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Emond on Returning to QMJHL, What Nabokov Wants Him to Improve

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Zachary Emond, San Jose Sharks
Credit: NHL

Zachary Emond is returning to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies for his overage season.

“When I heard the news that the QMJHL would restart here, I talked with my agent and the Sharks,” the 2018 San Jose Sharks sixth-rounder said of last week’s news. “The right decision for me was to come back here and be able to play as soon as possible.”

San Jose Hockey Now caught up with the 20-year-old goaltender yesterday. Emond spoke on whether or not he’s staying in the QMJHL for the entire season, what he learned from new San Jose Sharks goaltending development coach Dany Sabourin in Rouyn-Noranda, what Evgeni Nabokov wants him to improve, and the sport he almost chose to play over hockey.

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Analytics

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 5: Intriguing Youngsters

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Zachary Sawchenko. San Jose Barracuda
Credit: San Jose Barracuda

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:

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 1: Introduction

Part 2 looked at prospects — Jeremy Roy, Jeffrey Viel, and Jasper Weatherby — whose time is already up.

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 2: Time’s 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.

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 3: Last Chance

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.

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 4: Some Time Left

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. 

Zacharie Emond San Jose Sharks goalie

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

Joseph Garreffa transition data

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. 

Joseph Garreffa scoring network

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. 

Santeri Hatakka San Jose Sharks defenseman

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. 

Krystof Hrabik San Jose Barracuda forward

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:

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:

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. 

Timur Ibragimov San Jose Barracuda TPS Finland

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. 

Julius Dabrowski is an MHL video coach and video analyst for the Polish national team. He wrote a beaming report on the Russian forward:

“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 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. 

Zach Sawchenko San Jose Barracuda

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. 

Yegor Spiridonov San Jose Sharks draft pick

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. 

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.

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San Jose Barracuda

Sharks RFA Updates: News on Dahlen, Letunov & Wiederer

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Maxim Letunov, San Jose Barracuda
Credit: San Jose Barracuda

The playoffs are still going, but the San Jose Sharks are already locking up their restricted free agents.

Two weeks ago, they inked Joel Kellman to a two-year contract with a $750K cap hit.

Of course, that’s just the beginning: Jonathan Dahlen, Jayden Halbgewachs, Kevin Labanc, Maxim Letunov, Nicolas Meloche, Jake Middleton, Jeremy Roy, Andrew Shortridge, Tony Sund, Antti Suomela, and Manny Wiederer are all seeking new contracts.

I shook some trees today and got some updates about a few of these RFAs — including one RFA that you might be surprised to see back with San Jose Sharks organization next year.

Jonathan Dahlen

Of course, the Sharks have already made it clear that Dahlen is their future plans. A source tells me that Jonathan himself feels ready to challenge for a full-time NHL spot soon — which suggests to me that his training this past summer has gone well and he’s made a leap physically. We’ll see after Timra IK’s season ends, possibly around April.

Kevin Labanc

Of course, in terms of San Jose RFAs, all eyes are on Labanc, especially after last year’s below-market agreement. Labanc himself told San Jose Hockey Now two weeks ago that he’s excited to come back. There’s no question that Labanc is a quality talent, the question is, how much do the Sharks believe in him? Do they see him more as a core piece or someone who’s relatively fungible in the big picture?

Maxim Letunov

A source tells me that there hasn’t been contact yet between the San Jose Sharks and Letunov. It doesn’t mean, by any stretch, that Letunov is gone. We’re not even in the off-season yet. But it’ll be interesting to see how the Sharks treat this RFA: Is he a surefire NHL player or an NHL-AHL tweener?

Jeremy Roy/Andrew Shortridge/Antti Suomela

No new updates on this trio, but as I reported in July, all three RFAs were recently on the trade block:

I wouldn’t expect any of them back, perhaps Suomela as a shuttle guy. But I don’t think the organization as a whole regards Suomela as a full-time NHL player.

Tony Sund

I’m actually surprised that Sund hasn’t signed anywhere in Finland or abroad yet. So he’s still San Jose property at the moment. Regardless, based on what San Jose Sharks scout Tomi Kallio said about Sund in August, there’s no reason to expect him to return.

Manny Wiederer

A source tells me to expect Wiederer back with the Sharks organization. Coming off his entry-level contract, I’d guess Wiederer will sign a contract with the Barracuda. What might have been telling? Two months ago, when San Jose Hockey Now revealed the Barracuda’s Average Time on Ice (courtesy of InStat Hockey), a key observation was that Wiederer’s ice time jumped over two minutes between Roy Sommer’s tenure as head coach and Jimmy Bonneau/Michael Chiasson’s.

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San Jose Barracuda

Karlis Cukste Explains Why He’s Re-joining San Jose

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Credit: howsmyliving (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Why is Karlis Cukste re-joining the San Jose Sharks organization?

Earlier today, the San Jose Barracuda announced Cukste’s signing, confirming Sunday’s San Jose Hockey Now report.

This appears to be an odd couple at first, considering the Sharks had drafted Cukste in the fifth round in 2015, but then declined to offer the 6-foot-4 defenseman an entry-level contract two weeks ago.

Cukste explained to San Jose Hockey Now: “San Jose is a first-class organization. Top to bottom, it’s filled with great people that I have been fortunate enough to get to know over the years.

“Also, whenever I’ve been in San Jose, you can feel that the city supports their local hockey teams, creating a welcoming atmosphere for the players. I’ve had nothing but friendly interactions with the local people in San Jose.”

The recent Quinnipiac University alternate captain also shed some light on why the San Jose Sharks organization might have passed on giving him an ELC: “Over the years, skating has been an area that both San Jose and I have felt needs improvement. It’s been a point of emphasis in my training regimen for the past three years or so.”

Regardless, the Sharks saw enough potential in Cukste to bring him back into the fold. As SJHN has previously noted, it’s not unprecedented for an unsigned San Jose draft pick to advance from the AHL team to the NHL: Colin Blackwell (2011 Draft Pick #194), Philip Varone (2009 #147), Frazer McLaren (2007 #203), and Kris Newbury (2002 #139) have gone the long way to the bigs.

“We’ve been impressed with Karlis’s development since he was drafted,” Barracuda GM Joe Will said in a statement. “He has been a dependable defenseman for quality teams. Karlis’s blend of size, character, and awareness give him the tools to continue his development at the pro level.”

Of course, the San Jose Barracuda isn’t beginning their season anytime soon, December at earliest. Where will the 23-year-old blueliner, who’s currently back in his native Latvia, play until then?

Cukste was reportedly practicing with the KHL’s Dinamo Riga about a month ago, but it doesn’t appear as if he’ll be joining his hometown side.

“It’s highly unlikely that I will be loaned to Dinamo Riga at this point of time,” Cukste told SJHN. “I will know soon [where I’m going].”

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