Once a team built on immense talent in the prime of their careers, the San Jose Sharks now have a seemingly aging roster—with Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and Brad Stuart all in their mid-to-late 30s.
Over the next year, the Sharks will be evaluating their talent level while assessing the strength of their prospect pool—an element of the team’s past success that has dwindled in the last couple years.
General manager Doug Wilson did a stellar job of turning that around over the past season by flipping players like Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus for draft opportunities in the future. It already enabled the team to land forward Tyler Kennedy, who is expected to fit perfectly in the Sharks’ system.
There are no guarantees in the Sharks’ minor league system, though, and that could be a bit of a worry for some. While many prospects could see a good bit of playing time on the NHL level this season, only a few have real shots at stardom in San Jose.
Konrad Abeltshauser is just 20 years old, but his 6’5” frame definitely stands out among the Sharks’ pool of prospects.
For now, Abeltshauser’s game is all about potential. He is a potential two-way player with a chance to become a solid midline defenseman down the road.
For now his game is built on his size and strength, but the rest of his game continues to be a work in progress.
Another player with a large frame in the Sharks’ system, the 6’7” Taylor Doherty, has long been considered one of San Jose’s most talked-about prospects. However, Doherty has yet to get the call to San Jose, which says a lot about the development of the one-time future on defense.
This season may be Doherty’s year, though. At 22, the Sharks would presumably love to see what he has at the NHL level, especially with Brent Burns’ permanent move to forward and the impending free agencies of Boyle and Stuart over the next couple seasons.
ETA: On the Worcester Express in 2013
Mirco Mueller was just selected 18th overall by the Sharks in the 2013 NHL draft, so his time in San Jose is clearly not imminent. However, there is already some buzz about the 18-year-old defenseman as a possible top-line contributor.
Even at a young age, Mueller has the smarts and fundamentals needed to be "NHL-ready," but it's the experience and refining of skills that he still lacks.
While the start of the 2014-15 season may be a bit of wishful thinking, Mueller is not far off from playing in San Jose.
Matt Nieto will get his first crack at the AHL full-time this season, which should enable us to gauge where he stands both in the Sharks’ prospect pool as well as in the NHL discussion for a future call-up.
One thing is for sure: Nieto’s style of play fits perfectly into what the Sharks would like to do on the ice. His speed and ability to get pucks to the net is a large part of why he is already considered one of the more NHL-ready players in the Sharks’ system.
At 20 years old, it is likely we'll see Nieto on the Worcester Express during the 2014-15 season, and a large part of the Sharks in the years to come.
For Alex Stalock, the time is not now. Antti Niemi is the man in net for the Sharks, at least for the next two seasons, but Stalock was awarded the backup spot behind Niemi to start the 2013-14 season. It shows a lot about what the Sharks organization thinks about the 26-year-old.
While it is still unknown if Stalock will be a large part of the Sharks’ future in net, considering Niemi’s contract only runs through the 2014-15 season, Stalock is at least in the discussion and will have a shot at proving it to the franchise in 2013-14.
Stalock was just re-signed by the Sharks in a one-year deal over the summer.
ETA: Backup goaltender in 2013-14
Tomas Hertl’s time to shine is now. The 19-year-old will be competing for a spot on the Sharks’ roster in 2013-14, and the expectation is that he will make the team on the third or fourth line to start.
Hertl’s play focuses on fundamentals and hockey smarts well above his years. While he is not experienced enough to dominate at the NHL level, he is good enough to learn and grow in San Jose.
Hertl is projected as a top-six forward and a huge part of the Sharks’ future.
ETA: Start of 2013-14
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