Young Stars Tournament Analysis: San Jose Sharks Prospects

Last week, prospects from the Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers faced off against each other in Penticton, British Columbia, in the annual Young Stars Prospect Tournament. In this article, we will offer our impressions of the San Jose Sharks prospects who stood out enough in one way or another for us to have impressions. Not every player will be profiled, given that the tournament was too short for us to get a feel for every player. We will start with…

SENA ACOLATSE – D – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Acolatse is a 5’11”, 205 lbs, 20-year-old defenseman who the Sharks signed to an entry-level contract out of the Western Hockey League. Through 3 games of the Young Stars Tournament, he had one goal, and was a -1 in the plus/minus category. He is a good skater with above average speed, and he moves the puck pretty well. I thought he was the Sharks best defenseman in the first prospect game, and perhaps throughout the entire tournament.

However, for a puck-moving defenseman, he didn’t really do much with his skating on the offensive end of the ice, which was disappointing. That is to say, his skating was an asset in avoiding forecheck pressure and distributing the puck up the ice, as skating always is, but Acolatse rarely used it to actually rush the puck up ice himself and create scoring opportunities. This is in stark contrast to Zach Redman of the Winnipeg Jets, another one of the notable puck-moving d-men in the tournament, who was always pushing the issue up the ice and pressuring the opposing defense, to great effect. Acolatse also did not demonstrate much playmaking creativity. He has the skating and adequate puck-handling to play a creative game, but he mostly kept things very simple despite this. That’s not always a bad thing, but I would have liked to see a bit more from him. Otherwise, his skating made him one of the Sharks best d-men in the tournament. The Young Stars announcers on the feed also mentioned that Acolatse has a booming shot, but we didn’t get to see it in the three games he played, so I can’t comment on that.

FREDDIE HAMILTON – C – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Freddie Hamilton is a 6’1″, 190 lbs center who the Sharks drafted 129th overall in 2010. He does not have very much high-end skill in any one area, but he is a very well-rounded player. Absent any big-name prospects in the Sharks system, he has moved up the Sharks prospects rankings this last season, with many ranking him in top ten, in part due to his WJC invite for team Canada. In this context, Hamilton was perhaps the most disappointing of the Sharks prospects. But, in a separate context, Sharks fans should be pleased.

I will explain. To understand the good, we first have to understand the bad, which is that Hamilton had a very poor tournament. I don’t pay much attention to stats in a short tournament like this, but his confirm what I saw from him. In three games, he had zero points and was a -4 plus/minus. He was mostly invisible out there, because when you don’t have a lot of high-end skill, it’s hard to create offense, or stand out on offense. It’s not that Hamilton has no ability whatsoever; he does have above average speed, average hands, and a good shot, but unfortunately it’s hard to get into spots where you can use your shot consistently when your speed and hands are in the average range. And that’s essentially what happened. If you have no stand-out skill, you’re going to have a hard time standing out with your play in a positive way. Hamilton played poorly, and did not live up to the hype.

The good news, though, is that this is par for the course with Doug Wilson prospects. When was the last time the Sharks did have high-end skill in their prospect pool? Logan Couture is the obvious one, a former 9th overall pick, but even he was drafted as the well-rounded, two-way guy. Then there’s Devin Setoguchi before that, an 8th overall pick, who might marginally make the list. But, for the most part, this is the type of player Doug Wilson, and Head Scout Tim Burke, pride themselves on drafting. They will pick the well-rounded player over the high-skill player every day of the week, for better or worse. This is exemplified by the fact that they have not drafted a single All-Star since Doug Wilson took over in 2003. They haven’t even drafted a 35 goal scorer, or 70-point forward. The only 50-point defenseman they’ve drafted is Christian Ehrhoff, and I wouldn’t call him an elite defenseman either.

By and large, they do not draft elite players, maybe with the exception of Logan Couture if he continues to develop. I’m not even sure they’re trying to draft elite players at this point, as silly as that sounds.

Yet, somehow, despite this, the Sharks roster is full of elite players. How can this be? Well, of course, because they’ve managed to trade for a lot of them. How can you trade for elite players if you don’t draft your own? Because even though Wilson and Burke never draft their own top-line forwards, or top-pairing d-men, they’ve managed to draft enough well-rounded second-line type players to trade in bulk for the elite player (or keep to play on the second line). And that’s where Freddie Hamilton comes into this. Late round center with not a lot of elite skill, besides maybe the shot, but who has good hockey sense, work-ethic, and two-way instincts? Ring a bell? Sounds a lot like Joe Pavelski when he was drafted, doesn’t it? Hamilton’s speed, hands, and playmaking skill may not be good enough now to even make him an impact player at the Young Stars level, but give him a few years to develop, and he might get his all-around skill level just barely high enough to allow his hockey sense and shot to take over and pay dividends as a second line NHL center in the Pavelski mold.

If Hamilton was another team’s prospect, I probably wouldn’t have much faith in him achieving that, but because he’s a Sharks prospect, I’m more inclined to think he will than I otherwise would be. It just seems like no matter how poor the Sharks prospect pool seems, or is, for that matter, there’s always someone who comes out of nowhere to be a good NHL player. No stars, of course, but you can pretty much bank on a good, well-rounded NHL player coming out of nowhere every year or two, whether it’s Joe Pavelski, Jason Demers, or whoever else. The good news for Sharks fans is that despite his poor showing at the tournament this year, Freddie Hamilton may be one of the leading candidates to be the next one of these players. He does have a lot of work to do still, however.

MICHAEL SGARBOSSA – C – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Michael Sgarbossa is a 5’11”, 170 lbs undrafted center the Sharks signed to an entry-level contract after his great showing in last year’s Young Stars Tournament. He is undersized, but is an excellent center with great puck-handling, agility, creativity, vision, and an accurate shot. His production slowed down after game one in this year’s tournament, but he was nevertheless impressive, albeit also showing that he still has a bit to learn.

I will admit, I am a bit biased towards Sgarbossa, because when I was watching last year’s Young Stars Tournament, after watching him play one shift, I actually pegged him as the Sharks best prospect, even though he was undrafted and I’d never heard of him. He went on to score a hat trick the next game, and the secret was out, but I’ve taken a little pride in recognizing his skill right away, before it became obvious to everyone else in the form of a hat-trick.

Since last year’s showing, Sgarbossa has not disappointed. He was 21st in Ontario Hockey League scoring last season, and he continued his fine play into this year’s Young Stars Tournament. To my eye he was once again the Sharks best player. He was always looking to create on offense, often successfully, although this also resulted in a few bad turnovers. The first game in particular, Sgarbossa had two awful turnovers, actually. One was a bad pass in the defensvie zone that led to a great scoring chance for the other team. The second was about as bad as you can get: Sgarbossa made a ill-conceived pass up towards the point on a 5-on-3 powerplay that resulted in a shorthanded-breakaway going the other way.

So Sgarbossa can still improve his decision-making, but by and large, he used his speed, skill, and vision to great effect on the ice, and he was a handful for the opposition’s defense. The Sharks prospects were largely overmatched in all three games, but Sgarbossa stood out as one the players who was not. He is a great prospect, a very fortunate find for the Sharks scouting staff, and I will go on record right now, as I did last season, that he is the best prospect in the Sharks system, despite being undrafted.

TAYLOR DOHERTY – D – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Taylor Doherty is a defenseman the Sharks drafted 57th overall in the 209 NHL Draft. He is big boy, listed as 6’7″, 230 lbs, which makes him one of the many soon-to-be Zdeno Chara’s coming to a rink near you! (That’s just a joke referencing how every big defenseman now gets compared to Zdeno Chara). In two games, he had zero points and was a +1 plus/minus.

As I mentioned, Doherty was often compared to Zdeno Chara by the Young Stars announcers, but he doesn’t play much like Zdeno Chara in actuality. He is closer to Tyler Myers, but even that is a stretch. If it’s not too much of a mind-bend, maybe think halfway between Tyler Myers and Douglas Murray, with less physicality, and that’s Taylor Doherty.

I mention Douglas Murray because in game one of the Young Stars tournament, Doughty was skating a bit sluggish, and did look much more like Douglas Murray than Tyler Myers or even Zdeno Chara. This surprised me because I had been impressed with the way he moved, given his size, the year before. But then in game two and three, Doherty got moving better, and looked more like the player I’d seen the year before. Even then he wasn’t lighting things up, but he looks like a well-rounded two-way defenseman with size. He does skate pretty well for a big guy, with good balance and comfort level on his skates, and he kept things simple, making good decisions. He should be much more physical at his size, but he wasn’t. Still, even without the physical element, 6’7″ is still 6’7″, and especially when that 6’7″ frame is well controlled. And that is one area where you could compare Doherty to Chara; because of his balance and strength, he’s very controlled and calm, he moves with poise on defense.

Offensively, Doherty will have to improve his skill if he wants to put up points in the NHL, but even if he just continues on this trajectory development-wise, he should make for a good NHL defenseman. Whether he’s a top-four guy or a plus bottom-pairing guy will depend on how he develops.

Also, as was the case with Acolatse, the Young Stars announcers talked a lot about Doherty’s great shot from the point, but we didn’t get to see it at the Tournament, so I can’t comment on it.

KONRAD ABELTSHAUSER – D – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Konrad Abeltshausher is another big defenseman in the Sharks pipline, listed at 6’5″, 215 lbs. He was drafted 163rd overall in the 2010 draft. In two games of the tournament, he had 0 points and was a -2 plus/minus.

Abeltshausher is more of a puck-mover than Doherty. He has greater high end speed, and moves much better. His transitional footwork, however, is problematic, but it didn’t really slow him down too much at the Young Stars Tournament. It will be a bigger issue at the NHL level, though, and he needs to improve there.

With Abdeltshausher, for the average fan reading, it’s important we differentiate between speed, and skating. His skating is what needs improvement, not his speed. It also appeared that he needs to add more strength in his legs and core. His skating had a “rickety” feel at times. This can be an issue with edge-control or strength, often both. Without having access to fitness-testing results, and only watching him play in two games, it’s hard to say which exactly.

There were one or two good instances through the tournament where Abeltshausher gained the offensive zone with the puck, and created some confusion amongst the opposition’s defense. However, if he wants to rush the puck consistently at the NHL level, he will need to improve how he handles the puck. He doesn’t have bad hands, they are above average for a defenseman, but they need to get better if he wants to play that role. Just think of Dan Boyle, he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without his mitts.

Another question for Abeltshausher is hockey sense. Whenever you’re 6’5″ and can move, you have potential. But a very important aspect of playing defense in the NHL, or playing at all, is knowing what to do with your assets. At times Abeltshausher did not look “natural” per se out there. At times I felt he could do more.

Of the Sharks prospects, he will be an interesting one to watch. There is some potential there, and he has an intriguing skillset when you take his size into account. Questions we still have about him will be answered if we get a chance to see more of him.

ANTOINE CORBIN – D – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Antoine Corbin is a 6’2″, 194 lbs defenseman. In three games, he had one assist and was a -3 plus/minus. He is lanky and has a good reach. His skating is above average for a defenseman his height, but a bit like Abeltshausher his legs appeared slightly rickety at times. He improved as the tournament went on, but was not a standout. In game one he got caught out of position badly once, which resulted in him tripping the Calgary Flames Sven Baertschi on a breakaway, which led to a penalty shot. Other than that I noticed no egregious errors; he just needs more strength and polish, and he’ll need to improve his skill level if he wants to be an offensive defenseman at the NHL level.

CHARLES INGLIS – FWD – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Charles Inglis is fast forward with good skill. He scored a goal early in game one but did not register a point after that. He is one of many undersized forwards with good-not-great skill that were invited to play for the Sharks at the tournament, and although he was one of the better ones, his skill did not stand out to me enough in relation to his size. He is a good, fast skater, with above average hands, and he did seem to have good instincts, and a good commitment to back-checking. Based on his two-way instincts, f he puts on more muscle he may have a future playing as a bottom six forward in the NHL. He could even crack a team’s second line if he develops very well. I don’t anticipate that but anything can happen with a lot of these kids. Inglis certainly isn’t without potential, but there are so many undersized skill forwards out there, and for now I didn’t see enough from him to stand out from the pack in the way that Sgarbossa does.

CURT GOGOL – FWD – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Curt Gogol is a 6’0″, 185 lbs undrafted left-wing. He had one very nice goal and was a +1 through three games. He also stood up for his teammates, getting in at least one fight. Minute to minute, he did not show a significant amount of skill, but then from out of nowhere in game one, he pulled a very slick, perfectly executed move on Flames goatender Joni Ortio. After that I had my eye on him, but he faded. I did not notice him much the rest of the tournament, except in scrums. He could be a depth forward to watch in the future, a hybrid third-liner who also fights, someone in that mold, but in terms of what I saw at the tournament, I didn’t notice much after the pretty goal. He is an above average skater, and he seems to have an above average reach for someone 6’0″ because I thought he was closer to 6’1″ or 6’1″ when I watched him, and his hands were good on the goal, but I didn’t see enough of him to speak to anything else.

BRODIE REID – RW – SAN JOSE SHARKS.

Brodie Reid is a 6’1″, 195 lbs undrafted right-wing the Sharks signed to an entry-level contract before the Young Stars Tournament. He had one goal and three points in three games, and a zero plus/minus rating. He was probably the Sharks second best forward throughout the tournament, behind Michael Sgarbossa. He has an NHL frame, and looks to have some muscle on him, but he also moves fairly well. His footwork and “smoothness” isn’t great in the way that say Ryane Clowe’s isn’t great, but like Ryane Clowe it’s enough for him to do what he needs to, and once he gets going he does move with some power and momentum. Puck-handling wise, his hands are pretty decent, certainly not a liability.

Reid is not exactly a finesse player in terms of the way he moves and looks out there, but he makes finesse plays. He made a couple of very good passes, using very creative angles you don’t usually see exploited. I mentioned Freddie Hamilton as one of the leading candidates to come out of nowhere and be a good NHL player; Reid is the leading candidate to my eye (discounting Sgarbossa because we now know about him). I think he has the potential to be a second line right-wing playmaker-hybrid type player if he continues to develop. Whether that just means he’ll be the next Erik Christensen, or something more, I only watched him play three games. It will be interesting to see how well he plays defensively, and away from the puck, which are things I didn’t really get a beat on him in the three games.

But I liked what I saw from him. I do think at the very least he showed that he is more committed to forechecking and using the body than Christensen, for example. He is 22-years-old, however, which means he had an age advantage over many of the other players. How much that should detract from his performance, I do not know. But he has the NHL frame and good vision, and he played very well. If he continues developing at the rate a 19-year-old would, despite being 22, he should make the NHL.

SHARKS GOALTENDERS THOMAS HEEMSKERK AND JP ANDERSON.

Thomas Heemskerk is a 6’0″, 195 lbs goaltender the Sharks signed as a free agent on September 29th, 2009. J.P. Anderson is a 5’11”, 190 lbs goaltender the Sharks signed after last year’s Young Stars Tournament. Heemskerk was 1-1 through two games, Anderson was 0-1 through two games.

In game one against the Calgary flames, the two goalies split time. Heemskerk played the first half of the game where Calgary dominated the Sharks, and he was the reason the Sharks still managed to outscore the Flames. He played great, especially in contrast to the Flames goalie Joni Ortio, who performed poorly. Heemskerk played a very calm, well-rounded game. He had good movement, positioning, and more than anything his fundamentals were much more solid than Ortio’s. At the NHL level, every goalie has sound fundamentals, so that’s not an advantage anymore. But against Ortio, who didn’t have his fundamentals down, it was a big advantage. Heemskerk also used his good movement and calmness to make some difficult saves, in addition to the fundamental ones.

J.P Anderson, who took over in game one about halfway through the second period, was solid but did not get challenged nearly as much as Heemskerk. The Flames attack seemed to die down as the game went on. Anderson did make one very good pad save halfway through the third period, but it was more a result of the Flames player not elevating the puck than anything else.

In game two, Heemskerk played the entire game, and was not as crisp. He let in a few questionable goals. It was not an awful performance, but it did not compare to his dominant game-one performance.

In game three, Anderson had trouble keeping leads. The Canucks prospects did outplay the Sharks prospects, but the Sharks had an opportunity to win the game nonetheless; in fact they should have won, but they blew the lead multiple times. This was not Anderson’s fault alone, but when you blow that many leads, the goaltender has to take some of the blame.

Just think about Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings. Everyone says the Red Wings and Sharks are about as evenly matched as any two teams could be, and in large part they’re right. But Red Wings fans then take that knowledge and say, well, if they’re evenly matched, then they should be winning equal number of games against each other, and since they’re not, since the Sharks are winning 90% of these one-goal games, it must mean the Sharks are getting lucky. And yes, when a game-winning goal in overtime deflects in off a defenseman’s stick, there’s luck. But if you’re consistently coming out on the wrong end of one-goal games, it probably means your goalie is giving up that one crucial bad goal at the wrong time that loses the game for your team. Red Wings fans don’t like to blame Jimmy Howard, but that’s the truth. When you continue to lose that many close games, you’re not getting the clutch goaltending.

In that light, Anderson did not have the best showing at this year’s tournament, but he played very well last year, and he’s a good goaltender at his level. Whether he, or Heemskerk, project as starting NHL goaltenders is doubtful, as it always is for 90% of goaltending prospects when there are only 30 spots in the NHL, but both of them could have NHL futures in some capacity. The one thing that concerns me is they are both small. Everyone knows that the sumo wrestlers in net theory is a myth, and that positioning, movement, and reflexes are the most important aspects of goaltending. My point is just, if you can have good positioning, movement, and reflexes on a 6’0″ goaltender, or good positioning, reflexes, and movement on a 6’5″ goaltender, why would you ever pick the 6’0″ one? There are enough 6’2″-6’5″ goaltenders out there with skill that the league as a whole is actually moving away from smaller goaltenders, and as cruel as it is to the people to discriminate based on their size, I can’t size I blame the league. That’s professional sports. A lot of these kids dedicate the first 20-25 years of their lives to making the show, and they don’t. If you’re too small, too slow, whatever it is, things you can’t even control, that might be it for you.

It’s not fair, but just looking at things from the Sharks perspective, looking at what’s best for them with complete apathy towards everything else, why would you go with a 6’0″ or 5’11” goaltender when you can have someone bigger? The smaller goaltender would have to just be significantly more skilled than the bigger one to warrant picking him.

Because remember, this is in large part the exact reason the Sharks let Nabby go. Yes, there were cap implications: the Sharks did not want to pay Nabokov five million a year. But now they are spending 5.8 million on their goaltending, the same as they were when they had Nabby. If you recall Doug Wilson’s quotes when he talking about looking for a new goaltender, he mentioned how the trend in the playoffs was that hybrid or butterfly goaltenders, with size, were the ones who were succeeding. And then he went out and signed Niemi, who is significantly bigger than Nabby.

That’s my one worry with the J.P. Anderson and Thomas Heemskerk. They will have to perfect the aspects of their craft that they can control if they want to become starting goaltenders.

SAN JOSE SHARKS YOUNG STARS TOURNAMENT CONCLUSIONS.

Overall, the Sharks future is not as dire as people think. With the exception of Sgarbossa who I’m very high on, there is not a lot of high-end skill out there, but there are NHL players in the making. The Sharks already have their stars anyway, and if they ever need more, Doug Wilson has demonstrated time and time again that there will always be an incompetent opposng General Manager out there willing to trade his franchise player for a couple of inconsistent Sharks cast-offs and an overrated Sharks prospect. Just think Matt Carle, who Ron Wilson hated so much he wouldn’t even play in 2007-2008, and Ty Wishart, who still hasn’t even made the NHL.

So yes, the Sharks prospect pool may be as thin as it’s been in a long time, but at the end of the day, it’s still the Sharks prospect pool, meaning it’s Doug Wilson and Tim Burke’s prospect pool, meaning there will be NHL players coming out of it. Reid, Doherty, Sgarbossa, Acolatse, and Hamilton will probably all play in the NHL in some capacity, and Abeltshausher, Heemskerk, and J.P. Anderson have a chance too. Most of them won’t be impact players, so if other GMs stop sending all their best players gift-wrapped to the Sharks, then we’ll have a big problem. But doubting the incompetence of some NHL GMs is like doubting gravity, so I’m not too worried.

That’s all for today. I have a few more (limited) notes on other players like Wrenn (who was fairly disappointing), Connolly, Cheek, Vaughan, and so on, but none of them stood out enough for me to warrant writing about. However, if you have questions about them, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments and I will report what I saw.

On another note, we are doing a fantasy league this year! If you would like to join, we still have some spots open, so email us sharkcircle@gmail.com, Tweet Us, or leave your email address in the comments. The draft will be two Sundays from yesterday, at around 4:00PM Pacific Time.

Further Reading.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6. of our series on the offseason’s best signings.
A look at potential new NHL rules for next season, with our analysis.
Analysis of the Winnipeg Jets signing of ex-Shark Kyle Wellwood.

Written by Shark Circle

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