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.
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 4-5 range that get picked by NHL clubs just naturally, so don't be surprised to see lots of those numbers.
All prospects are not established NHLers yet, and all are under 23 (except one goaltender...woops). Let's get into it!
#15 Eetu Mäkiniemi
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
#14 Ethan Cardwell
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
#13 Tristen Robins
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
#12 Luca Cagnoni
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
#11 Cam Lund
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
Updated Rankings and NHL Potential:
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