooting and skating is hard to come by. You just hope the rest of the game evolves some layers.
I think that mostly sums it up. I watched him at the World Junior Summer Showcase a month ago, and most of that still is true. He came away with 0 points in 3 games at the tourney, despite good powerplay time. His shots weren't accurate the whole tourney, and when they aren't hitting the net, he's not able to generate much offense. His playmaking skills are not a standout right now. He keeps his head down in the offensive zone and doesn't scan for his options.
All that being said, he really does have an excellent shot, a good motor, and great size with some physicality. I think if he can just adjust his approach a bit, be a bit more patient with the puck and learn to spot teammates more, that he can develop into an NHLer. Luckily he's not going back to Finland next year, and recently signed with the London Knights of the OHL. In my opinion, that's perfect. He needs to find a way to generate consistent offense beyond is shooting talents.
For now he's grading out as a 6.0. I see a comp of recent San Jose Shark addition Filip Zadina, but hopefully he develops a bit more...smoothly...than Zadina has. I also think Halttunen has more of a power-forward element to his game.
NHL Potential 6.0: Third-line Scoring Winger
#11 Cam Lund, W
Acquired: SJS 2022 NHL Draft, 2nd round, 34th Overall
2022-2023 Season: NCAA Northeastern
Cam Lund has been one of the hardest projections for me as a prospect. He's someone I actually started to make a video on last summer after he was drafted, and just couldn't put it together. He's still too much of a project. Still though, he's ranked pretty highly up on this list, so what gives?
Lund is a collection of tools, but in a messy toolbox right now. He started his collegiate career off with a bang, including an absolute laser of a shot in his first game for this goal:
There were flashes like this throughout his freshman season. He was near a point per game, 12 in 13, to start the year. There were games showcasing his excellent shooting talents, his creative rush offense, and some decent playmaking but they faded as time went on. I watched him in the World Junior Summer Showcase for Team USA a month ago and he was just sort of there. He had occasional flashes of creative playmaking, and then would fade again.
He doesn't have a very stable "B" game right now for even the NCAA level. He's not a particularly skilled forechecker, and despite being of ideal size, isn't overly physical in the corners. He's not a great skater, but I think his base stride could improve as he adds some more lower-body strength.
He's a project for sure, but if you can find 6'2" wingers who can shoot like he does, make plays like he does, you hold onto them and wait. I think the NCAA is actually the perfect place for him to develop, as he will need to pick up on the subtle aspects of defending, stealing, forechecking and rounding out his game before he can become an option in the NHL. Once he gets more comfortable and the offense can survive the lulls that are going to come with how his playing style is, I think he can start to take off. For now a third-line scoring winger potential makes the most sense. He's this high up because I think if he does improve, the toolbox becomes a little less murky, that's he's got just a bit of a higher ceiling than the guys already mentioned.
NHL Potential 6.0: Third-line Scoring Winger
#12 Luca Cagnoni, D
Acquired: SJS 2023 NHL Draft, 4th round, 123rd Overall
2022-2023 Season: WHL Portland
Luca Cagnoni was a steal of a draft pick by the Sharks. Even if he doesn't work out, even if his size does in fact hold him back, he's still an insanely good value draft pick in the 4th round at 123rd overall. He also earned his way onto the Half-wall Hockey Sharks team, as I also couldn't believe he fell that far on draft day and had to snag him.
As mentioned previously, Cagnoni is small for a defenseman. He's 5'9", and listed at 183 pounds, but I have some doubt in that weight estimate. He doesn't play particularly small, but he certainly doesn't play big or physical. He is not a liability defensively or anything, but his physicality must improve somewhat over the next 3 seasons before he can step into a men's league.
Now that we've gotten all the negative bits out of the way, let's talk about the positives. He's a deceptive skater, with sneaky good speed for someone his size. He's able to change direction, time his movements multiple lengths away from his opponents and beat them. He's a skilled breakout passer and can transition the puck extremely well. He's skilled on the powerplay, and although his shot isn't up there with guys like Pohlkamp or Havelid from the Sharks defensive pipeline, it isn't horrible.
My biggest takeaway whenever I would watch a Cagnoni game was just how calm he is. He doesn't panic, offensively or defensively, in tough situations. When defending 2-on-1s he makes excellent reads instead of just guessing. He's able to operate at a high speed both physically and mentally. He'll wait for breakout options, or rush himself out of the zone, all depending on what the forecheck is giving him.
Like I said, he's just too good of value to pass up where the Sharks got him. Point per game defensemen from the WHL should never be available in the 4th round. Anyways. There's still risk here with his projection, don't get me wrong. He needs to add some more dynamic elements to his game, especially with his puckhandling. This is something that someone like Lane Hutson has started to really show off in recent years, and would be a good mold for Cagnoni. If he doesn't become more dynamic, or his physicality doesn't improve, he could bust entirely. However, for now I'm going to put him at a solid 6 in potential. I think a third-pairing defenseman might even be underselling it if he does improve, but is a good middle ground for his projection for now.
NHL Potential 6: Third-pairing puck-moving defenseman
#13 Tristen Robins, F
Acquired: SJS 2020 NHL Draft, 2nd round, 56th Overall
2022-2023 Season: AHL San Jose Barracuda
Tristen Robins is another prospect that got a video last year! I do want to get back into making those, I think I could up the production value just a tad. I am a little busy though with the other obligations, so maybe I'll put a pin in it for a little while. Anyways.
Robins took up a good role on the Barracuda this past season. He worked his way up the lineup, starting from the bottom in a glut of forwards like Coe, Wiesblatt, etc. and persisted. He eventually started to earn regular powerplay time, an area that he excels at, even going back to his junior days. He's a shooting threat, with a sneaky good drag-wrister, and I'm happy that he carried that over into the AHL last season. His numbers look a little mediocre, but I think they're just fine for how discombobulated the Cuda was last season. 18 of his points came in the last 22 games of the season as well before his NHL callup.
I see his projection as a bottom-six scoring forward. He's a better center than he is winger, as his style of play at even-strength is tactical, positional and patient. Coaches might try to play him at winger given he isn't the biggest player, and is still pretty physically immature. He is a classic example of decent at everything, but not elite at any one set of skills. It makes his floor pretty high, and I think there's definitely a possibility he makes the NHL on his versatility alone. It also makes his ceiling, in my opinion, not super high.
He played a few games for the Sharks at the end of the year which weren't very inspiring, as he couldn't hold onto the puck long enough to make many plays. I think with some guys like Eklund and possibly Bordeleau moving up to more regular NHL time that he will be called upon to be a regular AHL contributor moving forward.
NHL Potential 5.5-6.0: Bottom-six Scoring Center/Winger
#14 Ethan Cardwell, W
Acquired: SJS 2021 NHL Draft, 4th round, 121st Overall
2022-2023 Season: OHL Barrie
Cardwell is a prospect I've had my eye on for awhile. He got a video when I did the Sharks prospect video series last year. He's a highly energetic forward who excels in all three zones. He's an extremely aggressive forechecker, despite his frame of only 5'10"-5'11". He's excellent at getting under sticks and making something happen after he steals. He's defensively responsible, and his motor helps to get him into lanes defensively and stops rushes.
He was good for Barrie the year before last, and was one of the last cuts from training camp in 2022, as he was technically eligible to play for the Barracuda then. It was decided to send him back to Barrie to develop his offensive game, and he took that challenge to heart. When I watched him this past year, it felt a bit like a different player, one that wasn't entirely focused on forechecking, steals, and a grinding game.
He focused heavily on his shooting, something that did need improvement. He became a powerplay weapon, a one-timer option, and led the team in goals with 43 in 62 games. Now he was an overager in the OHL, so this is to be expected. Still though, I like his development curve, especially because there's a base of a highly energetic winger with solid 200-foot capabilities underneath it all. Perhaps the offensive improvement was a flash in the pan, but if he can keep building on it, look out.
Todd Marchant, San Jose's director of player development, mentioned Cardwell as a prospect who improved in leaps and bounds this season when asked. I think the organization values him highly, and I think his play style will translate well as he moves to the Cuda next season.
NHL Potential 5.5-6.0: Bottom-six energy winger
#15 Eetu Mäkiniemi, G
Acquired: SJS-CAR Trade, July 2022
2022-2023 Season: AHL San Jose Barracuda
Eetu Mäkiniemi was acquired in the Brent Burns trade last summer, along with Steven Lorentz and a third round pick. Because Burns went on to have an excellent season in Carolina, and San Jose had to retain on him, the trade was poorly received from Sharks fans. However, I think there's quite a bit of runway still left for this goaltending prospect.
He had an excellent season two years ago for Carolina's AHL club, then followed that up with a decent 2022-2023 season. He even made his NHL debut, winning a 6-1 contest over Anaheim. His numbers for the Barracuda, ,900 save percentage in 22 games, seem mediocre at first, but when in context of how porous the Barracuda defense was last year, it isn't so terrible. He's a technically sound goaltender, who has good quickness down low, and a good glove hand. He's positionally decent, but has issues with rebound control and seeing through traffic.
All of that being said, I like him. I think there's real potential in him as a depth option for the Sharks going forward. Goaltenders also take forever to develop and are voodoo, so who knows. He's also the only over 23 player on this list, but given his setbacks from injury throughout the past two years, I think he still belongs here. Hopefully once he settles into the starter role for the Barracuda next year, puts the injury bug behind him, we can really start to see where his value lies.
NHL Potential: NHL Depth Goaltender
#16 Jake Furlong, D
Acquired: SJS 2022 NHL Draft, 5th round, 140th Overall
2022-2023 Season: QMJHL Halifax
Jake Furlong was probably one of the more improved Sharks prospects this season. I had watched Furlong in his draft year and didn't always like what I was seeing. His offense contribution was mostly, give the puck to the oodles of skilled Mooseheads forwards, and wait for one of them to score while he racked up secondary points. His defense was inconsistent, and his physicality wasn't always up-to-snuff.
This year it seemed like Furlong came into his own. After speaking with director of player development Todd Marchant on the SJHN Podcast, Furlong apparently takes video work and improvement to heart. What I've seen this year is a remarkable improvement defensively. He likes to attack at an angle, cutting off defenders during rush-scenarios, rather than continually skating backwards. He can get burned because of this, but overall he more than holds his own. He's really adept at tying up players in front of the net, and boxing out. He has a great habit of lifting sticks or tying them up, timing this when the shot is coming. These subtle skills from a defender translate to the pros really well, and I think some of this comes from video-work. He's also picked his physicality up a bit, and his retrievals have improved behind the net since his draft year.
I like his development curve defensively. Offensively it's still a work in progress I feel. His point shot is nothing that will give him powerplay utility. He attempts to rush the puck out a lot from his zone, but his decision-making lags when he gets pressured. He'll often have to turn when carrying, then gets pinned onto the boards before he can move the puck on. This can lead to lots of turnovers. I wouldn't say that as of now his offense will project to a pro-level. However, given his trajectory and improvement on the other side of the puck, perhaps there is more to come from Furlong. A bigger role, another offseason of training and improvement, and who knows what next year in the Q brings for Furlong.
NHL Potential 5.5: Depth/Third pairing defenseman
#17 Gannon Laroque, D
Acquired: SJS 2021 NHL Draft, 4th round, 103rd Overall
2022-2023 Season: WHL Victoria
The story with Laroque has been one of highs and lows. Last summer, after coming off an explosive 2021-2022 campaign, which saw him put up 52 points in 63 games for a really bad Victoria team, it was the summer of Gannon. Or summer of Laroque. Either one. He was named captain for the upcoming season in 2022-2023 for Victoria, and expectations were sky-high for him. Something of a hidden gem, Laroque was found by the DWJr scouting staff in the fourth round, coming off the COVID-influenced 2021 season. So what happened to this year? Well, injuries, obviously, but we'll get to that.
Laroque is one of my favorite players to watch. He's highly intelligent both defensively and offensively. He keeps his head up while defending, scanning for cross-ice options, timing his pokechecks well and being a disruptive force. He's lanky, at 6'2", and able to spread out on the ice to cover a lot of space when defending. He's competitive, and his retrieval skills on the wall and behind the net are pretty advanced. He identifies breakout options well after he gets the puck. His puck-skills are nothing to write home about. They're mostly fine, but probably need to improve to play at the pace of the NHL. He tends to be a little stiff when handling, and this can cause turnovers down low. His offense is simple, but really effective. He has a good stretch-pass, and he can draw defenders in to pass through them. In the offensive zone, he has a really good habit of knowing when to join the rush and when to stay back. He has a good pointshot that gives him utility on the powerplay.
Basically he is mostly everything you want in a modern two-way defender in the NHL, except for two problems. His injury history and his footspeed. He's coming off now double hip surgery over the past year, and lost pretty much an entire year of development because of it. Not only that, when he did come back in January for a brief 4 game stint with Victoria, I had some concerns. I think his play overall was actually pretty good, but he was compensating for a lack of footspeed on most plays. His turns were slow, so he would obstruct rather than turn with his attacker. He would stay deeper than his partner on most shifts, trying to prevent players from getting around him. It wasn't like he was painfully slow, but just slower than I remember him being from the prior year, which was already below average. He needs time, more than likely more recovery time first and foremost, then more training time. He's headed to the Barracuda next season, in what I think will likely be a combination rehab/conditioning/training year for him. His development can hinge on how well he progresses this year. I really like him as a player, so I'm rooting for him, but for now he has to go this far down the list in terms of NHL potential.
NHL Potential 5.5: Depth/Third pairing two-way defenseman
#18 Magnus Chrona, G
Acquired: Trade, April 2021, SJS-TBL
2022-2023 Season: NCAA Denver
I don't proclaim to be a goalie expert by any means, but I can certainly see some qualities of goaltenders, specifically Chrona, that project to the NHL. Chrona is a positional goaltender who relies on his frame, standing 6'4"+, more than his athleticism. He's not slow by any means, but I don't think it's going to be a hallmark of his game. He reminds me a bit of Martin Jones in net. Steady, solid and not going to wow you with much else. He was heavily shielded during his NCAA career behind a championship caliber Denver team. Not saying he wasn't a huge part of it, because he was exactly what Denver needed from a goaltender to win the championship. There were times when you just kind of "knew" that the puck wasn't going past him at key moments. That type of thing is hard to come by with amateur goaltenders, and worth hanging on to. I was very excited that the Sharks were able to sign him before he could have become a free agent this fall. I think he has a long way to go, and the real test will be what kind of goalie he can become when the shots aren't so protected. The Barracuda, who have had a porous defense for years now, should be that test for him.
In today's NHL, big, positional, steady but unspectacular goaltenders are actually at a premium. If you can develop these goaltenders internally slowly, they can pay dividends because of their lower cap-hits than you all-world, superstar goaltender. It's something teams like Vegas and New Jersey learned in this year's playoff. It's also very hard to predict where Chrona ranks in his NHL potential because of this. On the one hand, I don't think his raw talent is high enough to put him as a surefire starter or backup in the NHL. But. But. But. There is a world where his size, play-style, and more development turns him into a system goaltender for the Sharks.
NHL Potential: NHL Depth Goaltender / AHL Starter
#19 Ozzy Wiesblatt, W
Acquired: SJS 2020 NHL Draft, 1st round, 31st Overall
2022-2023 Season: AHL Barracuda
Ozzy is still Ozzy. He's an adept skater, with above average hands, a good motor, and an occasional mean streak. He's undersized, but doesn't shy away from physical contact. He can be pesty, getting under opponents skin by antagonizing them, attempting to steal pucks off them, and causing frustration. The offensive production has and continues to be an issue for Ozzy ever since he was drafted in the first round of 2020 oh so long ago.
On the Barracuda he struggled mightily throughout the season, but with a slight uptick in icetime by the end of the year. There was even talk of sending him back to Juniors midway through the year because he couldn't nail down a starting role. Eventually he settled into a role focused mostly on his pest-y habits rather than his offense. Offensively he still has issues with decision making primarily, carrying the puck into impossible to win situations, then turning it over. He doesn't have any range on his shot really, which limits his offensive contribution. He can play the powerplay but doesn't excel above most of the Barracuda forwards at it.
I struggle with his projection. I think if all goes well, he could land as a fourth line winger who brings you a spark. I think if he were a late second rounder, most of this would be expected. He was a first however, which will stick with him for better or for worse throughout his career. On the one hand, the Sharks might give him a little longer of a leash because of it, letting him develop his physicality a bit more, and develop him into an energy-type winger. On the other hand, the new Mike Grier management has not been kind to unproductive Wilsii prospects. I worry that if Ozzy doesn't contribute more offensively next season that he could be one of the next ones shipped out.
NHL Potential 5.0-5.5: Bottom-six energy winger
#20 Brandon Svoboda, C
Acquired: SJS 2023 NHL Draft, 3rd round, 71st overall
2022-2023 Season: USHL Youngstown
At first I was a bit skeptical of this pick by the Sharks. At 71st overall, I felt there were still some valuable players left on the board that might have a bit more upside than Svoboda. After a decent season for Youngstown that saw him put up 26 points in 59 games in a diminished offensive role, Svoboda was a surprise pick by the Sharks this high. He was #124 by FCHockey, #117 by McKeen's, and #66 among NA skaters. That puts him around the middle 4th round, rather than the top of the 3rd. So what gives? Why did the Sharks feel the need to trade up to get him?
Well first he's a big-bodied center. These players tend to go high. He's not slow. He's somewhat physical. He's defensively very sound. I was a little unfamiliar with his game before the draft, but I went back and watched some of his tape. He's a prototypical bottom six center pick. He's not going to wow you with much offensively, but his net front play is advanced and his retrieval skills are above most junior players. I like his trajectory though. He took up a role that fit his strengths, and I think he goes back to the USHL next year with some added responsibility, time, and better linemates to really accelerate a position-first offensive style. He is listed on EP as going to Boston University next season, but JD, Sheng and myself got confirmation at the draft that he's headed back to Youngstown before that jump:
Going to play one more year in Youngstown and then go off Boston after.
NHL Potential 5-5.5: Defensive bottom-six center
Brandon Coe, W
Acquired: SJS 2020 NHL Draft, 4th round, #98 Overall
2022-2023 Season: AHL San Jose Barracuda
Brandon Coe had some struggles adapting to pro hockey this year. He had exploded in 2021-2022 in the OHL, putting up 101 points in 62 games for the North Bay Battalion. As a 6'3" winger who can skate well for his size, expectations were sky high. I had highlighted some warts with Coe's game last year before he joined the Cuda, and much the same persisted this year in the AHL.
He's a playmaking winger, who does his best work on the powerplay, and on the periphery of the ice. He doesn't have much of a retrieval game, and doesn't anticipate play well enough defensively to chip in there. He's got good speed in a straight line, and he has some incredible vision when he has the puck. The problem, and one that will prevent him from moving up this list, is that he cannot get the puck onto his stick unless teammates are digging it out for him. His pace of play is very low on most nights. There are flashes with Coe, when he uses his frame effectively, maintains a physical presence on the ice, and his pace improves. But it is infrequent. More time is needed before completely ruling out Coe as an NHL prospect given his size, skating and playmaking, but certainly a change is needed.
NHL Potential 4.5-5: AHL scorer
Acquired: SJS 2022 NHL Draft, 3rd round, #76 overall
2022-2023 Season: USHL Youngstown Phantoms
Michael Fisher was an interesting choice in the 2022 3rd round for the Sharks. He was coming out of the USHS-Prep circuit, and was highly regarded for his overall combination of size, handedness and skating. He was, and still is, considered a long-term project for the Sharks. Expectations were high for him to come into the USHL, a one-year stop before he is to play for Northeastern in the NCAA in 2023-2024. Then he got injured, tearing a meniscus in his left knee.
I'll be honest, I didn't watch Fisher in his draft year (if someone has footage from it, I'd love to!), and it was hard to catch him healthy at the USHL level this season. The few times I watched him there he was mostly...fine. He does have good mobility, and he can change directions extremely well. He defends like a junior player at this stage, doing his best to sort of get in the way of attackers rather than really attempting to get pucks off sticks. He's lanky, and not particularly strong on the boards. The biggest barrier I see for him to move up is his offensive game. His decision-making with the puck is extremely slow. He has decent puck skills, and can lead a breakout sometimes, but takes far too long to recognize options. He has good mobility, but either stops up entirely too early to do anything with that speed, or doesn't move the puck into high-danger areas. He remains a long-term project, one that needs many, many years of development to see if his offensive brain can come around.
NHL Potential 4.5-5: Depth transition defensemen if the offense comes about, AHL/Europe if not
Artem Guryev, D
Acquired: SJS 2021 NHL Draft, 5th Round, #135 Overall
2022-2023 Season: OHL Peterborough/Flint
This time last year I would have been hesitant to put Guryev even on the honorable mentions list. His time in Peterborough was something of a mixed-bag. Last year I saw a large defender who took himself out of plays repeatedly trying to make a big hit. He was a defender who had issues with gap control, rush defending, in-zone cycles, and reading cross-ice plays. A lot of that is still true, but after a trade to Flint, he started to come into his own...slightly. Enough that I think he's an honorable mention. He's a large defender, with surprisingly decent footspeed for a physical defenseman. He has next to no offense, other than a decent point shot. The Sharks didn't draft him for that though. With the Vegas-ification of NHL defenses underway, large, mobile, physical defensemen are a commodity. Whether Guryev actually cleans up his defense enough to make the NHL in that capacity is another story entirely. After purging lots of prospects from the Wilson era, it is telling that Guryev was signed by Grier though.
NHL Potential 4.5: AHL top pairing/replacement physical defensemen
Axel Landén, D
Acquired: SJS 2023 NHL Draft, 5th Round, #130 Overall
2022-2023 Season: J20 Nationell HV71
I watched a fair amount of Axel this past season mostly on accident. I was scouting Hugo Fransson, his teammate, and someone I thought might get picked in 2023 as an overager, but didn't. Maybe next year. Anyways, Axel was interesting. He's a decent skater, he's smart defensively, and focused on stopping up players in transition. He'll often skate aggressively at a forward, leading with his stick first, and then tie them up if he hasn't disrupted the play enough. He can get walked through, but overall it's decently effective. He thinks out of situations well when he gets the puck behind the net, and can recognize his outs to get the puck away from his net. I think there's a fair amount there from a defensive standpoint, and he does have a good shot from the point as well. I don't think it'll ever be a hallmark of his offense but it isn't bad. I see him as a physical depth defender, but not as big of a hitter as Guryev.
NHL Potential 5: Physical depth defender
Acquired: SJS 2023 NHL Draft, 5th Round, #132 Overall
2022-2023 Season: USHL Cedar Rapids
Pohlkamp was extremely impressive in his D+1 year this season, earning USHL defenseman of the year honors with the RoughRiders. He's a physical defenseman who also possesses some of the better shooting skills of any player on this honorable mentions list. He's aggressive in his stance and how he challenges his attackers, and can lay the hit on anyone coming up the boards. I like him, but he isn't the fastest, biggest or most dynamic for the type of game he plays. Still, he's unique, and his upwards trajectory cannot be ignored.
NHL Potential 5.0-5.5: Depth/third pairing two-way defenseman
Acquired: SJS 2023 NHL Draft, 7th round, #203 overall
2022-2023 Season: MHL MHK Dynamo Moskva
Rimashevsky feels like an ECHL forward to me to be perfectly honest, but he has the skills of at least an AHLer. He's a floater, he waits to get the puck at the blueline, then tries to make something happen off the rush the other way. When in the offensive zone he's sort of just...waiting for the puck to get to him. He's a good shooter, and he has good vision with his passes. He's big and can box out in front of the net. I just wanted something more from him almost every time I watched him. He won't get much farther than the minors unless he rounds out his game, improves his skating, and start chipping in defensively. He's making the honorable mentions because maybe, maybe, maybe, if all that happens then you've got a talented, big, offensive winger.
NHL Potential 4-4.5: AHL scoring winger
Alex Young, F
Acquired: SJS 2020 NHL Draft, 7th round, #196 overall
2022-2023 Season: NCAA Colgate
This is probably the safest projection on this list to be honest. I think Alex Young will make it into the NHL in some capacity, likely as a checking forward on a fourth line or a 13th, 14th forward. He's got enough skill and smarts to keep the puck alive, maintain possession long enough for plays to develop. He's a competitive player at heart, which drives most of his projection. I don't think there's much else going on offensively at an NHL level other than a good wrister and simple rush patterns. His skating isn't a standout. I am interested to see if more of his game comes alive after he transfers to Arizona State for his final season in the NCAA. I'll also be curious if the Sharks are signing him after that, as the runway on him as a pick has been quite long.
NHL Potential 5: Fourth line checking forward
Unmentioned players/prospects, but let's do a little mention now
Yegor Spirodonov - Doubtful to ever come over, has been in Russia playing the same defensive 4C center role for 4 years.
Nikita Okhotiuk - Mentioned before that I haven't seen him play so I didn't feel comfortable ranking him, but by all accounts he would probably be in the bottom 15-25 area for Sharks prospects. Defensive defenseman.
Alexander Chemelevski - Once heralded as a top 3-4 prospect for the Sharks (the prospect pool was A LOT worse back then), and just recently re-signed in the KHL for another season. I think he hangs out there for awhile, as he's productive and plays an important role for his club. I have liked his offensive creativity when I watched him and Mukhamadullin. I think he could still slot into a team's bottom six and be fine, but his skating is still just plain old, simply, bad.
Reese Laubach - A former junior Shark! Look, he was always considered a long-shot, and I don't think this year helped that projection. He was quite simply invisible on a stacked Youngstown team when I watched him there, although he did do well after a move to Omaha and put up 20 points in 33 games. Didn't really do much at the prospect scrimmages either. He's off to the NCAA next season possibly, so I'll try to catch a game or two of him with Penn State.
Joey Muldowney - Off to the NCAA and the University of Connecticut next year. Wasn't dynamic offensively when I watched him in the USHL or at the prospect scrimmages. Not entirely sure he's going to suddenly put it together, but he's got a long runway given his college route.
Eli Barnett - If a tree could skate decently well. Look, I'm not going to pretend Barnett is going to make the NHL. He's basically a nonproducer in the BCHL for two years now, and headed to UVM in the NCAA, where I imagine he might actually put up a 0,0,0 statline for the year. BUT. You know what? Who knows. He can be on skates at 6'6" and attempt to stop attackers. Maybe that earns him a pro contract one day.
Timofei Spitserov - I think Spitserov should only play 3 on 3 hockey. When he comes to the prospect scrimmages, he actually looks decent. He'll have a few highlight rushes and timely goals. In Vermont he has been in and out of the lineup for two years, and hasn't found a spot on a very thin team. When I've watched he was playing 4th line, and did about nothing.
David Klee - He's on the watchlist for me for next season, but full transparency, I've never watched him. I do know that 13 points in 57 USHL games in your draft year is very poor. I hate that that's all I have to judge him on though, so I'll make sure to watch him to make sure I'm not missing anything. I would have taken Levis, Mann (for the jokes), McMillan, Soto, or Hugo Fransson with that 7th round pick. But maybe he'll prove me wrong and take some leaps.
Theo Jacobsson - You know what? Not bad. Jacobsson is one of those COVID-19 picks, and I didn't know much about him before he was taken in 2021. I saw him this year at the J20 level (which to be fair, he should be well above at his draft year +2, but oh well), and he looked great. He's got a good set of hands, decent skating, and he thinks the game well. His play style is very Swedish for a lack of a better term. He's very patient, controls the puck, waits for options and works his teammates to advance the puck. There's a very realistic possibility he just stays in Sweden forever, but maybe, just maybe, he's worth keeping an eye on.
Mason Beaupit - Look man, I just don't think so. Maybe another few years in juniors and he'll start showing me something more than a big goaltender with some good athleticism. That's what I've seen last year before his draft, and this year even after getting traded to Winnipeg in the WHL. He's very porous through traffic and I don't think his glove is very good. I'm not a goaltending expert though, as I say all the time. Goaltending is: voodoo, hard to scout, weird to progress, and sometimes absolutely random. Big body, athletic, give him 6 years and try to see where he slots.
Yevgeni Kashnikov - It's all pretty much moot here as I just don't get the sense he's coming back to North America anytime soon. He's a big, decent skating defenseman who loves to shoot the puck. I think he'll do fine in Russia as a bottom pairing guy for his career.
Martin Kaut - Lol. I really do believe that Kaut can play on an NHL third line. I just don't think it'll be the Sharks third line...ever.
Valteri Pulli - Decent skating defensive defenseman who has been playing pro hockey in Finland for the better part of three years now. He was an under-the-radar signing that should provide the Sharks with decent call-up depth down the line.
Nick Cicek - I get the sense that Cicek, who was signed off an AHL deal last year, is going to be an important member of the Cuda for awhile. He wasn't very effective in the AHL at creating offense this year, even with a huge need for puck-moving defensemen after Merkley left. His NHL stint was rocky. He had a few moments where it looked alright, and that he could keep pace, but many moments he looked out of sorts. I'm not convinced he'll be an NHL regular, but possibly could be a call-up option going forward.
Georgi Romanov - If actual NHL scouts who get paid to know all the hockey players in the world don't know who he is... should I? I'll watch him this year and see, but let's all remember that goaltending is voodoo. Maybe 7 years from now we're all chanting Georgi, Georgi, Georgi! as he puts up a shutout in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Maybe he's back in Russia in 10 months. Who knows!
The Full 2023 Ranking
1: Will Smith 8.0
2: William Eklund 7.0-7.5
3: Shakir Mukhamadullin 7.0
4: Filip Bystedt 6.5-7.0
5: Quentin Musty 6.5-7.0
6: Henry Thrun 6.5
7: Daniil Gushchin 6.5
8: Thomas Bordeleau 6.0-6.5
9: Mattias Havelid 6.0-6.5
10: Kasper Halttunen 6.0
11: Cam Lund 6.0
12: Luca Cagnoni 6.0
13: Tristen Robins 5.5-6.0
14: Ethan Cardwell 5.5-6.0
15: Eetu Mäkiniemi Depth Goaltender
16: Jake Furlong 5.5
17: Gannon Laroque 5.5
18: Magnus Chrona Depth Goaltender/AHL starter
19: Ozzy Wiesblatt 5.0-5.5
20: Brandon Svoboda 5.0-5.5
HM: Brandon Coe 4.5-5.0
HM: Michael Fisher 4.5-5.0
HM: Artem Guryev 4.5
HM: Axel Landén 5.0
HM: Eric Pohlkamp 5.0-5.5
HM: Yegor Rimashevsky 4.0-4.5
HM: Alex Young, 5.0
NHL Potential is rated for each prospect. This is kind of like their max ceiling if all goes well in their development. It does not mean that every prospect will for sure be what I'm projecting for them, just to be clear. Many will bust, some will grade out above this when all is said and done. I use a 1-9 system for my prospects, with a 9 being a generational player, a 1 being like an ECHL guy, and a 6 being a third liner.
9 - Generational F/D
8 - First Line/pairing
7 - Second line/pairing
6- Third line/pairing
5- Fourth line/#7-8 D
4 - AHL top line F/D
3 - AHL mid-level F/D
2 - AHL/ECHL tweener
1 - ECHL or below
Most players end up somewhere in the 4-6 range that get picked by NHL clubs just naturally, which is why many of the guys above are in that range.
Just to reiterate: the grades here are potential ceilings. Many of these prospects, even the high up ones, will not hit this ceiling. If they all did, the Sharks would be the best drafting team to ever exist in the NHL. This is the nature of drafting. It's a numbers game, with many prospects never fully realizing their potential.
I like to re-evaluate the pool once a year or so and see how much players are moving towards this ceiling or away from this ceiling. I upgrade player ceilings if something obvious has happened, I see some major improvements, etc. I also downgrade if I notice setbacks or an inability to adjust their games as they move up levels.
And that's it! I know this was a long article, I decided to put the top 5 in with everyone else to give people a reference article for the upcoming year to do their own prospecting work. If you're interested in writing about prospects of any team, including the Sharks, or just the NHL in general, hit me up by signing up here and sending me a message. I would love to have this site as a place for multiple hockey enthusiasts to share their opinions.