Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2019 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the San Jose Sharks Prospects.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2019-20 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
San Jose Sharks Prospects
After trading for Erik Karlsson last fall, the Sharks signalled that they were all in for the 2018-19 season. The team was strong, with two Norris calibre defencemen along with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The forward group had Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, and Evander Kane. Overall, the team put up outstanding possession numbers. However, goaltending was a weakness, with Martin Jones and Aaron Dell both posting sub .900 save percentages on the year. This led to a second-place finish in the Pacific Division. Once they made the playoffs, the Sharks hit their stride, beating the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche to reach the Western Conference Final. Unfortunately, they would run into the St. Louis Blues and fell in six games.
Salary cap issues have led to a number of changes in the summer. Captain Pavelski signed with the Dallas Stars, while Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi also left as free agents. The team added Trevor Carrick via trade. The Sharks biggest moves of the off-season were about keeping the team together though, re-signing Karlsson, Thornton, Meier, Lebanc, and Tim Heed. Further growth will need to come through their prospect development.
Top Prospect: Ryan Merkley
Defence — shoots Right
Born August 14th, 2000 — Mississauga, Ontario
Height 5’11” — Weight 170 lbs [180 cm / 77 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 1st round, #21 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
It was a strange season for Merkley. He put up five goals and 39 points in 28 games for the Guelph Storm. Yet, as the Storm made a number of trades to gear up for a run at the OHL Championship, they sent Merkley to the Peterborough Petes. He scored nine goals and 32 points in 35 games for the Petes. However, the playoffs didn’t go as well as Merkley was held to just one assist in five playoff games. After the Petes were eliminated, he joined the San Jose Barracuda in the AHL but did not record a point in his two regular-season games of four playoff games.
Merkley is a dynamic offensive defenceman, with great skating in both directions. He seems to glide above the ice. Merkley is extremely fast, and he reaches that top speed in just a few strides with excellent acceleration. His tremendous edge work, pivots and agility allow him to cover a ton of ice. He can lead the rush or pinch in at the blue line and still recover and get back defensively. His skating may even lead to him taking too many chances at times, believing he can always recover. Merkley’s strong footwork allows him to walk the line at the point, opening up passing and shooting lanes. He could be stronger in his lower body, leading to better balance, being stronger on the puck, and better in battles along the boards.
Merkley has the skating and passing skills to start the transition game. He is a talented puck handler who can carry the puck out of his own end and lead the transition game. Merkley is also able to make a long home-run pass in transition. He can also quarterback the play from the point. Merkley has great vision and passing skills. He can thread tape-to-tape passes through tight areas, and set up teammates for scoring chances.
Merkley also has an excellent point shot and loves to let it go from the point. His slap shot is powerful and accurate, and his wrist shot and snapshot also have quick releases. Merkley has a knack for opening up shooting lanes and getting his shot on net through traffic. He also keeps his shots low, allowing teammates to set up screens, get tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds.
Merkley’s defensive game is the big question mark. He must get stronger, as well as improve his positioning and decision making in the defensive end. Most concerning is the fact that he does not seem to show the same intensity in the defensive end that he does in the offensive end. He can appear to cheat at times, trying to generate offence. Other times he has the “controller disconnected” moments, where he seems to be watching the play happen instead of being involved. Coaching this out of him will need to be a priority for the Sharks going forward.
Merkley is the one Sharks prospect with true superstar potential. However, he also has some big off-ice issues. There were rumours of issues with coaches during his draft year. The fact that the Storm traded him despite his offensive numbers was a big red flag at the OHL trade deadline. Now the Petes haven’t even put him on the team’s training camp roster and have indicated that they are looking to trade him before he returns from Sharks training camp. There are also rumours that if not traded in the OHL, the Sharks would keep him with the NHL club.
Exactly what is happening and who is at fault is anyone’s guess. However, Merkley needs to be on the ice and play hockey to continue his development, especially in the defensive zone. It is also likely that he needs to mature as a person. If these things happen, he has the talent to succeed as a top offensive producer in the NHL. If this does not come together, he will become a player who falls short of his potential. Helping Merkley take the right path is of the utmost priority for the Sharks development team.
Prospect #2: Dylan Gambrell
Centre — shoots Right
Born August 26th, 1996 — Bonney Lake, Washington
Height 6’0″ — Weight 195 lbs [183 cm/88 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2nd round, #60 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Gambrell split his first full pro season between the Sharks and the Barracuda. While he didn’t score any points in eight regular-season games, Gambrell scored a goal in one of his two playoff games. Gambrell scored 20 goals and 45 points in 51 AHL regular-season games. He also added four points in four AHL playoff games.
Gambrell has decent top-end speed and good acceleration. While he will not be deemed a speedster or elite skater, his skating is above average and adequate to play in the NHL. His edgework and agility are also good, helping him to maneuver through traffic both with and without the puck. Gambrell has good lower body strength, which helps him to maintain good balance. He is strong on the puck, especially in battles along the boards.
Gambrell is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He sees the ice well and can set up teammates with good goal scoring opportunities. Gambrell is effective at maintaining possession down low in the offensive zone, extending the cycle game, and making efficient passes to keep the puck moving. He makes the smart, simple play but isn’t one to bet too creative with a pass. He also has the stickhandling ability to protect the puck but is not the type to deke out a defenceman in one-on-one situations.
Gambrell’s shot is accurate. He has improved his power and release this past season. While still mainly a playmaker, this has made him more dangerous as a shooter and helped to make his game more unpredictable. There is still room to grow though and as it is, most of his goals come in tight to the net, where he can tip-in shots, pounce on rebounds, or direct a quick one-timer into the net. Gambrell is gritty and willing to get to those dirty areas, as well as to battle defencemen for loose pucks in the corners.
Gambrell uses his size effectively in the defensive zone. He is aggressive in providing backpressure against the rush. He also supports the defence down low, helping to contain opponents against the cycle. While not a big hitter, Gambrell is willing to battle in the corners and in front of the net. He keeps himself on the right side of the puck. He cuts down passing lanes and creates turnovers. Gambrell is also a solid penalty killer.
The Sharks have a spot open for a fourth-line centre heading into training camp. Gambrell will be in the mix to win that job, though there will be plenty of competition as seen in the next few Sharks prospects. If Gambrell loses the training camp battle, expect him to be a call-up option. Gambrell should eventually be an NHL player, the questions here are about how well his offence will translate, and if his upside is any better than a future third liner.
Prospect #3: Sasha Chmelevski
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born June 9th, 1999 — Huntington Beach, California
Height 6’0″ — Weight 185 lbs [183 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 6th round, #185 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
A sixth-round pick, Chmelevski is looking like a steal for the Sharks. He put up 35 goals and 75 points in 56 games for the Ottawa 67s last year. Chemlevski then added 12 goals and 31 points in 18 in the OHL playoffs, helping the 67s to the OHL final before they lost to the Storm. He was also named the league’s top academic player. Chemlevski also put up four goals and seven points in seven World Junior Games, helping Team USA to a silver medal.
An incredible skater, Chmelevski has outstanding speed as well as excellent acceleration. He is dynamic off the rush and can use his ability to change speeds as a weapon. If defencemen don’t respect his speed, he can beat them to the outside and cut to the net. If they back off too far, he can slow down and use the open space to make plays. He also has excellent edgework. Chmelevski has the ability to change directions on a dime. This makes him extremely elusive, both with and without the puck. He could stand to add a little lower body muscle and be stronger on the puck.
Chmelevski reads the play extremely well and makes very good decisions with and without the puck. His stickhandling is very good, with the ability to control the puck and make fancy moves while moving at top speed. Chmelevski can control the puck, protect it, and make plays in very tight spaces. He also has a strong wrist shot and a quick release. He couples this with an excellent one-timer and the ability to score in tight to the net to be a pure sniper.
Chmelevski also has good passing skills, but can sometimes focus a little too much on his own shot. When he is moving the puck effectively, he has good vision and the ability to feather the puck through tight areas. The biggest improvements in Chmelevski’s game have come with his consistency and his intensity. Previously criticized for not working hard every game, this has become a thing of the past. As Chmelvski has matured he has learned that he needs to keep his focus and continue to be involved in the dirty areas of the ice every night.
Chmelevski’s defensive game has improved over the last year as well. His issues with intensity and consistency extended to the defensive end of the ice and so have the improvements. He has reduced his tendency to float defensively, waiting for his teammates to get the puck and start the transition. Instead, he works to support the defence down low and create turnovers and start the transition game. His positioning without the puck has also improved, though he can still get even better going forward.
Chmelevski leaves junior hockey behind and will likely head to the AHL this year. The Sharks hope that he can continue to produce points as well as continue to work on his defensive game. He is now facing bigger and stronger opponents at the pro level and how Chmelevski’s game holds up will be telling.
Prospect #4: Ivan Chekhovich
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born January 4th, 1999 — Yekaterinburg, Russia
Height 5’10” — Weight 185 lbs [178 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 7th round, #212 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Chekhovich exploded in his second QMJHL season. He put up 43 goals and 62 assists for 105 points in 66 games with Baie-Comeau. Chekhovich also added three goals and an assist in seven playoff games. He was named a Second-Team QMJHL All-Star. After the season, he joined the Barracuda. Chekhovich was impressive with four points in five regular-season games and three points in four playoff games.
Chekhovich is a quick skater. He has a good first step and very good acceleration. His top-end speed is very good as well, but the fact that he can reach it in just a few strides is a real advantage. Chekhovich is able to win short races for loose pucks. He is also able to pull away from defenders and create dangerous odd-man rushes once he gets behind them. He also has good agility and edgework, helping him to maneuver through traffic both with and without the puck. Chekhovich can stand to add lower body muscle and improve his ability to battle on the boards and in front of the net.
Chekhovich is another player who improved his game-to-game intensity and consistency. This has been one of the biggest criticisms of him in recent years. This seems to be solved as Chekhovich had a strong season. The Russian winger is an excellent passer. He can make passes on his forehand and backhand, and even put saucer passes on his teammate’s tape. His excellent stick-handling protects the puck and he uses it to create scoring chances. Chekhovich is able to extend plays and wait for a teammate to get open.
He also has a very good wrist shot and quick release that can score from further out. With his strong stickhandling, Chekhovich can create space to get his shot off. It is accurate and can fool goalies. Chekhovich is also willing to get to the net and can score tip-ins and rebounds. His presence can also be a distraction to opposing defenders and goalies.
Chekhovich has some issues in the defensive zone still though. When he is on his game and plays with intensity on the backcheck, he is a decent defensive player. He could use work on his positioning but he isn’t that bad. However, there are times where he watches the puck and stops moving his feet and this will drive coaches crazy.
Chekhovich is also likely to head to the AHL this season. San Jose will want to see him continue to produce offence while also improving his defensive game. He is likely a year or two away from challenging for an NHL spot. This could be another late-round steal the Sharks have on their hands.
Prospect #5: Mario Ferraro
Defence — shoots Left
Born September 17th, 1998 — King City, Ontario
Height 5’11” — Weight 185 lbs [180 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2nd round, #49 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Ferraro put up two goals and 12 assists in 14 games in his sophomore season with UMass (Amherst). He helped UMass to a Hockey East Regular Season Championship and was named to the Hockey East third All-Star team. Ferraro and UMass made it all the way to the National Championship game at the Frozen Four before falling to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Ferraro is a smooth skater who covers a ton of ice. He is very quick with good acceleration in both directions. His top-end speed is very good. This allows him to participate in the offence and still get back to take care of his defensive assignments. Very good edgework and pivots allow him to cover a ton of ice, as well as to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. His agility also contributes to his two-way game as it helps Ferraro to keep opponents in front of him when defending and allows him to walk the line to open up passing and shooting lanes in the offensive zone. He is undersized in terms of height but is strong on the puck and has good balance. He could still get stronger before going to the pros though.
Ferraro pushes the pace in the transition game. He can skate the puck out of dangerous areas in his own end with his good speed and strong stickhandling ability. From there, Ferraro has the ability to continue with the puck through the neutral zone or make a good breakout pass to a forward. When he does move it up the ice he often joins the rush as a trailer. He sees the ice well and his passing ability also translates to quarterbacking the play at the opposing blue line.
Ferraro could stand to add some power to his slap shot and one-timer. His agility and ability to play with poise and walk the line allow Ferraro to open up shooting lanes and get his shot on the net. He also has a strong and accurate wrist shot and a quick release. Ferraro uses his wrist shot to get the puck through traffic in the zone when joining the rush, as well as when he sneaks down to the face-off circle on the power play. Right now, it is a more effective weapon than his slap shot due to the fact that he can surprise goalies by getting it off so quickly.
A two-way player, Ferraro is tough to beat in one-on-one situations. He also uses strong positioning and a quick stick to steal pucks off of attackers. Once a turnover is created, he is able to get the puck out of the zone quickly and transition to offence. Ferraro is not the type to throw a lot of big hits but he is physical in battles along the boards and in front of the net. Despite his size, his low centre of gravity and good use of leverage help him to be effective here. However, he can still be overpowered by bigger opponents at times.
Ferraro signed his entry-level deal with the Sharks and is now turning pro. He is likely to join the Barracuda. He will be challenged in translating his two-way game to the AHL as he plays against professional opponents. Ferraro looked good at Amherst but was also in the shadow of Cale Makar. He now needs to prove that he can take the next steps on his own.
Prospect #6: Artemi Kniazev
The Sharks drafted Kniazev with the 48th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Kniazev. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #7: Dillion Hamaliuk
The Sharks drafted Hamaliuk with the 55th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Hamaliuk. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #8: Joachim Blichfeld
Left Wing — shoots Right
Born July 17th, 1998 — Frederikshavn, Denmark
Height 6’2″ — Weight 188 [188 cm/85 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 7th round, #210 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Blichfeld had a giant season as an overage player with the Portland Winterhawks. He scored 53 goals and 61 assists for 114 points in 68 games. He also added four points in five playoff games. He won the WHL Scoring Title and was named the league’s player of the year.
Blichfeld’s skating was once seen as a liability but has greatly improved over his time with Portland. He will never be confused for a speedster but Blichfeld can keep up with the play. His first step and acceleration have also improved. Blichfeld has a strong lower-body and good balance. This helps him to power through checks and get to the front of the net. It also helps him to battle for loose pucks and to establish his position in front of the opponent’s net. He is tough to knock off the puck as well. Blichfeld has decent agility and edgework, helping him to get around opponents and into open ice.
He is not the flashiest player, but Blichfeld plays a very smart game. He finds openings in the defence and gets set up for his shot. His wrist shot is heavy and accurate, but he could work on getting an even quicker release. He also has a good one-timer. At 6-foot-2 he has the size to get to the front of the net and provide screens and pounce on rebounds. He is also good at getting tip-ins and deflections with his good hand-eye coordination.
Most of Blichfeld’s assists come through good puck control on the cycle game and keeping possession in the offensive zone. He uses his body and stick-handling ability to protect the puck and extend plays, waiting for a teammate to get open. Once they do, he has the vision and passing skills to set up a scoring chance. Blichfeld is not a big hitter but he is physical in battling for loose pucks along the boards.
Blichfeld’s defensive game was once a liability but has been greatly improved. He even spent time killing penalties for the Winterhawks last season. He has improved his positioning and uses his long stick to cut down passing and shooting lames. Blichfeld is also willing to use his body to support the defence down low. While not a big hitter, he is able to use his size and strength to contain opponents on the cycle and to battle for loose pucks on the boards.
Blichfeld is another young player set to make his pro debut with the San Jose Barracuda this season. He dominated last season as an overage junior against younger opponents. This season will be the real test to see if the Danish forward can translate his skills to the pro game.
Prospect #9: Yegor Spiridonov
The Sharks drafted Spiridonov with the 108th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Spiridonov. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #10: Jonathan Dahlen
Left Wing/Centre — shoots Left
Born December 20th, 1997 — Ostersund, Sweden
Height 5’11” — Weight 180 lbs [180 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 2nd round, #42 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Traded to the Vancouver Canucks, February 2017
Traded to the San Jose Sharks, February 2019
Dahlen started the season with Canucks AHL team, the Utica Comets. Following a trade to the Sharks, he joined the Barracuda. Overall he put up 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 57 AHL games.
Dahlen is not the fastest skater, but his speed isn’t bad either. It is currently above average and has been improving over the last couple of years. He is working to make his awkward, choppy stride into a more fluid one. There is still a bit more work to do and he could see his speed really improve as the technique comes together.
Dahlen has outstanding agility and edgework though. Even without elite speed, Dahlen is able to beat defenders one-on-one with his good stickhandling skills, and his ability to quickly change directions or change speeds. He could stand to work on his balance and not be pushed around as much in battles along the boards. This may come just from increased muscle mass.
Dahlen is an impressive offensive talent. He may be a bit undersized, but he has all the skills scouts look for when it comes to an offensive forward. He has an excellent array of shots, including a good wrist shot with a quick release; a hard slapshot; and a quality backhand. He has the soft hands to make moves on defenders and get himself the open space to get a shot off, as well as the hockey sense and the elusiveness to find open spots in the defence where a teammate can hit him with a pass.
Dahlen can also play the role of playmaker, with excellent vision and hockey sense, and the talent to slide the puck through small openings or flip a saucer pass to a teammate. He can stand to be more physical and play a bit less of a perimeter game going forward though and get to the more dirty areas of the ice.
Jonathan Dahlen’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. He has a tendency to fly the zone early as he looks to drive offence through the transition game. He also can get caught out of position when he starts to puck watch and stops moving his feet. A good coach will need to work with Dahlen on these issues.
Dahlen and the Sharks have agreed to loan the Swedish forward back to Timra in the Allsvenskan this season. This is not exactly the best sign for Dahlen’s future in the organization, even with his talent. It is only a one-year deal at this point and with the Swedish season ending before the North American campaign, theoretically, he could re-join the Barracuda for the end of the season and playoffs. The Sharks would like to see Dahlen’s game take the next step with Timra and then see the Swedish winger ready to translate that to the NHL level.
Sleeper Prospect: Noah Gregor
Centre — shoots Left
Born July 28th, 1998 — Beaumont, Alberta
Height 6’0″ — Weight 180 lbs [183 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 4th round, #111 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Gregor returned to the WHL for an overage year, playing for the Prince Albert Raiders. The Raiders were the top team in the WHL all season long and won the league Championship in a tough seven-game series over the Vancouver Giants. Gregor scored 43 goals and 88 points in 63 regular-season games for the Raiders. He added 13 goals and 24 points in 23 playoff games, as well as two goals and five points in three Memorial Cup Games.
Gregor has decent size and plays a strong all-around game. He shows ability in all three zones. He is a good skater. Gregor has very good speed and acceleration. He also shows good agility and edgework, allowing him to maneuver in and out of traffic, both with and without the puck. Gregor could stand to improve his core strength and his lower body strength in order to generate a more powerful stride, improve his balance, and be stronger on the puck. It will also help him when battling in the corners.
Gregor shows good skill in the offensive zone. He has a heavy wrist shot, with good accuracy and a quick release. He also shows a good arsenal of shots, with a strong snapshot and one-timer. Gregor has excellent vision and sees openings to thread the needle to create a scoring chance for a teammate. He has a knack for throwing a saucer pass over an opponent’s stick and landing it in time to hit his teammate’s blade. His hockey sense is high, as he often makes the right play, and does not turn the puck over a lot. Gregor is tenacious and willing to battle along the boards but needs to improve his overall muscle mass to avoid being pushed around at higher levels.
Gregor is a hard worker in the defensive end of the ice. He is willing to bring back pressure and work to help contain the cycle. However, he can be overpowered by bigger and stronger forwards. His positioning is good for his age, and he has some understanding of how to cut down passing and shooting lanes. It could be improved with more time and coaching to be more consistent though.
Gregor will head to the AHL and play for the Barracuda. The Sharks will hope to see his offensive game translate at the AHL level, and for Gregor to continue to get stronger and improve his defensive game.
The Sharks have been a contender for quite some time, leading to later draft picks over the years. They have also traded a number of picks and prospects in an attempt to get over the hump and win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. With these moves, the Sharks have hurt their prospect depth and their system just does not have the same level of talent as others in the NHL.
Goaltending prospects Josef Korenar, Mike Robinson, Andrew Shortridge, and Zachary Emond are part of the system. In addition to the players listed above, defence prospects to watch include Nikolai Knyzhov, Jeremy Roy, Santeri Hatakka, Jacob Middleton, and Nick DeSimone. Forwards to keep an eye on include: Jayden Halbgewachs, Alex True, Scott Reedy, Max Letunov, Lean Bergmann, Jake McGrew, and John Leonard.
San Jose Sharks Main Photo:
PETERBOROUGH, ON – MARCH 28: Ryan Merkley #25 of the Peterborough Petes skates the puck up ice against the Oshawa Generals during Game Four of the Eastern Conference OHL QuarterFinals at the Peterborough Memorial Centre on March 28, 2019, in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. The Generals defeated the Petes 5-2 to take a 3-1 series lead. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)