This was a season to forget for the San Jose Sharks. One year after losing in the Western Conference Final, and before the coronavirus stoppage, they were dead last in the west. During the offseason, they lost longtime Shark and captain Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi, and they didn’t add anyone significant to the roster as Erik Karlsson’s new 8-year, $92 million contract took up almost 16% of their cap space. They also continuously fought injuries this season, with Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Karlsson all missing large chunks of time.
It is not surprising the Sharks couldn’t rebound. It would be hard for any team with core players of that caliber injured, especially with the 27th ranked farm system in the NHL, according to The Hockey Writers Mid-Season Farm System Rankings. Since they drafted Timo Meier in the first round in 2015, the organization has only held two first-round picks. One of them was Josh Norris, who was traded to the Ottawa Senators in the Karlsson trade (along with Rudolfs Balcers and multiple draft picks including this year’s first-rounder).
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The 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be critical for management to secure premium talent with their three picks in the first two rounds, as they will not pick again until the fifth.
The Sharks’ system is almost completely drained of high-ceiling forwards, especially without Norris. One of the few players with a bright future is Ontario Hockey League (OHL) standout Alexander Chmelevski, who has been lethal in the last few seasons.
He may still need to develop on the defensive end, but there is no question he possesses the offensive abilities to become a core part of the Sharks’ future. He is considered the top offensive prospect in the system followed by fringe wingers Ivan Chekhovich and Joachim Blichfeld. Both Chekhovich and Blichfeld are projected to be middle-six forwards. Blichfeld filled in this season once the Sharks were crippled by injuries but he mostly played on the fourth line.
On the blue line, the Sharks have 2018 first-round pick, Ryan Merkley, in their system. He has progressed nicely since he was drafted and looks dangerous in the offensive zone with his play-making abilities and blistering shot.
It is imperative that the Sharks add depth through the draft this season, especially with the large contracts of Brent Burns, Karlsson, Couture, Evander Kane, and Hertl all still on the books for the next few seasons.
First Round Targets
The Tampa Bay Lightning surprisingly gave up a first-round pick in the 2020 Draft for Barclay Goodrow. Even though Goodrow does have solid advanced stats, especially on defense, this trade was a gift for the Sharks as they now sneak into the first round of a very deep draft class.
General manager Doug Wilson received a coupe for Goodrow and can now add a high-ceiling talent that the system desperately needs. I have narrowed the Sharks’ potential first-round picks to four forwards who could be available when they are on the clock and one defenseman that may be too good to pass up (in alphabetical order).
NHL Final North American Central Scouting Rank: 21
The Hockey Writers Top 400 Prospects for May: 40
Future Considerations: 39
Foerster is an interesting prospect since he made huge strides in his game over the last year. Last season, no one would have thought he was a potential first-round pick. However, he put himself on the map after a standout season for the Barrie Colts, where he had 80 points, including 36 goals (18 power-play goals to lead the OHL) compared to 23 points the season before. In the CHL Top Prospects Game, Foerster stole the show and was awarded MVP after a three-point night. This solidified his position as a top-40 pick in this year’s draft.
What stands out about Foerster’s game is his deadly shot and willingness to shoot the puck (he averaged 3.6 shots per game) from all around the offensive zone. He has an absolute cannon of a shot and can tee it up from the left circle. He has great speed when he hits full stride, but his quickness and first step needs work.
His maturity and work ethic set Foerster apart from his peers and in conjunction with his elite hockey sense, he possesses a lot of transferrable skills that teams look for. Given the Sharks’ lackluster power play last season and their need for a scoring winger, Foerster will be on their radar come draft time.
NHL Final North American Central Scouting Rank: 10
The Hockey Writers Top 400 Prospects for May: 20
Future Considerations: 12
After being the focal point of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Mercer was traded to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. His production was still strong at just over a point-per-game pace, with 18 points in 16 games, but his production fell off after averaging 1.62 points-per-game with Drummondville. Even with that drop in production, Mercer will be a first-round pick and could be taken anywhere from the 15th to 31st pick. I doubt he will make it past the Sharks if he is still on the board. Cam Robinson of Dobber Prospects had this to say about Mercer in April:
“Intelligent, play-creating winger. Makes the hard plays, but can also dazzle with his puck skills. Two-step quickness already showing improvements. Wears opponents down.”
As Robinson points out, Mercer’s primary skills that stand out are his quick hands and quick change of direction, which throws defensemen off balance. He may not have as high a ceiling as his teammate Hendrix Lapierre, but he has top-6 winger upside and could play in all situations.
The Sharks need help on the wing, with only Kane and Meier as legit 25-plus goal scorers, and the team has placed an emphasis on two-way forwards, which is Mercer. The Sharks’ best-case scenario would be that he falls into their laps.
NHL Final North American Central Scouting Rank: 27
The Hockey Writers Top 400 Prospects for May: 41
Future Considerations: 30
O’Rourke has been creeping his way into the first round of mock drafts lately, and our very own Mark Scheig believes that he may be the steal of the draft. With their last first-round pick the Sharks selected a defenseman, and they could use this year’s first-round pick to address the blue line as well. The organization loves adept two-way defensemen with size, grit, and play-making abilities and O’Rourke fits that bill all the way around. The 6-foot-2, 181-pound defenseman plays a physical game, which will only get better once he adds to his frame, and he is one of the elite one-on-one defensemen in the draft with his agility and stick work.
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On offense, he has a quick transition game with his first-pass mentality and vision. He is a skilled stick-handler and a poised puck-handler in the offensive zone, but he has one of the most powerful slap shots in the draft which separates him from his peers. His quick release and one-timer on the power play or in the upper slot make him a deadly “triggerman”.
O’Rourke could be available when the Sharks are on the clock, depending on when the run on defenders happens and whether it’s in the middle or late in the first round. Even though the Sharks’ need for a dynamic forward is a more pressing issue, O’Rourke may be too good to pass on.
NHL Final European Central Scouting Rank: 11
The Hockey Writers Top 400 Prospects for May: 35
Future Considerations: 38
The German-born left-winger will likely be on the Sharks’ radar come draft day. Reichel may not have the highest ceiling of the players that will be on the board, but he already plays a pro-style game with elite stamina and he exudes that workhorse mentality that suits the Sharks. He plays full throttle all game, no matter what the situation. In Nov. 2019, Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects had this to say about Reichel:
“He’s a very good skater who isn’t afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice. He has good hands but is more of a goal-scorer. He’s responsible defensively and plays a pro-style game already at age 17.”
Reichel has an excellent first step and is elite off the rush. The skills that pop out on tape, other than his attitude and stamina, are his agility and stick-handling in tight areas across the ice. His quick change of direction throws defenders off balance and makes him hard to defend. Add his quick hands and shooting ability, and his transferrable skills make him the prototypical winger that the Sharks are attracted to.
NHL Final European Central Scouting Rank: 21
The Hockey Writers Top 400 Prospects for May: 43
Future Considerations: 40
Simontaivel may have the highest upside of any player left at this point in the draft. The Sharks are not known for drafting Finnish-born players, especially early in the draft, but Simontaivel’s skillset is too appealing to ignore. He is a high-risk/high-reward type of selection and given their lack of future top-6 forwards in their system, the Sharks may decide to go in another direction with this pick. They can then circle back to him in the early second round when they are back on the clock.
However, his upside might be hard to pass up. The 18-year-old, 5-foot-9, 172-pound, right-winger for Tappara Jr in the Finnish Jr. League might be overlooked in the first round due to his height, and Will Scouch, from the analytics-based website Scouching.ca, said this about Simontaivel in Nov. 2019:
“He pushes possession, gets dangerous looks constantly, skates well, and for an offensive winger, he could potentially be a steal. He should be scoring a lot more than he is, and I think those who overlook him will be sorely mistaken down the line. “
Not playing at the men’s top level in Finland has allowed Simontaivel to make small improvements to his game to become a well-rounded player. He has top-tier vision with and without the puck, finding holes in the defense to create better scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He has a great wrist shot, play-making abilities, and is one of the purest skaters in the draft.
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In such a deep draft, and with two second-round picks, the Sharks may opt to go with a high-risk player like Simontaivel and leave the “safer” choice for early in the second round instead of vice-versa, as he may be gone when they do pick again.
Which Direction Will the Sharks Go?
The Sharks must make the most of their first three picks within the first two rounds of the 2020 Draft. This is one of the deepest drafts in recent memory and with what will likely be the 26th pick, they will be able to add a valuable piece to their future.
At this point in the draft, taking the best player available is always the responsible choice, and given the team’s lack of forward depth, the Sharks may choose that route. However, when they see forwards like Simontaivel or Reichel on the board, it may be hard to say no. Any of the five players listed will be worthy of a first-round pick, but drafting this late and devoid of many star forwards in their system, they could go all-in on a player with a higher ceiling than drafting that best player available.