SAN JOSE -- A big part of the reason that Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has been referencing a rebuild has to do with how his club is set up for the next couple of NHL entry drafts.
The Sharks currently own three picks in the first two rounds for this weekend’s event at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, including the 20th overall choice. If they use that pick and their pair of second rounders, it will be the first time since 2003 that they will leave town with three players chosen that high.
Furthermore, after trading Dan Boyle to the Islanders for a fifth round pick, the Sharks have a total of 16 picks over the next two years -- seven this weekend, and nine in 2015.
That’s all by design, according to Wilson.
“You wouldn’t want to go into this phase with only three picks this year and four picks next year. Teams fall into that,” Wilson said. “It was planned out in advance. You try to forecast to the best of your ability, the quality of a draft year-to-year.”
Sharks scouting director Tim Burke classifies this year’s draft as “above average. It’s pretty good.” It’s not quite as strong as next year, in his view, but there are always good players to be had if you can find them. In fact, the Sharks have had some of their biggest success stories in later rounds with guys like Joe Pavelski (7th round, 2003), Justin Braun (7th round, 2007) and Tommy Wingels (6th round, 2008).
Recent early round picks like Tomas Hertl (17th overall, 2012), Logan Couture (8th overall, 2007), and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (35th overall, 2005) are now viewed as the cornerstones of the franchise. That’s vital for a team like the Sharks, which typically shies away from going after top unrestricted free agents that command long term deals for big dollars. In 2013-14, the Sharks had 14 different players at one point that were originally drafted by the team (including Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart, in their second stints).
Wilson said: “We think our organization does a really good job of drafting and developing. If we didn’t think we did, we’d probably go into this phase a little bit more concerned, but most of our quality guys that we like, the way they play and the character that they have, have been homegrown people.”
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According to Burke, the Sharks have three-to-five players that they’re currently targeting with the 20th overall selection. Last year in New Jersey the Sharks also sat at 20th overall, but had to surrender a second round pick and their own first round choice to Detroit in order to move up just two places to nab highly regarded defenseman Mirco Mueller at 18th overall.
Burke is hopeful that won’t happen again, and that one of their preferred young amateurs falls far enough to become a Shark.
“Hopefully it doesn’t drop off too quick in front of us and we get a little antsy,” he said.
The first round is on Friday night, while the pace picks up quickly in rounds two-through-seven on Saturday. San Jose has the 51st and 53rd overall picks in the second round, the latter of which is from the Douglas Murray deal with Pittsburgh just prior to the 2013 trade deadline.
After that, San Jose has one pick in each of the third and fifth rounds, and two sixth round selections. That’s where they’ll try and unearth another gem, although it’s far from an exact science, according to Burke. The veteran hockey man, who has been in the Sharks’ organization for 17 seasons, brought up two recent examples -- one good, one not -- when asked about the difficulty of the evaluation process.
The first player, who remained nameless, was “a guy that had NHL speed, but couldn’t think. If you can’t think, it’s hard to make the guy a checker. He skated, but it was a waste,” Burke said.
He compared it with a success story in Braun, who just completed a breakthrough NHL season.
“Everything kept coming back that he played fast, he defended hard, he got the puck off his stick, he played against top lines, and it was consistent. What took you away from Braun and why he wasn’t drafted before, was because he went to a team before he got to college that was all screwed up. It was a mess. Then he goes to college, and it’s like, who is this guy? We were stupid for not drafting him two years before that.”
Provided there are no major moves in the next few days, the draft will provide Wilson a chance to show that he’s serious about his rebuilding plans. In recent offseasons there has been talk of trading picks or prospects for a current impact NHL player, like they did with former first round pick Charlie Coyle in the deal for Brent Burns in 2011.
That's not the case now. Rest assured, Wilson will use his first round pick this year for the third straight season, after going three of four seasons from 2008-11 without one.
The Sharks want to become a younger team with an eye towards the future. Whatever happens this weekend will surely have a direct impact on whether that plan eventually becomes a success.