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. Let's get into it!
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
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
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
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
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
Other articles in this series:
Updated Rankings and NHL Potential:
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