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The San Jose Sharks are at an uncomfortable middle ground. They are too good to secure an immediate difference-maker in the draft, and they’re also not good enough to challenge for a playoff spot. With a new general manager joining the fold this offseason, who they hire may determine what the next five years look like for the Sharks. They’ll either start selling veterans and plunge deeper into a rebuild or hope their young players blossom and that they can fill out the roster via free agency. Their prospect pool is improved from recent seasons but does not have the depth of other non-playoff teams.
William Eklund, LW: The seventh overall pick from 2021 saw a significant offensive regression this year in the SHL, but he was playing on a very weak Djurgårdens team that ended up in relegation. After Eklund started the season in the NHL, making the Sharks out of training camp, he was returned to Europe. Perhaps management wishes they had kept their top prospect in North America after the season he endured. Eklund is likely to play in the NHL next season and could have a breakout season like fellow Swedish prospect Lucas Raymond did as a rookie in Detroit, however, Eklund may also need stints in the AHL to ensure he’s playing important minutes. Eklund remains one of the top prospects outside the NHL.
Thomas Bordeleau, C: If Eklund isn’t in the NHL, it could be because Bordeleau took his spot. After plying his trade with the University of Michigan, which rostered a professional calibre forward corps this year, Bordeleau was excellent in split time between the NHL and AHL. In two games in the AHL, Bordeleau had three points and added five assists in eight NHL games. All of his pro points were assists, which speaks to his immense playmaking skills, not his lack of goal scoring ability. Bordeleau is able to make adjustments in the offensive zone to open passing lanes. Looks like a true threat to crack the Sharks’ roster now.
Strauss Mann, G: The only reason Mann wasn’t playing with an NHL organization this past season is his six-foot frame. It’s the same six-foot frame that let virtually no pucks through in the last three seasons. With the University of Michigan, Mann posted 1.85 and 1.89 GAAs, and .939 and .930 save percentages in his final two seasons. When he turned pro, Mann jumped into one of the best leagues in the world, Sweden’s SHL, posting a 2.19 GAA and .914 save percentage, and elevated those numbers in the post season. Tack on his solid performances at both the Olympic Games and world championships for Team USA, and it’s almost unfathomable it took this long for an NHL team to jump on Mann. A strong free agent addition.
One to watch
At 6-foot-5 and scoring at a 1.63 point per game pace, it was hard to miss Brandon Coe this season in the OHL. The North Bay Battalion star finished his season among OHL leaders with 101 points. After playing 17 games in the AHL with the San Jose Barracuda last season, Coe’s confidence was apparent this year, and when he steps back into the AHL as a 20-year-old next season, he will look right at home. By season's end, it would not be surprising to see Coe gain an audition in the NHL. The 2020 fourth-round pick is blossoming into a solid prospect and could end up well outplaying his draft position. Gannon Laroque looks like another later pick, 103rd overall in 2021, who could provide value. He had a solid WHL season and played a handful of games in the AHL as an 18-year-old.
Ready to step in
Skill has never been in question with Ryan Merkley. He has above-average vision and soft hands. The intangibles to Merkey’s game and his ability to defend have been the concern over the years. Still, the 2018 first-round pick looks ready to make his step, and San Jose can deal with the risk versus reward factor in Merkley’s game while he figures the rest out. He got an extended look in the NHL this season playing 39 games. Save for a breakout year this campaign, he’ll also add good value on the blueline when his entry-level contract ends. Max Véronneau, a 26-year-old who scored 60 points in 51 SHL games last season, will also look to step in and make an immediate impact. He played 16 games with the Ottawa Senators before spending two seasons in Sweden, but it looks like the move overseas was an excellent choice developmentally.
Needs at the draft
While Adin Hill and Kaapo Kähkönen, both 25, are set to battle it out in net for the San Jose Sharks in the short term, a long term heir to the crease is needed. The Sharks’ top prospect in net heading into this season was Sarnia Sting goalie Benjamin Gaudreau, who struggled mightily in the OHL regular season. While he rebounded in the playoffs for the Sting, his body of work in the OHL to date has come with a 3.93 GAA and .890 save percentage. Signing Mann looks like the answer, but he’s unproven in the NHL, and security never hurts. Aside from their net, the entire Sharks depth chart is woefully shallow. For the first three to four rounds, picking best available should be San Jose’s route followed by grabbing a goaltender in the later rounds.
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