Kevin Labanc

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

meier-timo-white-face.jpg
AP

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

* * *

Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

* * *

Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.

Sharks counting on three prospects to fill Marleau void

Sharks counting on three prospects to fill Marleau void

SAN JOSE – There are nearly three full months between now and the start of the 2017-18 Sharks season, when San Jose hosts Philadelphia at SAP Center on Oct. 4. That leaves plenty of time for Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to try and fill the void left by Patrick Marleau, who signed a three-year contract with Toronto on Sunday, concluding his 19-year run with the organization.

Whether Wilson tries to sign ink of the remaining free agent forwards or attempts to make a trade could depend on how confident he and the other members of the Sharks’ brain trust are in the young players in the system. They will all have a better idea of their NHL-readiness after this week, as the annual prospects camp concludes on Friday.

The two forwards at camp with the best chance of making an impact would seem to be Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, who both spent long stretches with the NHL club as rookies last season with mixed results. The opening is there for at least one of them – along with Marcus Sorensen, who is not in camp – to try and make up some of Marleau’s 27 goals last season.

“It’s hard not to kind of pay attention (to Marleau leaving) because you see it all over social media,” Labanc said. “It’s just kind of blown up. You don’t really want to think about it too much. You just want to stick to your game. … You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that are open.”

Meier said: “Whatever happens, my goal stays the same. There might be some more openings, or less openings, but for me I just want to make the team. Obviously something like that, such a great player leaving – [but] I think it’s a great chance for young players to step up.”

It was this time last year when Meier, 20, was thought to have an inside track on making the opening night roster. In training camp, though, he came down with mononucleosis, and didn’t make his NHL debut until Dec. 16 in Montreal.

“It was tough. I felt it over the whole season,” Meier said.

Although he scored a goal in his first game at Bell Centre, it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. Meier was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda for a stretch in February and March, and finished with a disappointing three goals and three assists for six points in 34 games.

While Meier registered an impressive 85 shots on goal (2.5 per game), Sharks coach Pete DeBoer indicated during the season that Meier’s shot selection needed some improvement. 

Meier said: “This season I didn’t score a lot of goals in the NHL, but I know if I keep working hard and get some chances and maybe be smarter about the shots I take, maybe more quality shots, and when I get the chance, put it in the net.”

Labanc, 21, found success with the Sharks quickly, posting seven goals and 12 points in his first 26 career NHL games. But then he went ice cold, going 28 straight games without a goal in between trips to the Barracuda. Unlike Meier, who played in five of the six first round playoff games, he didn’t suit up for the Edmonton series.

Naturally, he’s seeking “a little bit more consistency” this season.

“It was a good learning curve for me,” said Labanc, who was arguably the best player on the ice during the Sharks' prospect scrimmage at SAP Center on Thursday night. “This year I want to make the team, I want to prove myself, and I want to excel in every game that I play in.”

Norris, Meier among Sharks prospect camp participants

timo-sharks-camp.jpg
AP

Norris, Meier among Sharks prospect camp participants

SAN JOSE – The Sharks revealed the roster for their annual weeklong development camp, which takes place next week in San Jose from July 3-7.

Among the participants will be 2017 first round pick Josh Norris, who was selected by the club with the 19th overall pick at the NHL draft last weekend in Chicago. Second round pick Mario Ferraro (49th overall) will also take part.

Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Dylan Gambrell, Jeremy Roy, Filip Sandberg and Radim Simek are also on the roster.

The camp features the fifth annual prospect scrimmage at SAP Center on July 6 at 7 p.m. Tickets for the scrimmage are $5 for Sharks365 members, and $10 for general admission, with proceeds going to the Sharks Foundation.

The rest of the camp at Sharks Ice is closed to the public.

For a full roster, click here.