Welcome back to our series projecting the NHL futures of 33 San Jose Sharks prospects!
If you’re new to these, you can check out the introductory explainer article here — this will have all the definitions you need to know:
Part 2 looked at prospects — Jeremy Roy, Jeffrey Viel, and Jasper Weatherby — whose time is already up.
Part 3 examined players — Jonathan Dahlen, Thomas Gregoire, Jayden Halbgewachs, Nikolai Knyzhov, Maxim Letunov, Scott Reedy, and Danil Yurtaykin — who likely have just one more year left to prove themselves.
Part 4 analyzed prospects — Zachary Gallant, Vladislav Kotkov, Jake McGrew, and Kyle Topping — who still have time left but are otherwise unlikely to become NHLers.
Today, we’re looking at some more intriguing youngsters.
What they have in common, as opposed to some of the San Jose Sharks prospects in higher tiers, is they were all taken in the fourth round or later of the NHL draft, which means their likelihood of becoming NHLers is low to begin with. They are sufficiently young that their range of outcomes is still wide, however. And each possesses a little something, even if it’s just youth, that may help them reach their full potential.
The season to come will be telling for all of these players. Many are transitioning from junior hockey to professional hockey. Some, to a different professional league and others will continue their current junior or professional careers but with more responsibility. How developing players react to changes in their environment can tell us a lot about their future.
Each one of these prospects bears watching in the year to come; a spike in production from any of them might signal the beginning of something beautiful.
Zachary Émond – G
The Sharks prospect pipeline is full of young goalies who aren’t likely to become upper-echelon ‘tenders but who may just slide into NHL roles eventually. Goalies are known for becoming starters at a later age than skaters, and there are plenty of current goaltenders who didn’t see NHL games until their mid-20s. But if you look at a list of who’s who in the crease, guys like Andrei Vasilevskiy, Braden Holtby, Carey Price, Carter Hart, Corey Crawford, Darcy Kuemper, and John Gibson, to name a few, logged a few NHL games by the time they were 22.
Émond is the lone Sharks goaltending prospect who might still play some NHL games by the end of his age-21/22 season. That, of course, would be a surprising development. He will enter his D+3 season whenever hockey resumes again. With Sawchenko, Josef Korenar, and recently signed Alexei Melnichuk in line ahead of Émond for AHL games, he’ll probably return to the Q for another year.
The Sharks drafted Émond in the sixth round of the 2018 NHL draft, a curious pick at face value. He was the backup on his own team and finished the season with a 0.897 save percentage. The quality of defenders in front of QMJHL goalies isn’t exactly world-class, so it’s hard to fault a backstop for a poor percentage, but it would have been nice to see above a 0.900, especially in a reduced role.
Thanks to Pick224.com and its goals saved above average (GSAA) calculations, we can unveil what was below his raw save percentage. Since the 2013 season, just 68 first-year draft-eligible goalies have played at least 10 games in the Q. Émond’s GSAA per 60 minutes played ranked 24th on that list of goalies. Being just outside of the top one-third of an already small list is worthy of a late-round flier.
If we extend those search parameters to look at all the goalies who have played in the Q since 2013, we get a list of 304 names. Émond’s spent his D+1 season as a backup again, logging 27 games. His GSAA per 60 minutes ranks third of all 304 goalies on this list. His 2019-20 season, where he became a 53-game starter, ranks 55th on that same list. That all three of his full seasons are on the positive side of the GSAA ledger is probably music to Doug Wilson Jr’s ears.
There is a less exciting side to Émond’s performance so far. Pick224.com lists the percentage of “quality shots” goaltenders faced at all situations. There isn’t a precise definition of the term, because it’s taken from the CHL play-by-play data. We can take it with a grain of salt and imagine that quality shots are those that are between the dots and in the traditional “home plate” area in front of the net. Émond’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies seemed to be stout defensively. His D+1 and D+2 seasons he faced two of the four lowest percentages of quality shots among those 304 goalie seasons.
Even his rookie year he faced the 38th-easiest set of opponents’ shots. His save percentage on even-strength quality shots was among the top-100 on this list during his 2018-19 season. His other two years were among the bottom third in that regard. If this “quality shot” measure means anything, we may be looking at a goalie whose GSAA numbers look a bit inflated because of his work on lower-danger shots.
There is plenty to like about Émond. There is also plenty to be skeptical of. If we use Giants in the Crease’s research as a guide, then the earliest we’ll likely see Émond in an NHL uniform is the 2023-24 season. His youth, positive indicators, and lack of a clear competitive picture ahead of him makes for a prospect profile with plenty of potential.
Joseph Garreffa – W
This chart shows manually tracked data by freelance hockey analyst, Mitch Brown. During the 2019-20 season, Joseph Garreffa was an elite contributor to his team’s shots. He was strong in transition and was also active defensively. In short, his work between shots and goals was impressive. That’s not the only exciting thing the undrafted free agent offers.
According to Byron Bader’s HockeyProspecting model, Garreffa is the Sharks’ highest-upside forward prospect. After improving his scoring rate in each successive OHL season, Garreffa has about a 65 percent chance of becoming an NHLer. That’s a great sign for an undrafted free agent. Also encouraging is the fact Garreffa didn’t spring up out of nowhere. Per Pick224.com, Garreffa’s rate of even-strength primary points per game was in the top 83rd percent of all draft-year forwards in the CHL since 2015.
Behind his steadily increasing scoring rates, Garreffa was also an offensive catalyst for his team. His impact on the Kitchener Rangers’ even-strength scoring network also improved each season. Despite playing with better-known names like Adam Mascherin, Connor Bunnaman, and Jeremy Bracco, the small winger did not rely too heavily on his teammates for his production.
Garreffa’s impact on his team’s scoring continued after a trade to the Ottawa 67s. GTAnalytics captured skaters’ assist partners. Garreffa’s lofty point totals in Ottawa were clearly influenced by soon-to-be top draft pick Marco Rossi. The small playmaker also assisted on plenty other teammates’ goals and wasn’t solely reliant on Rossi for his own tallies. That’s an important distinction to note about his body of work. Beyond the spreadsheet, there is little information available about the forward.
Scouting reports for players who aren’t projected to go early in drafts rarely exist in the public sphere. We’re left with a few inklings of what the forward brings but no detailed descriptions of his game.
Bill Placzek of Draft Site is succinct: Garreffa is a “Smurf winger with high end skills and scoring potential.”
Josh Bell from The Hockey Writers wrote that he wouldn’t be surprised if someone took a flyer on the skilled winger and that he has the talent to make an NHL roster.
General Manager of the Barracuda, Joe Will, said that Garreffa is “a highly competitive, dynamic player who makes plays and creates offense at a high tempo.” Of course, anything the Sharks organization says about a player should be taken with a heaping spoonful of salt grains.
What few written accounts exist of Garreffa are filled with all the right words. “Skilled,” “high-end,” and “dynamic” are phrases that appear in scouting reports of successful AHL and NHL players. He certainly has the point-per-game scoring rates of a good-looking prospect. He’ll have to fight his way through an AHL contract and overcome his 5’7”, 176-lb. stature in just two years’ time to make it under the wire.
Garreffa is far from a sure thing in either direction. “Intriguing” is the most apt description of his prospect profile.
Santeri Hatakka – LD
There is plenty of reason to put Hatakka into the less-promising group of skaters from Part 4. Sixth-round picks just don’t make the NHL all that often. According to Namita Nandakumar’s research, only about 35 percent of sixth-round skaters play one NHL game. Only about one-quarter make it to 40 NHL games.
And, while scoring isn’t everything, especially for defensemen, Hatakka isn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard. Since the 2000-01 season, 367 first-time draft-eligible defensemen have played at least 20 games in the Finnish U20 league, according to Elite Prospects. Hatakka’s 0.3 point-per-game scoring rate is in the top-third of that group, but it’s not exceptional by any means.
During the 2019-20 season, Hatakka played 28 games in the Finnish Liiga (the highest level available there) and 15 games in Mestis (the equivalent of the Finnish AHL). According to Pick224.com’s estimate, Hatakka averaged about 11 minutes of ice time per game in his Liiga contests and registered just three total points.
The defender’s 0.11 point-per-game pace ranks 82 out of 167, U20 defenders who have played at least 20 Liiga games since 2000-01, per Elite Prospects. Put those scoring rates into even greater historical perspective, and Hatakka has about a 14 percent chance of becoming an NHL regular, according to Byron Bader’s HockeyProspecting model. That’s well shy of the 35 percent of sixth-round picks who eventually play one NHL game.
The reason Hatakka is here and not with the previous group of players is that he’s shown solid progression off the score sheet. The fact that he’s just one of 167 defenders in the past decade to play fairly regular Liiga games in their U20 season is a good sign. That he was on the ice for 51.5 percent of all 5-on-5 shots when his team only took 49.1 percent of said shots is encouraging.
He was on the ice for 105 defensive zone faceoffs and 104 offensive zone faceoffs, so outside of very limited playing time, it doesn’t appear as though Hatakka’s team felt the need to shelter him specifically. The final statistical feather in the young defenseman’s (he just turned 19 in January) cap is how he fared with on-ice goals. His team (Ilves) scored 58 percent of all even-strength goals. With Hatakka on the ice at even-strength, Ilves scored 79 percent of all goals.
There is surely some small-sample-size witchcraft boosting Hatakka’s on-ice numbers. What we have so far suggests a player who is likely providing more than his scoring rate would have us believe.
Hatakka has also impressed Tomi Kallio, director of European scouting for TPS and a European scout for the San Jose Sharks. Kallio told Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey Now that Hatakka’s “progress has been fantastic” and cited the defenseman’s skating ability and muscle growth.
Scouting reports are fairly positive, if they don’t sound over-the-top excited about the blueliner. That’s to be expected of a sixth-round pick. Scouts write about his impressive skating, strong defensive game, and lack of high-upside offensive abilities.
He sounds more Justin Braun than Brent Burns, but smooth-skating defensemen who are good in their own end are valuable, too.
Kryštof Hrabík – C
The big (6’4”, 209 lbs per Elite Prospects) center spent his draft year in the Czech second division, where he did OK. He got nine games in at the top level in his home country that season, though he scored no points. It’s worth noting that Canucks Army’s Jeremy Davis ranked him as the 42nd-best prospect in the 2018 NHL draft, due in part to his 30 percent likelihood of becoming an NHLer.
The last two seasons Hrabík has been in Kennewick, Washington playing for the Tri-City Americans. He’s scored about 0.78 points per game each year, about the equivalent of 14 NHL points. His scoring stagnation isn’t a good sign, but we should grant him a bit of leeway.
Only seven teams in the WHL scored fewer goals than the Americans during the 2018-19 season and just four teams accomplished the feat this year. That he registered points on 29 and 26 percent of his teams goals, respectively, should stand out more than his point totals on such a poor team.
According to Pick224.com, 870 D+2 forwards have played at least 20 games in the WHL since the 2010 season. Hrabík’s estimated primary points per game and estimated points per 60 minutes are right in the middle of the pack.
In October last year, the San Jose Barracuda inked Hrabík to a two-year deal. Barracuda general manager Joe Will’s press release quote describes the forward as “a natural center who can skate and play a power forward-type of game” (surprise, surprise). Will’s quote also mentions that Hrabík skated on the Czech Republic’s top line at the 2019 World Junior competition, which is a positive sign.
Luckily, and surprisingly, there are a few more scouting reports of the big-bodied forward out in the wild.
Draftsite.com’s Bill Placzek writes that Hrabík is a “big winger who also has seen limited shifts in the role of defensive [center]” who also “displays a nice wrist shot,” and “plays physical on the forecheck and in the dirty areas of the attack zone.” He’s someone who “Doesn’t try to play above the strength of his current abilities.”
Steve Kournianos, AKA The Draft Analyst, also mentions the Czech forward’s size and that “he has good speed and controls the puck with his head up at all times, but creativity once he’s inside the zone is something he’ll have to continue to work on.” Kournianos believes NHL scouts will like him because of his defensive abilities and size.
Every NHL (and AHL) team needs its depth forwards. Guys who may not be the most skilled but who can play defense and generally don’t make mistakes. However, research mining scouting reports for keywords found that prospects with size listed as their major attribute tend to become fourth-line AHL forwards. And, while it’s not unheard of for depth AHLers to make it to the NHL, it’s much more likely for players who score well at younger ages to eventually become professional success stories:
Today, @GarretHohl explains why POINTS MATTER!
*In Junior Leagues*
— The Content Boyz (@LockedOnSharks) August 27, 2020
It appears the soon-to-be 21-year-old will begin the 2020-21 season with the Liberec White Tigers (Bili Tygri Liberec) back in Europe. Hrabík’s scoring has stagnated, and he lacks an exciting skill set. He is entering just his D+3 season and likely has this year to make a big impression. I’d be surprised if he became the next Alexander True, but it’s always a possibility.
Timur Ibragimov – W
I’m irrationally excited about Timur Ibragimov. The Sharks drafted him in the sixth round of the 2019 draft and until they called his name it’s unlikely many people outside of the organization knew his name.
The six-foot, one-inch, 183-pound winger was left off Central Scouting’s final ranking of European skaters. His Elite Prospects profile bears no photo of his likeness. On the day the San Jose Sharks selected Ibragimov, a KHL source shared this bit of analysis with San Jose Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng:
However, KHL source added about Timur Ibragimov, "Very strange choice for Sharks. Not so good, he had to be drafted."
Source isn't high on Ibragimov's potential
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) June 22, 2019
At first glance, Ibragimov is someone who may as well have gone undrafted. Yet, here we are on year after his draft year and the Sharks have offered Ibragimov an entry-level contract (ELC). He’ll play the 2020-21 season (at least for now) in Finland with the TPS team under the watchful eye of Sharks scout Tomi Kallio.
The reason behind the ELC may just be that Ibragimov’s contract in Russia expired and the organization preferred to have him under its control. It’s a positive sign nonetheless for the forward’s prospects.
Statistically, Ibragimov is doing alright. Byron Bader’s Hockeyprospecting model evaluates players based on their point-per-game scoring rates adjusted for the league. Based on the last three seasons of play, Ibragimov has a 25 percent chance to become an NHL regular and a one percent chace of becoming a star producer (0.7 points per game in the NHL).
That model might even underestimate the player. Ibragimov moved from the Russian U20 league (MHL) to the AHL equivalent in the VHL. It’s not surprising that someone who isn’t a top-tier talent struggled to a lower scoring rate in a tougher league. Comparing Ibragimov to historical peers tells us more.
Since the 2010-11 season, 76, D+1 forwards have played at least 20 games in the VHL in Elite Prospect’s database. Ibragimov’s 0.37 point-per-game effort is the 15th-best mark in that time span. None of the players on the list ahead of the forward have established NHL careers.
Artyom Galimov is expected to be an overage draft pick in October, Danil Svunov is an unsigned Arizona Coyotes draft pick from 2019, and Mikhail Maltsev is a New Jersey Devils fourth-round selection who just scored 0.43 points per game in his age-21/22 AHL season. There is precedent for VHL forwards heading in the NHL’s direction, even if it’s a narrow precedent.
If we’re being real, Ibragimov’s statistical profile is fine. It doesn’t jump out. He didn’t explode at the next level. There’s no publicly available VHL data other than what Elite Prospects has, so it’s hard to tell what we’re missing numbers-wise. Scouting reports leave more room for optimism.
“From the playmaking standpoint he can drive the puck up the ice from his own end with confidence or pass it over to his teammates. His skill-set is quite impressive, he’s able to stickhandle his way or deke around an opponent as well as protect the puck in the offensive zone and wait for his teammates to get in the cycle. He’s an accurate passer and identifies where his linemates are and times his pass perfectly.”
Draftin Europe projected Ibragimov with a sixth-round value for his “powerful skating stride with some 1-on-1 ability.”
Peng’s KHL source thinks the forward is a “flashy winger with a good scoring touch” whose main weakness is his defensive game.
We would be remiss if we did not discuss how the Sharks organization thinks about him.
Doug Wilson Jr. was very excited about Ibragimov: "This is a guy that we're excited about. Elite speed & hands. Was 5'10", huge growth spurt this year, he's 6'2" now. Got some power forward qualities."
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) June 22, 2019
Doug Wilson and “power forward”? Some things never change.
Ibragimov has a so-so statistical profile but was drafted out of a potentially undervalued league. That he made an adult league full-time as a 19-year-old is a positive sign almost regardless of his point totals, though we do need to see a rebound in scoring during the 2020-21 season if we are to assume Ibragimov is a late-round gem. Ibragimov has plenty of time to improve, and the Sharks must see something if they were willing to sign him to a deal.
The Finnish preseason is underway, and Ibragimov is off to a decent if inconclusive start. The TPS club has played nine games in a 3v3 preseason tournament. Ibragimov has so far registered two goals and two assists, though it’s unclear if he played all of the games.
If he plays the season in Finland, a point-per-game rate of about 0.6 or higher would put him in the top 15 percent or so of all D+2 forwards who have played at least 20 Liiga games since the 2000-01 season, according to Elite Prospects.
If he plays in the AHL, the top 20 percent of D+1 forwards since 2000-01 have all scored about 0.7 points per game or more. However, the AHL probably provides tougher competition than does Liiga, so something in the 0.5 point-per-game range in North America should be considered a successful year.
With Ibragimov, there is mostly uncertainty right now. There is also plenty of intrigue.
Zach Sawchenko – G
Sawchenko has taken a meandering path to professional hockey. He was a three-year starter for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, where he posted 0.896, 0.917, and 0.917 save percentages in his age-17, 18, and 19 seasons.
The 6’1”, 185-pound goalie went undrafted and enrolled at the University of Alberta. His first season there he split the load, posting a .911 save percentage. Sawchenko then became the nominal starter, saving .926 percent of all shots on goal he faced during 19 games.
According to Elite Prospects, 40 U21 goalies have played at least 15 games in the University of Alberta’s USports league (eight of those goalies don’t have recorded save percentages) since the 2000-01 season. Sawchenko’s 0.911 season is the seventh-best mark of those 32 goalies. Among the 477 U22 goalies listed on Elite Prospects, Sawchenko’s 0.926 season is 19th-best.
The USports league quality of competition isn’t anything to write home about. According to CJ Turtoro’s NHLe research, one point as a USports skater is roughly the equivalent of one point in the Finnish U20 league. Despite playing against older skaters, Sawchenko wasn’t facing many, if any shots from NHL prospects. Sawchenko’s performance relative to his age group even in a so-so developmental league is still a positive indication.
The San Jose Sharks organization liked what it saw, both with USports and the Warriors. Sawchenko spent time in the WHL with Noah Gregor, Jayden Halbgewachs and recent Barracuda signee Tristan Langan. Joe Will and the Barracuda signed Sawchenko to a two-year AHL deal in March, 2019.
The soon-to-be 23-year-old spent the first half of the season in the ECHL before swapping places with Andrew Shortridge. We shouldn’t get too excited about the small sample sizes of starts Sawchenko has seen in college and at the minor-league level, because a bigger workload in the future offers room for a wide range of outcomes.
That he posted a 0.930 in his ECHL time and was successful with the Barracuda even as starter Josef Korenar struggled adds to his intrigue. Giants in the Crease developed a goals saved above average (GSAA) metric for the AHL, QMJHL, and OHL. Of the 71 goalies who played at least 10 games in the AHL last season, Sawchenko’s goals saved above average ranks 24th. This was all while facing the 10th-highest rate of shots on goal per 60 minutes of those same 71 goalies.
To understand Sawchenko’s chances of making the NHL, we can turn to Giants in the Crease’s research. Unsurprisingly, goalies who post a positive GSAA are much more likely than their poorly performing counterparts to make the NHL. That’s good news for Sawchenko, although things can change drastically from year to year (as we saw with Korenar).
Furthermore, goalies whose first AHL season is their D+4 year (as the 2019-20 season was for Sawchenko) make the NHL about half the time when they post positive GSAA rates. It’s a shame we don’t have anything like GSAA for the WHL or USports (or most lower-level leagues, for that matter). Those numbers might give us a better idea of how a goalie performed once we adjust for the shots he faced.
Until we see Sawchenko play more games in the AHL and how he does with an increased workload, we’re operating with a high degree of uncertainty. The fact he’ll be 23 this coming season with one abridged but impressive AHL season under his belt is intriguing enough to count him among this group of unproven but potentially exciting prospects.
Yegor Spiridonov – C
Spiridonov was a bit of an analytics darling at the time of the 2019 draft. He scored at nearly a point-per-game rate in a potentially underrated Russian U20 league (MHL), placing him in the top three percent of all first-time draft-eligible forwards to play 20 games in the MHL since the 2009-10 season.
The model has been lost to the ages, but Emmanuel Perry’s prospect model gave Spiridonov about a 53 percent chance of making the NHL with a projected upside of 0.42 wins above replacement. I don’t remember exactly how well that ranked relative to other prospects in his class, but you’ll have to take my word that those were impressive numbers, especially for a fourth-round pick.
Byron Bader’s model at Hockey Prospecting gave Spiridonov a 45 percent chance of making the NHL and a 10 percent chance of becoming a star producer (0.7 points per game), based on the forward’s D-1 and draft-year seasons. The average draft pick has about a 25 percent chance to make the NHL and less than a five percent chance of becoming a star, according to Bader’s database.
Players who become NHLers tend to regularly score points in developmental leagues. It’s a sign that the player in question has mastered the game relative to his peers. The big center’s scoring rate was impressive, yet he is also an important test case for why scouting (reports) matter (s), too.
Ben Kerr of Last Word on Hockey offers some descriptions of the prospect’s game. Spiridonov’s skating is “a bit of a work in progress.” His offensive game is marked by his strength on the puck, though Kerr believes Spiridonov’s “vision and skill level are very high.”
A Future Considerations scout wrote that the center is “an elite two-way center” who is “strong on his skates and hard to knock off the puck.”
Steve Kournianos, the Draft Analyst, also wrote about his sturdy frame, as well as his “reach of a giant octopus and a high compete level.” Kournianos wrote about the center’s hard work in the corners and strong finishing ability.
Bill Placzek of DraftSite has a similar opinion of the Russian forward. Placzek writes that Spiridonov, is “just a physical [center] who takes care of business at both ends of the ice, with a technically sound and responsible game.”
Some of these reports mention high-end abilities. They focus on the fact Spiridonov is technically capable and plays a smart and sound game. He was someone who was stronger and more responsible defensively than most 17-year-olds. The only problem is that few believed he offered much in the way of offensive upside.
Will Scouch shares that opinion. He noted that Spiridonov may have been able to body his way to high scoring rates in a smaller, quicker MHL league but that he didn’t stick out much when on the international circuit against a wider range of player types. That’s not comforting if we expect him to take the next steps in his development.
As a barometer for how impressive Spiridonov’s scouting profile is, we turn to another hobbyist. A Redditor used DraftSite.com’s scouting reports to build a prospect model, comparing key words and phrases in scouting reports to historical NHLers. The model’s output is binary: Either the player will make the NHL or he won’t, so there’s not much nuance here. Spiridonov falls into the “false” category, meaning he isn’t likely to become an NHLer based on that scouting report.
Since his analytically-impressive draft season, things have changed. During the 2019-20 season, Spiridonov played mostly in the MHL again, failing to stick in the adult-laden VHL league. He scored well again in the junior-level league but didn’t produce a whole lot when called up.
Dobber Prospects’ Jokke Nevalainen thinks Spiridonov can be a depth player in the NHL but doesn’t see much beyond that.
Spiridonov could be a decent bottom-six winger but I don't see upside beyond that. I hoped he could be a center at least but doesn't look that way.
I liked the Melnichuk signing a lot. But I want to see how he handles a bigger workload. A good prospect for free. https://t.co/mjnBi0AXai
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) August 23, 2020
It appears that Spiridonov has been shifted to the wing for his new role on the St. Petersburg team. It’s not always a bad sign when this happens, but it’s telling that coaches at the minor-league level don’t think he’s capable of playing center against men, at least not yet.
Spiridonov is still young. He’s entering his D+2 season in Russia. At the very least, he will need to stick in the VHL this season, even if his scoring doesn’t drastically improve. In an ideal world, he scores at around a half-point-per-game pace in the VHL, but that development would be a major surprise. The range of outcomes is still wide, even if his slower transition to men’s hockey and less-than-exciting scouting reports have started to whittle away at the higher end of the spectrum.
What Could Be
These players are either still fairly young, have produced well, and/or have solid scouting reports next to their names. They were all also drafted in the fourth round or later, so it’s unlikely they turn into NHLers. More than anything, what surrounds these players is uncertainty. They were all worth the gamble the San Jose Sharks organization took either with a draft pick or contract. Pay careful attention to the numbers these players record in the season to come. If they demonstrate that they’re head and shoulders above their peers, we’ll know they’re headed in the right direction.
Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 6: NHL Regulars?
As we climb the ladder of San Jose Sharks prospects, we inch ever closer to those who stand a reasonable chance of playing for the big-league club. One of these next three prospects has already logged a few NHL games. All three of them offer promise for the same combination of things that help any prospect: Draft capital, scouting profile, production progression, and lack of competitive options in the Sharks pipeline.
It’s not reasonable to expect any of these players to become top-of-the-lineup material. Their trajectories arc toward complementary players at the professional level, but those are roster spots best filled with young players on cheap deals. This group of three players has a good chance to fill exactly that role even if it’s no certain thing. Welcome — to the borderline NHL regulars group!
Before you dig in, check out the rest of this deep dive into the San Jose Sharks prospects — this series began before the 2020 Draft, so it’s focused on non-2020 Draft prospects.
If you’re new to these, you can check out the introductory explainer article here — this will have all the definitions you need to know.
Part 2 looked at prospects — Jeremy Roy, Jeffrey Viel, and Jasper Weatherby — whose time is already up. And indeed, that’s the case for Roy, at least in the San Jose organization. Roy’s entry-level contract expired two weeks ago, and the the Sharks declined to offer him a new contract, making the 2015 second-round pick a UFA.
Part 3 examined players — Jonathan Dahlen, Thomas Gregoire, Jayden Halbgewachs, Nikolai Knyzhov, Maxim Letunov, Scott Reedy, and Danil Yurtaykin — who likely have just one more year left to prove themselves. Halbgewachs was recently signed to a two-year contract, which Letunov got one year.
Part 4 analyzed prospects — Zachary Gallant, Vladislav Kotkov, Jake McGrew, and Kyle Topping — who still have time left but are otherwise unlikely to become NHLers.
Part 5 focused on some of the more intriguing youngsters in the San Jose Sharks system: Zachary Emond, Joseph Garreffa, Santeri Hatakka, Krystof Hrabik, Timur Ibragimov, Zach Sawchenko, and Yegor Spiridonov.
So who are the Sharks prospects that I project to be borderline NHL regulars?
Lean Bergmann – W
Lean Bergmann played 12 games with the Sharks during the 2019-20 season. He finished the season with the big club, playing four of the team’s last seven games. In those four games he averaged just 7:54 of ice time and took just two shots on goal.
Advanced metrics that adjust for a player’s context don’t show Bergmann in a very bright light, either. It’s too hard to take much away from a sample size of just 96 minutes of ice time, but his impact on even-strength expected goals for & against and shots for & against were all one standard deviation or more worse than average. That’s a difficult feat to accomplish given that the model in question pulls everything back toward average to begin with.
It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Bergmann struggled in the NHL. He was forced into a situation few 21-year-olds would envy: A team that had lost its high-end forward depth and would struggle immensely to begin a season that ended with a new head coach behind the bench.
Even without that context, it’s difficult to expect much from a prospect who never really got going until his age-20/21 season. As a 17- and 18-year-old in the USHL, Bergmann failed to crack the half-point-per-game mark before returning to Germany. There, he impressed, with a 0.58 point-per-game campaign.
According to Elite Prospects, Bergmann’s scoring rate ranks ninth among 222 DEL forwards to play at least 20 games during a U21 season since 2000-01. We should note, however, that of the eight forwards ranked above him, most either scored at a higher rate at the same age or even earlier. The closest trajectory to Bergmann’s own was that of Marcel Müller. Müller played one game for the Maple Leafs but otherwise spent the better part of two North American seasons with the AHL Marlies.
So why is Bergmann exciting? Not much exists in the way of scouting reports for the undrafted free agent. Those that are floating in the internet ether describe a combination of size, toughness, and shooting ability.
Chris Legg of Dobber Prospects writes of someone who, for his size, “can really dangle and shoots the puck with authority.”
In an interview with The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz, Barracuda General Manager Joe Will spoke of a forward who “showed character, skating, and good physio” despite a lack of production.
A more in-depth scouting report at McKeen’s Hockey describes a player who, “has very quick hands for someone his size, and…can effectively utilize his size and strength to create offensive chances for himself.”
Usually, scouting reports that focus on size and strength aren’t incredibly encouraging. Bergmann, however, has already logged NHL time with the Sharks’ current head coach, however brief. He has skill to go along with his frame, and another year in North America should help him further acclimate to the smaller rink. According to Elite Prospects, Bergmann did score in the top one-third of 20- and 21-year-old forward seasons in the AHL since 2000-01.
Right now, there are probably two or more spots in the San Jose Sharks’ bottom-six up for grabs. Bergmann may not necessarily have an inside track to one of them, but he has the profile and existing NHL experience to earn himself another stint with the big club whenever the 2020-21 season begins.
Dillon Hamaliuk – W
The best thing going for Dillon Hamaliuk is his second-round draft capital. Nearly three-quarters of skaters drafted in the second round play at least one NHL game. A majority of them make it to 10 games. Part of that statistic has nothing to do with the player. NHL teams try their darndest to make expensive investments pan out: Just look at the opportunities the Sharks have given Dylan Gambrell relative to Noah Gregor.
That something out of a player’s hands is the core reason he might make the big leagues isn’t a glowing endorsement. There’s more to the big forward’s chances than draft position, though. Byron Bader’s prospect model compares players’ scoring rates to those of thousands of other drafted players. After his draft season, Hamaliuk had a 45 percent chance to become a regular NHLer.
Only about 40 percent of second-round skaters go on to play 80 NHL games, which we’ll consider makes them “regular.” If we knew nothing but the winger’s scoring rates at the time of the draft, we could safely assume he was following the trajectory of so many other second-round picks before him to the NHL.
Jeremy Davis, formerly of Canucks Army, also built a prospect evaluation model. Davis ranked Hamaliuk as the 2019 draft’s 30th-best prospect. He was involved in more than 21 percent of his team’s 5-on-5 goals but had just a 19 percent chance of making the NHL. This discrepancy hints at Hamaliuk’s play behind the raw scoring totals.
The season before his draft year, Hamaliuk’s impact on his team’s scoring network was poor. In other words, he was overly reliant on strong teammates for his scoring. We can excuse him for that as a young rookie playing in a tough WHL. The concern is that his inability to score without strong teammates has stayed with him.
Highlight reels, which are supposed to highlight a player’s ceiling, quickly become repetitive. Hamaliuk is scoring goals, often from up close and after rebounds and around the blue paint. He is rarely making a pass or creating a play. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Every team needs finishers. His brand of scoring probably just means he’ll need a sharp center to play with if we are to expect exciting goal totals moving forward.
He makes the most of his teammates’ playmaking, however. InStat has tracked shot and expected goal differential since September 2018. Hamaliuk has been on the wrong side of the shot share ledger more often than not. Where he thrives is being on the ice for a high volume of expected goals.
That isn’t a surprise. To quickly peruse a handful of scouting reports, I fed them to a word cloud generator.
(Word cloud algorithm and image from Jason Davies)
You can see that some of the most prominent words in his reports have to do with strength, power, and the net front. There are also adjectives, including “decent,” “effective,” “solid,” and “good.” Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but they aren’t effusive reviews, either.
The 2019-20 season was a challenge for Hamaliuk. Per Sheng Peng, he came down with mono in November and his scoring rates understandably fell. Per Elite Prospects, the power forward scored 0.7 points per game in September and October. In November and December, he scored just five points in 14 games.
In Peng’s interview, Doug Wilson Jr. mentions that Hamaliuk was finally back and healthy three weeks before the interview, which would have been about the beginning of February. During the 15 games between February 2 and the end of the season, Hamaliuk scored 11 points, back at his 0.7 point-per-game rate from earlier. It’s good to see him rebound. It’s hard to get excited about a 19-year-old not cracking the point-per-game threshold in junior hockey.
Hamaliuk’s statistical and scouting profiles point to someone who is good once the puck is in the offensive zone but who may not be helpful getting it there. His calling cards are his size and strength, which aren’t scouting terms that typically portend high-level success. His second-round draft position and the Sharks’ love of power forwards should provide Hamaliuk ample opportunity. Realistically, his NHL career arc is one of an effective bottom-six player.
Alexei Melnichuk – G
San Jose signed Alexei Melnichuk to a two-year entry-level deal in May this year. The Russian goaltender turned 22 one month later and is poised to play spoiler to the other goaltending prospects in the pipeline.
It’s difficult to get a good read on goalies because there is so little information available about those who do not play in the NHL already. The best approach for Melnichuk might be to compare him to another goaltender whom he followed up the ladder in the St. Petersburg program: Igor Shestyorkin (Shesterkin).
Shestyorkin made his triumphant arrival at the NHL level this season for the New York Rangers as a 24-year-old. Melnichuk served as Shestyorkin’s understudy in the MHL, VHL, and KHL, tracking about two seasons behind Shestyorkin.
For example, Shestyorkin played his first KHL games during his age-17/18 season. Melnichuk didn’t see KHL time until he was 19. Here’s a comparison of the two goalies save percentages in the leagues in which they played the most games in a given season.
Shestyorkin’s save percentages are much stronger than the Sharks’ free agent signing up until this past season.
This year, Melnichuk’s 0.930 in the KHL was very similar to Shestyorkin’s 0.933 during his age-20/21 season. The major difference? Shestyorkin accomplished this while playing nearly twice as many games.
If the Rangers’ new No. 1 didn’t make the leap to the NHL until his age-23/24 season, it’s hard to believe Melnichuk will arrive much sooner. This is a very rough estimate, of course, but if Melnichuk is tracking about two seasons behind his older compatriot, then the earliest we should expect him in a San Jose Sharks uniform is the 2023-24 season.
It’s exciting to have a young goalie with a track record of professional success. If Shestyorkin can be a star in the NHL, maybe Melnichuk can be an average goalie? That’s an ideal situation for an undrafted addition at a position of need.
This series covers 33 San Jose Sharks prospects in total, and doesn’t include 2020 Draft picks.
After this installment, eight skaters — about 25 percent of the total prospect pool — remain. Byron Bader’s database of historical draft picks says about 25 percent of all skaters (no goaltenders included) chosen in the Draft become NHL regulars. That places Bergmann and Hamaliuk right on the cusp of future NHL regular material. Melnichuk is in a different category, but his relatively promising track record and immediate access to the San Jose Barracuda’s crease give him a strong chance, as of this writing, of becoming an NHL regular.
There’s nothing certain about this group of players, but it feels safe to call them future borderline NHL regulars.
Which Veteran Defenseman Will Sharks Sign?
A glance at the San Jose Sharks defensemen depth chart reveals a glaring hole.
Behind Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on the right side, San Jose has Ryan Merkley, and then…
Nicolas Meloche is a 23-year-old that the Sharks acquired last summer by sending goalie Antoine Bibeau to the Avalanche. The 26-year-old goaltender is currently without a contract, if that tells you anything about Meloche’s trade value. Nick DeSimone turns 26 in November and has played as many NHL games as you or I.
San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson referenced this last Friday: “You want to have a spot of competition for people. Pasichnuk signed with us. Merkley is obviously a first-round pick. [Jake Middleton] is a quality veteran who’s paid his dues. So you want them to be able to compete. But you also want to have competition.
“You don’t want to give spots away. We’ve got five NHL-quality d-men.”
So while Merkley and recently signed Brinson Pasichnuk (a lefty) offer exciting statistical profiles, it would be a major surprise if the Sharks went into the season with those two duking it out for the sixth defense spot. After the organization misevaluated its own prospects ahead of the 2019-20 season, it seems near impossible that Wilson will go into next year without a veteran defenseman in that role.
And there aren’t many veteran blueliners left on the free agent market, especially in San Jose’s price range. So who could Wilson possibly be targeting?
Wilson’s quote after signing bottom-pairing defender Dalton Prout last year may indicate the type of player he’s looking for:
“Dalton is a very smart defenseman who has shown he can move the puck cleanly under pressure and keep his turnover rates low,” said Wilson, “We believe his ability to hold the defensive zone blue line is underrated and that he is one of the best at limiting net-front rebounds by effectively using his size and stick. We’re excited to add his responsible defensive play to our blue line.”
It’s difficult to quantify that player profile.
Analyst CJ Turtoro has visualized Corey Sznajder‘s manually tracked data, which may help. Prout’s sample size of tracked data is small, so the caveat exists that these results have not stabilized yet. What the recorded data we have from the 2016 through 2018-19 seasons shows is that Prout did well when asked to break up plays at his own blueline. Among the defenders Corey tracked, Prout ranked in the 72nd percentile in terms of blueline entry attempts broken up.
The rest of his tracked data leaves something to be desired. Whatever Sznajder saw while re-watching Prout’s games, it certainly wasn’t a defenseman who “can move the puck cleanly under pressure” — and that’s not all that differed from Wilson’s assessment of the player. According to the NHL.com, Prout had one of the worst giveaway rates of all defensemen who played at least 20 games between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
So it appears the one thing we have that may help us tie Wilson’s player assessment to quantifiable information is the blueline breakup ability.
Which Available Defensemen Fit Prout’s Profile?
Armed with Doug Wilson’s quote and Dalton Prout’s micro data profile, we can peruse the remaining free agents to see who the San Jose Sharks might have a contract for. Along with being steady at the blueline, we’re probably also looking for a player with size. Wilson believed Prout was good a “limiting net-front rebounds with his size and his stick,” after all. Though the Sharks don’t necessarily need to solve their right-shot blueline conundrum now — lefty Mario Ferraro, for example, played on the right side for a lot of the year — we’ll start with right-handed UFAs.
Puckpedia, as always, is a wonderful resource for this type of research. Here are the remaining UFA right-shot defensemen, sorted by games played in 2019-20.
In a word, this list isn’t most appetizing. Alex Pietrangelo will probably have a contract by the time you read this, and he wasn’t coming to San Jose anyway. Mike Green has retired. Prout, of course, is a UFA, but as Sheng Peng noted, he’s not quite ready to join an NHL team yet:
Here's an update on one #SJSharks UFA: Dalton Prout, who had his lone SJS season cut short by 2 concussions, is going to continue to train & see where things are when we get closer to season. Good luck to Dalton, those were some unfortunate injuries last year!
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) October 9, 2020
By process of elimination, we can cut this list down to three players who may fit the Prout mold.
Jan Rutta has performed well at the blueline the last three seasons disrupting would-be entries.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound sturdy right shot played depth minutes for the recently crowned Stanley Cup champion Lightning. Though he was known for his fluid skating and ability to move the puck while playing overseas, it’s likely that the depth defender’s reach and strength are what draw NHL teams to him. Of the 285 defensemen to suit up for at least 20 games during the past two seasons, Rutta’s rate of giveaways is the 16th-best, in the event Wilson is counting. Evolving Wild’s contract model projects Rutta’s market value to be somewhere around one-year, $824,000, which is ideal given the San Jose Sharks budget.
The 32-year-old journeyman defenseman just finished his fourth season in Nashville. He’s just 5-foot-11, but at 200 pounds, he surely passes the size muster of NHL GMs. He’s registered about one hit per game, which makes him a touch more physical than Rutta. Clearly, his one major strength is breaking up plays at his blueline. Evolving Wild’s model assigns Weber a cap hit value of $651,000, which is below the veteran minimum of $750,000, so we’ll say he’s a veteran minimum contract.
Vatanen is here because he’s been fairly disruptive at the blueline during the past few seasons. But, at just 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, the 29-year-old defender doesn’t quite fit the rough-and-rugged profile Wilson seems to be looking for — of course, the San Jose Sharks GM may have changed his search criteria since last offseason. Vatanen is also known more for his offensive prowess than his ability to box out forwards in front of his crease. And, there’s the pesky fact that Evolving Wild projects Vatanen’s next contract to be worth around $2 million for one season. That’s a tough sell for a team up against it.
What About Lefties?
Because this signing doesn’t also have to fix the San Jose Sharks’ organizational depth, we can also look at lefty defensemen who still stand without a contract.
To spare you, we’ll list the players who meet the blueline disruptor criteria and whose projected contracts aren’t likely to be prohibitive to the Sharks’ pocketbook: Slater Koekkoek and Ben Hutton. Hutton and Koekkoek, like Weber and Rutta, also sport low giveaway rates, according to NHL.com’s database.
Who Will Sharks Sign?
Evolving Wild projects both Hutton and Koekkoek to be worth around $1.5 million on a one-year deal. Assume the Sharks sign Patrick Marleau to his rumored $1 million deal and Joe Thornton to a similar contract. That leaves the Sharks with about $4.7 million in cap space to sign a depth defender and add another NHL forward, while leaving some wiggle room for call-ups during the season. A $1.5 million deal for a depth defender isn’t a deal breaker. But if the Sharks are hoping one of Ryan Merkley or Brinson Pasichnuk overtake said defender, it makes sense to spend as little as possible on a signing while still bringing in a helpful player.
Using our research here and Wilson’s previous words, it seems likely that the Sharks have a candidate in mind. To understand what you’re about to see, here’s a primer:
Micah Blake McCurdy developed a model at HockeyViz to evaluate players. His model adjusts for a player’s teammates, opponents, and the score of the game, among other factors, to try to isolate as much as possible a player’s individual impact on the game. The output of his model is a heatmap that shows just what sorts of shots a player helps his team take on offense and prevent on defense. Dark red represents lots of shots for and dark blue represents a dearth of shots against. These individual outputs are paywalled, so I’m only going to share one with you, that of the player the Sharks are most likely to sign.
Rutta checks plenty of boxes.
He’s big, he doesn’t give the puck away, he’s solid at breaking up zone entries, and it will probably only require a veteran minimum contract to lure him to San Jose. On top of all that, he has been a solid generator of offense in a depth role in Tampa Bay.
Rutta killed penalties for the Lightning and also played with Victor Hedman for portions of the season, which suggests the utility man can play up and down the lineup just fine. Rutta just added a Stanley Cup win to his resume, no doubt sending Wilson’s eye all a-twinkle.
The San Jose Sharks would probably be better off with someone more capable of exiting his own zone, but Rutta otherwise seems to fit both the hockey man’s ideal of a depth defenseman and the analytics nerd’s vision of a useful role player. For $800,000 or thereabouts, this deal would be too good for Wilson to pass up.
Cat Silverman & Cole Anderson on If Acquiring Dubnyk Is a Mistake
On the surface, the Devan Dubnyk narrative is simple.
From 2014-19, Dubnyk was a top goaltender — second only to Braden Holtby in Games Started, fifth with a .920 Save % (200-plus games played), a positive Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) in every season, third place in 2015 Vezina Trophy voting and fifth in 2017.
That would make Dubnyk’s 2019-20 — .890 Save %, -16.23 GSAA, lost the number-one job to Alex Stalock — an obvious aberration. Dubnyk’s wife also underwent serious health issues during the year.
With that in mind, who wouldn’t want to trade for Dubnyk, especially at just one year left and a $4.33 million cap hit? Naturally, the San Jose Sharks, looking to supplement Martin Jones, have been linked to Dubnyk for the better part of a week — and it looks like a deal is getting close.
Digging deeper, however, advanced stats suggest that Dubnyk has had more than one bad year.
That .920 Save % from 2014-19? That positive GSAA from each season? Dubnyk was just doing what was expected.
GSAA is roughly a goaltender’s Save % versus league-average Save % — applied to the number of shots that the goaltender has faced. However, it doesn’t account for shot quality or the team in front of the goalie. So a netminder behind a strong defensive squad is less likely to face high-danger scoring chances — therefore, his Save % and GSAA will likely be better than the average.
But there’s another stat that suggests Dubnyk’s Save % and GSAA should’ve been higher — not just this year, but for the last five seasons.
Per Evolving-Hockey’s Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx), Dubnyk has allowed more goals, in all situations, than he should have for the last five years.
To be exact, per this model, Dubnyk surrendered 27.49 goals more than an average goaltender would’ve this year. By this measure, he was the worst keeper in the NHL this year, worst than two-win Jimmy Howard.
GSAx measures how many goals that a netminder has surrendered above or below expected, based on the shot quality faced. Public measures of shot quality are mostly based on shot location.
In translation, according to GSAx, Dubnyk has lived off a staunch Wild defense — and he hasn’t outperformed it since 2014-15.
So should the San Jose Sharks be concerned about Dubnyk’s GSAx? Is he really the right guy for a not-as-tight Sharks defense?
Goals Saved Above Expected
First, let’s get this out of the way. I’m pretty sure that the San Jose Sharks are aware of Dubnyk’s less-than-stellar numbers in this regard over the last five seasons. This (fantastic) modeling from Evolving-Hockey is based on publicly-available data and costs (well worth it) $5 a month.
Independent of each other, Silverman and Anderson agreed on one thing that might have affected Dubnyk’s GSAx.
“I’m convinced they overused him for a while there,” Silverman wrote, “and it tanked his numbers for stretches.”
Anderson offered: “It doesn’t account for how much the goalie is used.”
As noted, Dubnyk was second in the league in Games Started from 2014-19.
Let’s also talk about how GSAx measures shot quality. GSAx pulls from the league’s data. Therefore, GSAx’s account of scoring chances is mainly shot location. The closer the shot, the more dangerous it is, the farther the shot, the less dangerous it is. Nothing else: Pre-shot movement (i.e. passing), odd-man rushes, shot velocity, and traffic are among the keys to goal scoring that are not accounted for by GSAx.
Anderson countered: “GSAx is based on the output of models based on league’s data — the league provides raw data, but not the modelled or ‘insightful’ pieces. It is mainly shot location and type but also has the game state like power play, shooter, and we can also infer some time-based variables, like if the shot is a rebound, or if the shot comes seconds after an event in the neutral zone, likely off the rush.
“But what you listed is all true and the biggest missing pieces, although those aren’t as important as people might think. For example, a team will often pass to get good shot locations, or elect to use a 2-on-1 to get a shot tight to the net, so shot location is a good proxy for those things in this model.”
All that said, Anderson added of the stat: “It isn’t by itself incredibly repeatable — which is good news for Dubnyk — and the public version relies on modeling on NHL data, which is somewhat incomplete and has some issues.”
He suggested of the league’s data: “It’s possible Minnesota specifically might have recorded shots further from the net which would make Dubnyk’s job look easier than it was in reality in half his games.”
Now all this doesn’t account for Dubnyk’s lost 2019-20 campaign — and once again, the 34-year-old netminder had plenty of reasons to not have focus — but they might prop up the more marginal results from 2015-19.
What Might San Jose Sharks See in Dubnyk?
Silverman pointed out that Adam Francilia, a Sharks goaltending consultant, has worked with Dubnyk for years. Nabokov authorized Francilia to work with Aaron Dell this year.
As Pierre LeBrun noted, San Jose wants to make sure that Dubnyk is comfortable with moving to West Coast, considering his wife’s health problems — and giving Dubnyk the chance to work more with Francilia could certainly be a lure. You want guys who want to play for you.
Doug Wilson also spelled out what he was looking for in a new goaltender on Friday: “Ideally — and it depends on what the cost is, the acquisition cost — is getting a guy who’s been a number-one, that’s a veteran, who wants to come in and compete for a spot.”
This sounds like Dubnyk — and not like Aaron Dell, for example.
So Dubnyk is a good fit for the Sharks goaltending depth chart, which at the moment, reads Martin Jones, then…21-year-old prospect Alexei Melnichuk?
“I’m not yet convinced that Melnichuk is ready for the big leagues and I don’t think anyone is,” Silverman said, “but in theory, they’re hoping that he’ll be ready sooner rather than later and would want a stopgap who has worked with Francilia before.”
But why Dubnyk in particular? The jury is still out on that and it will be fascinating to pick Wilson and Nabokov’s brains on the subject when the time comes.
“[Dubnyk] obviously has size and can manage the game a little deeper in the crease. Goaltender results can be heavily influenced by their environment — like any position, really — so if Nabokov or the rest of the staff like the skill-set, I am certainly open-minded,” Anderson conjectured. “Jones and Dell specifically were more aggressive than average, which may not have been a good fit for San Jose.”