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.
Rocky Thompson: “Leave analytics out of the locker room.”
George Kingston was the San Jose Sharks’ first head coach. Fast forward to 2015: He was the President of the NHL Coaches Association when he sent a fateful e-mail.
“George Kingston always sent out an e-mail asking for people who would want to present at the NHL’s coaches conference at the NHL entry draft,” San Jose Sharks associate coach Rocky Thompson told Oilersnation earlier this week. “I felt I needed to get my name out there, so I called him and said I’d like to present.”
Thompson’s career was at a crossroads when he took the stage at the 2015 NHL Coaches Association Global Coaches’ Clinic in Florida. He was a coach without a team — the Edmonton Oilers had just fired his head coach Dallas Eakins — and he didn’t know if incoming head coach Todd McLellan would keep him.
There were over 400 coaches in attendance: “He blew them away.”
Windsor Spitfires owner Bob Boughner was one of them: “What he said really hit home with me.”
The Spitfires hired Thompson as head coach and he led them to the 2017 Memorial Cup. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights followed up, selecting Thompson to be their first-ever AHL head coach, and he led the Chicago Wolves to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals.
And now, the circle from Kingston to Boughner to San Jose is complete: Last month, the San Jose Sharks tapped Thompson to be part of the head coach’s staff. Thompson will be running the defense and the power play.
San Jose Hockey Now caught up with Thompson in a wide-ranging interview earlier this month.
Curious how the San Jose Sharks might maximize Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns’s talents? How Phil Jackson and the triangle offense will apply to the Sharks? As a coach, how to use analytics the right way?
Thompson, to say the least, loves nerding out about hockey.
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.