Where Does James Sheppard Fit in the San Jose Sharks' Future?

Scott SemmlerAnalyst IIDecember 26, 2012

If there is one player who has benefited from the NHL lockout, it is James Sheppard.

The fifth-year player has endured setbacks in his young NHL career after being selected ninth overall in the 2006 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild. A 2010 ATV accident and less than substantial play in his first three seasons in Minnesota gave the Sharks the opportunity to give him another chance in professional hockey.

San Jose traded for the now 24-year-old in 2011.

Two years of rehabilitation later and Sheppard is starting to get back into the hockey groove as he works his way back onto an NHL team. The NHL lockout has given him the opportunity to catch up to the skill set of the current NHL players, while not losing any time to the NHL schedule.

He has already lost two years of his once promising NHL career, and playing in Worcester, Massachusetts with the Sharks’ minor league affiliate has given everyone the chance to see how he has grown since the accident that threatened his NHL career.

In 27 games with Worcester this season, Sheppard has seven goals and nine assists, including 44 PIM.

There is still a long way to go for Sheppard, though, and being even a part of the Sharks’ future seems like a long shot for now. It is a far cry from 2006 when the Wild drafted him with the expectation that he would become a stable part of the franchise for years to come.

Now Sheppard is just trying to remain a mainstay in competitive hockey.

According to CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz, Sheppard started skating in January 2012. One year later, he is putting up some of the top numbers on the Sharks’ minor league team.  Only recent acquisition Tim Kennedy and forward Bracken Kearns have more points than Sheppard through the early part of the 2012-13 AHL season.

When the Sharks acquired Sheppard, there was no risk.  That makes this second chance opportunity for Sheppard all the more inviting. San Jose traded a third round pick in 2013 for the then 22-year-old.

"We liked him very much in his draft year and he is a big, strong player with good upside," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said in a statement when they acquired him in 2011.

Upside has been the only thing keeping Sheppard in competitive hockey and giving him hope to play in the NHL again. The ceiling that was once so high for Sheppard is now just a bit lower, but still has the same amount of promise and expectation.  The Sharks expect him to be a part of their team in the coming seasons.

Sheppard has talent, which was evident from being one of the top draft picks in 2006, and his rise in Worcester in just one year’s time from returning to the ice has many thinking that his return to NHL hockey is possible.

There is still a long way to go for Sheppard, but the Sharks’ move to land the young talent may be paying off sooner rather than later.

Follow me on Twitter @ScottSemmler22