This was a tough section to write.
For each of the San Jose Sharks prospects listed here, who are about to lose their status of being legitimate prospects, there is an excuse to explain why he hasn’t played an NHL game yet.
Some of these players, like Thomas Grégoire, more likely belong with the group of prospects in Part 2 of this series. However, others, like Jonathan Dahlén, seem like they deserve a place higher up in the prospect hierarchy just because of their skill.
If you wanted to argue for or against anyone here, I wouldn’t blame you.
Regardless, each of these players is nearing or past the end of the typical five-year development period (which we discussed in Part 1, along with key terms used in this series like NHLe and DY). Each of these players carries major question marks. Whether you believe their excuses are legitimate or not, the fact that these players aren’t NHL regulars so late in their development cycle would categorize them as at the end of their ropes.
And yet, they hang on for one reason or another, which we’ll discover below.
Remember, we’re going through all 33 San Jose Sharks prospects and categorizing them by how intrigued you should be by them: So far, we’re at Time’s Up (Jeremy Roy, Jeffrey Viel, Jasper Weatherby) — today, we look at which seven prospects are on their “Last Chance” this coming season.
Jonathan Dahlén – LW/C
Dahlén is an intriguing case. He exists right now between statistical anomaly and just your average draft pick.
The Ottawa Senators drafted Dahlén in 2016 with a second-round pick. His offensive talents are undeniable, but a poor development experience in North America and an untimely injury have whittled down his NHL chances immensely.
His 18-year-old draft season was very nearly a 90th-percentile effort in terms of point-per-game scoring. His age 19 and 20 seasons were two of the best U21 years for a forward in the Swedish Allsvenskan since the turn of the millennium. Then, Dahlén joined the Utica Comets.
The young forward struggled with the Canucks’ AHL team. He mentioned in an interview that “it’s the way [Utica tries] to develop young players. It has had the opposite effect on me and I feel like I have been trampled rather than uplifted.” The same article details how a Finnish forward also left Utica after a rough year, so there is evidence Dahlén’s complaints aren’t simply frustrated exaggerations from a struggling youngster.
At the 2019 trade deadline, the Sharks sent former third-round pick Linus Karlsson to the Canucks for Dahlén. He played seven games with the Barracuda before suffering a concussion and missing the rest of the season. Last year, he returned to his beloved Timrå in the Allsvenskan to lead the league in goalscoring.
Doug Wilson Jr. listed Dahlén as one of the players who would have suited up for an NHL game this season had the pandemic not intervened. Yet, the forward has opted to return to Sweden again next season, staying in the second professional division rather than looking for a contract at the higher level.
The 2020-21 season will be his D+5 year. It’s concerning that he hasn’t set foot in the NHL yet. Of the skaters drafted in the second round who eventually play an NHL game, about 80 percent of them do so by the end of their D+4 season. We can expect about 18 skaters from 2016’s second round to have hit the one-NHL-game mark by the end of the coming season. Seventeen have done so already.
Besides being behind the development curve, Dahlén has other obstacles to overcome. In an interview with SJ Hockey Now, Swedish journalist Uffe Bodin spoke about the winger’s lack of “physical strength and conditioning to play at the highest level.” If he hasn’t figured out by now how to get himself into AHL shape, let alone NHL shape, it makes one wonder if he ever will.
The natural ability is there. The scoring rates are mostly there. There are contextual explanations for why he is behind his peers in his development. But prospect research doesn’t care what happens between point A (the draft) and point B (the NHL). It knows how many people make it to point B and by what time. Injuries and poor development processes and, yes, lack of player conditioning are baked into these calculations.
As of this writing, Dahén is not under contract with the Sharks organization for the 2020-21 season. If we assume he signs a one-year deal, he has one season to have another strong showing in Sweden and prove he belongs in an NHL rink. If he does wind up in the Sharks lineup before the season is over, he’ll be among a historically rare cohort of players drafted in the second round to make the NHL in his D+5 year. Remember Namita Nandakumar’s research, cited in Part 1 of this series, where she noted “the median prospect who makes an NHL roster takes about four seasons to do so.”
The skilled Swedish forward is either just another bust or a pleasant surprise, and the margin between those outcomes is razor thin.
Thomas Grégoire – RD
Grégoire is tough to place. On an AHL-only deal, the defenseman has played above and beyond what his counting stats suggest. Though he only suited up for 26 games during the 2018-19 season, he was effective when called upon:
After playing a few games in a row (now up to 22 on the season), Thomas Gregoire, among Barracuda defenders at 5v5:
Estimated TOI: 1st
Estimated primary points/60: 2nd
Goals for relative: 1st
He's also the youngest defenseman on the team
— rooster trick (@FowleBall15) March 28, 2019
He continued playing well part way through the beginning of the 2019-20 season, though lost some efficiency in the process.
Of AHL defenders who have played at least 10 games this season (156 players), Thomas Grégoire ranks (via https://t.co/Tt9KKjiZo3):
6th in estimated time on ice/game
40th in estimated primary points/60 (all sit)
47th in even-strength goals for% relative to his team
— rooster trick (@FowleBall15) December 13, 2019
The defenseman’s 0.52 point-per-game season ranks tied for 70th out of all 605 21-year-old defensemen to suit up for at least 20 AHL games since the 2000-01 season, according to Elite Prospects.
Despite this, he lost out on paying time to the elder statesmen of the Barracuda defense corps and, with Ryan Merkley and Brinson Pasichnuk soon to be in the fold, the chances that Grégoire impresses enough to earn an NHL deal and log games before the conclusion of next season, which will be his D+5 year, are slim to none.
It’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely the mobile blueliner ever sees an NHL contract, let alone NHL ice time.
Jayden Halbgewachs – W
Halbgewachs is someone who shares a plane of existence with Maxim Letunov, who we’ll discuss shortly. Though Halbgewachs is a year younger than the aforementioned center, he’s already played his age-22/23 season, his D+5 year, without making an NHL appearance. But, and this is a major qualifier, sources told San Jose Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng that Halbgewachs almost certainly would have suited up for a game or two in the bigs had the pandemic not come crashing in. Joe Will also mentioned Halbgewachs positively when asked about the Barracuda’s 2019-20 season.
Despite the small forward’s late-blooming career arc, it seems the Sharks were high on his ability to contribute at the NHL level. Time is not on Halbgewachs’ side, however. And he’ll have to move quickly out of the gates whenever the AHL resumes play if he wants to live up to the organization’s plans for him.
Nikolai Knyzhov – LD
Knyzhov snuck three NHL games in at the end of the shortened 2019-20 season, so he just cleared his first game played during his D+4 season. A free-agent signing out of one of the two Russian organizations in St. Petersburg, Knyzhov has never been one to put up exciting point totals. His impressive per-game scoring rate to date was the five points he just notched in 33 AHL games, an equivalent of about six NHL points (in a full 82-game season). That he was called up ahead of his higher-scoring teammates shows that scoring rates are not all there is to prospect evaluation. Especially with defensemen, not everyone must score to be effective. However, those that do score more at lower levels tend to turn into more impactful NHLers.
During his three NHL games, Knyzhov averaged just 10:49 of ice time and was there only because an Erik Karlsson-less team that had also traded Brenden Dillon away needed someone to fill in at depth positions. Knyzhov has two more years left on his ELC, but Pasichnuk is a superior left-handed prospect, and recent second-round pick, lefty Artemi Kniazev (not to be confused with Knyzhov himself), will likely join the Barracuda for the 2021-22 season.
Maxim Letunov – C
Letunov is only here and not with Jeremy Roy and Jeffrey Viel in Part 2 of this series because Assistant General Manager Joe Will mentioned him as a bright spot by name and because he logged three NHL games during the 2019-20 season. A pending restricted free agent, Letunov turned 24 in February and was drafted in 2014. This means he was inducted into a very small group of players who saw their first NHL action after their D+5 season.
As a 19-year-old freshman with the University of Connecticut Huskies, Letunov logged 40 points in 36 NCAA games. That’s the equivalent of somewhere between an 18- and 27-point NHL season, depending on which NHLe calculation one uses. Letunov’s point-per-game scoring rate only decreased from there.
The Russian center spent his entire age-22/23 season in the AHL and, until a three-game trial in the NHL, his entire age-23/24 season, too. That three-game trial is informative; he lost out to Alexander True for the fourth NHL center position. The organization says it likes him, but despite that it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Sharks walk away from a new contract with the pending RFA in favor of younger players.
Scott Reedy – C
This graphic was created by Byron Bader, who runs Hockeyprospecting.com. Bader compares each prospect to his database of prospects. His model then tells us the likelihood a player will become an NHLer and an NHL star producer (0.7 points per game for forwards and 0.45 points per game for defensemen). You can see that since Reedy’s solid draft year, the probability of him both making the NHL and becoming a star producer has diminished.
Reedy is the only member of the Sharks’ 2017 draft class without an ELC. Not much is expected of fourth-round picks to begin with: Fewer than half ever see one NHL game. Less is expected of fourth-round picks who fail to score the equivalent of 20 NHL points in a season before their 21st birthday.
The 2020-21 season will be Reedy’s D+4 season and his final year of NCAA eligibility. It’s unlikely he plays his first NHL game by the end of the year unless the Sharks’ depth players struggle mightily again. If he misses out on that benchmark, he will be among the minority for fourth-round draft selections. About 70 percent of the fourth-round skaters who eventually play an NHL game do so by the end of their D+4 seasons.
Assistant General Manager Tim Burke likes what he’s seen out of Reedy so far. He told Elite Prospects Rinkside just before the shutdown that he’s excited about Reedy and that “he’s really maturing this year and he’s been an important piece for that team.”
Reedy has until August 15, 2021 to sign with the Sharks or he becomes a free agent. Then he’ll exhaust his college eligibility, his grace period under team rights, and any hope he had at getting ahead of the development curve by then suggests this is a make-or-break year, regardless of what Burke says.
Danil Yurtaykin – W
You might be wondering why Yurtaykin is here. He just signed a two-year deal with the Sharks a little more than a year ago. He spent the 2019-20 season’s first four games skating alongside Logan Couture and Timo Meier.
We shouldn’t read too much into his on-ice impact with such a small NHL sample size, but the fact the organization banished him to the AHL and never looked his way again even as the Sharks crumbled tells us most of what we need to know.
A KHL source felt the forward would need to pack on some pounds before he was ready for NHL action. As it turns out, Yurtaykin wasn’t quite ready for AHL action, either. InStat and Pick224 both have Yurtaykin near the bottom of the pack, averaging about 13 minutes of ice time per game. According to Sheng’s recent piece which revealed ice time for the 2019-20 San Jose Barracuda, Yurtaykin’s usage fell to but a whimper after Roy Sommer moved up to act as interim NHL associate coach in December.
The good news is that Yurtaykin made good on his time. Per Pick224, his estimated primary point scoring rate was about average for Barracuda forwards, so he was efficient despite his small role. He logged a healthy amount of primary assists given his ice time, and he shot just 3.5%. If he shoots closer to team average (about 11%), we’re looking at a more impressive point-per-game scoring rate.
The bad news is, even though he was a European free agent signing, Yurtaykin’s 2019-20 campaign was the equivalent of his D+5 season. His 0.48 point-per-game scoring rate in the KHL before he joined the Sharks was in the top 10 percent of all U22 KHL seasons for a forward since 2008-09. But the players on that list who became NHLers were full-time top-tier pros in Russia at least a season or two before Yurtaykin did the same.
The crafty winger is technically no longer a prospect by our stringent age-based definition. We are granting him a special status here because he has one more year left on his entry-level contract (ELC), he is a skilled player, and he’s already played a few NHL games. Still, most signs point to his Bay Area trial run as a worthwhile risk but eventual one-and-done expedition.
He doesn’t strike me as someone professional coaches would play as a defensively responsible bottom-six forward, and there is one, maybe two top-six forward positions with the Sharks up for grabs next year, depending on how you feel about Kevin Labanc. As such, Yurtaykin is vying for a very specific spot on the team. It’s a spot that promises to invite the most competition next season.
There’s an exciting playmaker buried somewhere here. But chances are his proverbial grave is already too deep.
Not All Doom and Gloom
Remember that for any player, an NHLe progression is just one pretty surface-level way to evaluate a prospect. That lens grounds us in some sort of objective truth about a player’s production, but it doesn’t show us everything there is to see. Unfortunately, scouting reports for undrafted free agents rarely exist in the public domain, so we use what we have.
These players aren’t definitely at their last NHL gasp, but they are likely close. Keep your eye on this group of individuals whenever their next season begins. They’re fighting for their livelihoods, and we may see some fireworks yet.
Stay tuned for the next installment, where we’ll look at a few players that have a bit more runway but still come with their own question marks.
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