Is the San Jose Sharks’ farm system back?
According to NHL Draft consultant and data scientist Byron Bader — yes:
NHL TEAM PROSPECT POOL STRENGTH RANKINGS (JULY 2021 – POST DRAFT) pic.twitter.com/Yitmy8L4kT
— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) July 30, 2021
Per the Hockey Prospecting founder’s model, the San Jose Sharks have the fifth-strongest prospect pool and the top goalie prospect pool in the league. Here’s a primer for Bader’s model:
So plan the parade down Santa Clara Street?
Let’s hold off on that. Don’t take my word for it — take Bader’s.
“They have a lot of NHL-caliber pieces in their system. They have a really good goalie system. Where it still needs a little bit of work is in their top-five [prospects of their system],” Bader told San Jose Hockey Now. “Add big star pieces like LA is doing. The Sharks don’t quite have that yet.”
Perhaps soon the San Jose Sharks will be a Stanley Cup betting favorite on Fanduel.
So how can a system be top-five though it doesn’t have a lot of likely stars? Bader was kind enough to answer that question and many others about his model.
“That’s what I always say about my model,” Bader stressed. “It’s not anything trying to replace scouting. It kind of goes hand in hand, it’s complementary. If you use both of them together, that’s where you get the big wins because the model can point you towards this is who you should be looking at.”
By the way, such a process — using Bader’s model as a guide for who to scout more closely — could have been helpful for NHL organizations during the 2016 NHL Draft. In the second round, Alex DeBrincat went 38th and Samuel Girard was picked 47th.
“These guys should definitely go probably top-15, at least in the first round,” Bader recalled of his thinking. “And then they dropped and they both hit really big.”
Who Are Sharks’ Stars?
In Bader’s model, the San Jose Sharks are the seventh-best team in terms of Top 5 Star % Rank. This measures “the average Star probability of the top 5 [skater] prospects” in an organization.
He counts William Eklund, Ryan Merkley, Jonathan Dahlen, Ozzy Wiesblatt, and Thomas Bordeleau as San Jose’s top-five. Bader says he pulls his top-five from in-market sources, like fans and bloggers, and in some cases, team executives.
This is Bader’s definition of a star: “My model is more based on production.
“So basically a forward star essentially is a career 0.7 or more points per game NHL player. So roughly like 60-points-or-more-a-season guys. That’s pretty rare, basically that’s only, out of everybody drafted, it’s only about three-and-a-half to 4% of players hit this mark over their career.
“For defenseman, it’s 0.45 points per game or more in their career. So that’s roughly like a 40-points-or-more defenseman. Same thing, hitting that mark is an outlier mark, about three to four percent sort of hit that over a career out of everybody drafted.
“That’s what the star flag in my model is, offensive elite production.”
Bader clarified that goalies aren’t included at all in his Top 5 Star % Rank, for reasons that we’ll get to later.
But essentially, Bader extrapolates a prospect’s lower-level production and age to predict whether or not the player will become an NHL star.
“Another little intricacy to my model and how it works is from the skater side, I basically watch them for five years. I watch them from the pre-draft year until three years after their first eligible draft year,” Bader said. “And then after that point, there’s not a lot of room to move up at that point, if you’re not already hitting those big numbers.”
Anyway, seventh in Top 5 Star % Rank sounds solid, right?
Bader cautions, however, that Eklund and Merkley carry the top-five’s “average Star probability.” Dahlen, Wiesblatt, and Bordeleau don’t hold as much weight i.e. different factors suggest that they’re not going to be NHL stars. In Dahlen’s case, it’s the 23-year-old’s age. In Wiesblatt and Bordeleau’s case, their production is solid but unspectacular for their age, at least so far in their development.
What’s with the Goalies?
Perhaps the biggest shock — bigger than the San Jose Sharks’ overall prospects ranking — was the organization’s number-one Goalie Rank.
So did San Jose secretly trade for Yaroslav Askarov?
Nope — it’s Adin Hill and Alexei Melnichuk carrying the load.
So how does Hill, who’s already played 49 NHL games, still count as a prospect?
“My flag for [making the NHL] for goalies is a 100-plus games [as opposed to 200-plus for skaters] because they obviously play less. With a goalie, because the development track is so huge for a goalie — they take much longer to develop than a defenseman or a forward,” Bader said. “I actually go back to 2015 [for goalies]. You know, have they played 100 games? And then if not, then I include them.”
So that explains Hill’s inclusion. What makes Hill stand out in Bader’s eyes?
It’s worth noting: Bader hasn’t come to a conclusion for what a star goalie is. So he’s simply saying that Hill and Melnichuk are high-probability NHL’ers, high average probability enough to vault San Jose to the top of the charts.
Bader said of Hill, “When you look at him in the model, before he really, really played a game in the NHL, he had basically like a 74% chance of making the NHL. He certainly looks like he’s gonna pass that 100-game mark.”
How about Melnichuk and his underwhelming .868 AHL Save % in 2020-21?
“Goalies, I track them for seven years. So I do it from their pre-draft year until five years after their first eligible year. So at this point, Melnichuk has crossed over that point. His last year in the KHL was basically that D+5 season,” Bader explained. “So his work in the AHL actually doesn’t factor into my model, because I’ve already subtracted him at this point.”
D+5 means five years after his first year of draft eligibility, the last season that Bader evaluates. So Melnichuk’s 2020-21 isn’t counted.
“After seven years of tracking, that’s what he looks like, he has a really high probability of making the NHL,” Bader said.
“There’s not a lot of [goalies], over the last 30-40 years, that have over an 80% chance of becoming an NHL’er. But he’s one of them.
“The early, really nice numbers in the KHL and VHL suggests that this guy has an NHL career in him.”
So between Hill and Melnichuk, is either going to become a star? Once again, Bader’s model doesn’t project that.
“They have the highest percentage of becoming [regular] NHL goalies,” he said. “Most systems, most teams don’t even have like one really high probability goalie prospect.”
Bader is working on defining a star goalie.
“My model goes back 30 years. But trying to find what makes a star goalie is tough because the data isn’t even really there. Go back even 20 years and they’re not even tracking stuff like goals against average [in other lower leagues] and that type of thing,” he said.
“That’s where I kind of struggle. Right now, kind of what I have for a star goalie is essentially a goalie that plays 200 or more games and they have a high winning percentage.
“That’s a work in progress.”
What’s Strength of Sharks System?
So the San Jose Sharks don’t have a ton of likely star skaters — and their top-ranked goaltending doesn’t necessarily mean they have stars there either.
“They have a lot of guys with a 60% chance and a 50% chance and a 40% chance [of making the NHL], and then a few guys with that kind of 30% chance. So yeah, you add it up, and they actually have about 20 of these guys throughout their system,” Bader said. “And about half of them, they actually have drafted in the last three years. A lot of these guys are drafted in the last couple years and have some runway left to even improve on their possibilities.”
That, by the way, is Hockey Prospecting’s 30% NHLers Rank — the San Jose Sharks are fourth — it’s the number of players with a making the NHL probability of 30 percent or higher.
So the San Jose organization has plenty of depth — but maybe needs a little more cream on the top.
Bader’s model offers Artemi Kniazev, Tristen Robins, Danil Gushchin, Brinson Pasichnuk, Joachim Blichfeld, Noah Gregor, John Leonard, Brandon Coe, Ivan Chekhovich, as among those who have a better than average chance of making the NHL — by his definition, 200 or more NHL games played.
What About Merkley?
After just 11 points in 31 AHL contests last season, it might be surprising to see Ryan Merkley still considered a star prospect.
This despite Merkley’s disappointing campaign, unlike Melnichuk’s, counting in Bader’s evaluation.
“Basically, his [OHL] numbers were so outrageous to begin with. The model doesn’t really see a problem with a fallback year like that,” Bader said of the 2018 first-rounder’s D+3 season. Remember, this will be the final year that Bader will track the skater.
“He’s kind of interesting because there’s not a lot of guys that look like him. And most of them had really impactful careers,” Bader pointed out.
“Going back to 1990, the ones that look like him are John Slaney, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Michael Del Zotto, Cam Fowler, Tony D’Angelo, and Quinn Hughes.
“But the model hasn’t seen that a lot, where you have these big, gigantic years, and then you really fall off like he did in his first year in AHL.”
So what do we believe? A dominant OHL run — or a less-than-spectacular AHL debut?
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