Matt Nieto was supposed to be a top prospect for the Sharks. Instead, his play has earned him a full-time role in San Jose.
The top-end talent within the San Jose Sharks prospect system has already been on full display in 2013-14. Contributions from Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto—San Jose's top two prospects according to Hockey's Future—have all but cemented their place in San Jose for the season.
However, the quick succession of Hertl and Nieto to San Jose has left somewhat of a talent gap between the NHL Sharks and the rest of the pool of prospects, particularly in terms of future top-end talent.
This gap can partially be attributed to San Jose’s success over the past decade, which has resulted in the club securing top-10 picks just twice (used to pick Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture). Sharks general manager Doug Wilson further depleted the prospect pool by electing to trade the club's first-round pick in three of the past six seasons.
Hockey's Future rated San Jose's collective pool of prospects, including Hertl and Nieto, 22nd out of the 30 NHL clubs prior to the start of the season. The Sharks have a wealth of defenders with mid- to low-end NHL potential and have considerable depth at center within their organization. Not coincidentally, those are two areas of strength for the NHL club as well.
As the Sharks continue to push hard for a Stanley Cup, it may continue to be open market on San Jose's top prospects if the return can help the present group obtain the ultimate prize.
Here’s a look at five of the best players in the wings for the San Jose Sharks.
Freddie Hamilton stands to be the first forward called when there's a spot to fill in San Jose.
Freddie Hamilton actually made the Sharks' initial season roster after a strong training camp and earned what appeared to be a fourth-line spot. But with Adam Burish sidelined long term, Hamilton was swapped for tough guy Matt Pelech before he could step on the ice in San Jose.
So when Brent Burns went down, it was no surprise that Hamilton got the call to join the Sharks for their four-game East Coast swing. The intelligent, hardworking forward spent time filling in for Burns on the top line as well as on San Jose’s fourth line.
Unfortunately, the return of Marty Havlat to the lineup meant a return to Worcester for Hamilton. But with all of the bumps and bruises that come over the course of an NHL season, it’s likely not the last cross-country trip Hamilton will be making this season.
A fifth-round pick in 2010, Hamilton begins just his second season after a solid career in juniors. He has five points (three goals, two assists) in 10 games for the offensively challenged Worcester Sharks and appears poised to be another one of the Sharks' great-value draft picks. The biggest challenge for Hamilton will likely come in the inevitable transition to wing due to San Jose’s incredible depth at center.
If Matt Tennyson can be patient, he may be next in line for a spot on San Jose's blue line.
Matt Tennyson might already be a regular in the NHL if he had signed with any number of clubs besides San Jose. But his ties to the Sharks after moving to the Bay Area and playing in the shadow of the big club proved too tempting to resist.
Tennyson possesses a lot of the traits the Sharks seek in a defenseman. Tennyson has good size and strong skating skills and puck-moving abilities, but thanks to the logjam in front of him, he remains an anchor for Worcester’s defensive corps.
If he can continue to develop and be patient, there’s no reason to believe he can’t succeed in the Sharks organization that has the proven ability to crank out very solid defensemen.
Dan O'Regan is no stranger to the red, white and blue. The Boston University sophomore will likely compete for a spot on the U.S. National Junior Team, which will compete at the World Junior Championships in December.
Dan O’Regan has found success every step of the way in his hockey career. His illustrious prep career led to a brief stint with the U.S. National Under-18 Team, a spot on the gold medal-winning 2012 U18 World Championship team and a coveted scholarship to Boston University.
Small in stature at 5’7”, O’Regan possesses immense amounts of talent with plenty of speed and a nose for the net. The Massachusetts native returns to Boston University for his sophomore season after leading the Terriers in scoring as a freshman, even edging out current Sharks forward Matt Nieto.
A prime candidate to make the 2014 U.S. World Junior roster, O’Regan has the offensive ability to make it in the NHL. Like Freddie Hamilton, O’Regan will likely need to convert to wing in order to break into the lineup in San Jose.
San Jose has a knack for using their late-round draft picks to find undervalued NCAA talent. If all goes well for O’Regan (fifth round, 2012), he will join Joe Pavelski (seventh round), Justin Braun (seventh round) and Tommy Wingels (sixth round) in a Sharks uniform in the coming years.
At 18, Mirco Mueller might not be in San Jose for a few years, but if the price San Jose paid for him is any indication, he will be worth the wait.
The San Jose Sharks clearly see something in Mirco Mueller. So much so, they opted to trade their first-round and a second-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings to move up two spots in the 2013 draft to get him.
At 6’4”, 200 pounds, Mueller possesses great physical attributes to complement his strong defensive and positional play. His biggest weakness remains the offensive component of his game, but still just 18 years old, Mueller has plenty of time to develop into the top-four defenseman the Sharks hoped for.
The Sharks signed Mueller to a three-year entry-level deal before returning him to his junior club, the Everett Silvertips, where he plays for former San Jose Sharks head coach Kevin Constantine.
Mueller still has some maturing to do, however, and given the defensive situation in San Jose, the Sharks have the luxury of taking their time with their prized pick.
Daniil Tarasov has plenty of offensive ability, it's the rest of his game that needs attention in order for him to get called to San Jose.
With Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto in San Jose, much of the offensive responsibility in Worcester has fallen onto the shoulders of Moscow native Daniil Tarasov. The undrafted Russian has risen to the challenge, scoring seven of Worcester’s 29 goals and notching 12 points through 13 games.
There were times during training camp when it appeared that Tarasov might challenge for a spot on San Jose’s roster, but the holes in his game made him a bigger risk than the well-rounded Matt Nieto.
Still, there’s no denying Tarasov’s offensive talent that earned him Worcester’s Rookie of the Year accolades last season. Hockey’s Future calls him a “top six or bust” forward. But the best opportunity for Tarasov to play in San Jose would likely be in a bottom-six forward capacity, a player profile that typically seeks hardworking, two-way players, a mold that prototype Russian players like Tarasov don’t fit.
His dynamic skills might eventually force Todd McLellan to give Tarasov a taste in San Jose, but he will need to continue to develop and improve the details that gain a coach’s trust.