What better time than the offseason to post a brand-new Sharks prospect ranking! This year we'll be doing a top 20 and honorable mentions in 5 separate articles. After taking a deep dive into the prospects for the Sharks, I realized how much the overall depth has improved over the past year. 12 of the top 20 have been acquired by the Sharks over that span, through the course of two drafts and a whole lot of trades.
It's a top-to-bottom overhaul that Grier has started, and I am excited for the continued stockpiling. It's been refreshing to hear the Sharks finally embrace the 'rebuild', using that word instead of the tired re-fresh, re-tool, re-structure, re-try, etc. Defense was a particular focus for Grier, but he took some massive swings at forward in the 2023 draft that we'll discuss as well. All prospects on this list are not established NHLers yet, and all are under 23 (except one goaltender...woops).
NHL Potential will be 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, so don't be surprised to see lots of those numbers.
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.
#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
#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
#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
#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
#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
Other Articles In This Series
Updated Rankings and NHL Potential:
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
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
HM: Alex Young, 5.0