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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – SAN JOSE SHARKS – Top 20 Prospect Profiles – Organizational Rank #12

Top 20 San Jose Shark Prospects

1. Shane Wright

To say that Wright had an eventful season would be an understatement. He went from the NHL to the AHL, then to the World Juniors, then back to the OHL, where he joined Windsor for the first time following the trading of his rights, and finally back to the AHL for Coachella Valley's playoff run. His results over that span were a very mixed bag. He didn't look NHL-ready in the fall but left a serious statement in his early AHL stint. He won a World Juniors gold as Canada's captain but didn't personally dominate during the tournament. He was great during the OHL regular season, but quiet as his team was swept in the opening round of the playoffs. Overall, it wasn't the performance that people expected out of a player who had been projected by many to go first overall in 2022, though you can't discount the possible impact of all the instability. Finding a steady environment for him next season will be paramount.

2. Eduard Sale

A slick trickster, Sale entered the last season looking like a possible top 10 pick in the 2023 draft, ultimately slipping to the Seattle Kraken at 20th overall. Coming off his first full season in the Czech Extraliga, where he led all rookies with 14 points and took home Rookie of the Year honors, Sale also made his presence known for his country at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, WJC, and U18 Worlds. In fact, it was at that last tournament, as an underager in 2022, where he really arrived on the scene as a top prospect, racking up 8 assists in 6 games while being the prime set-up master for top prospect Jiri Kulich. Sale’s movement stands out as a top trait, stemming from technically-sound skating mechanics. He’s able to accelerate quite quickly, reaching his top speed effortlessly while displaying strong edges that he utilizes to change direction on a dime. Deceptive with quick shoulder drops and head fakes, his puck-handling is another top-flight trait and is perhaps only topped by his instinctive passes. That he’s also strong in small-area battles will be a big plus, because he’s scheduled to join the OHL Barrie Colts for 2023-24, which should be a wonderful barometer for determining just how far he is in his development.

3. Ryker Evans

Seattle made a bold move when they selected Evans with the 35th overall pick in 2021, going way outside the consensus of publicly published draft lists to nab the overager. That decision is looking better and better as time passes. Coachella Valley was one of the best teams in the AHL in 2022-23, and despite being a rookie he was already one of their best players. He is a dynamic difference-maker from the back end, able to break pucks out of his own zone, move them safely up the ice, and contribute to getting them in the opposing net. He makes a big impact at both even strength and on the powerplay. He defends pretty well too, by focusing on his gaps and getting sticks on pucks precisely. Evans was a number one defenseman in his days with WHL Regina, and if he stays on his current trajectory, he should become top half of the lineup kind of player for the Kraken, too.

4. Jagger Firkus

There is a certain ’X factor‘ to Firkus that is difficult to describe, but anyone who has watched him a lot can attest to its presence. There are times where it looks like he just inherently knows that he's going to beat you offensively, and in those moments, there is absolutely nothing that you can do to stop him. If it weren't for some other WHLer named Connor Bedard, Fircus’ goal-scoring prowess would get a lot more attention. Not only can his shot find any bit of space that a goalie is careless enough to offer up, but his ability to sneak into dangerous ice in the offensive zone is almost supernatural. A scout's common sense might note that small, scrawny players with questionable skating ability don't usually pan out in the NHL. Then again, Firkus is anything but common.

5. Jani Nyman

There are still games where Nyman blends into the scenery a little too much, but when he's really on his game he is one of the best players on the ice, even against older competition. He's a hulking winger who can work a cycle, score from in tight or distance, find teammates with high-danger passes at the right times, and move up and down the ice with momentum. Even more exciting is his continued progress in all these different areas, and if that continues, the end result could see him become an exhausting nightmare to contain or defend against at the highest levels, very similar to someone like Alex Tuch in Buffalo. If Seattle is smart, they will patiently let Nyman lay as much groundwork as necessary and then take his time building upon it to ensure he eventually reaches his highest possible ceiling.

6. David Goyette

Goyette is one of the smoothest skaters that you'll ever see at the junior level. He's just so fast, agile, and nimble, which allows him to create separation in all directions. He's also an impressively clean puck handler in motion, so it won't come as a surprise then that he is a go-to player in transition or that he is at his most effective offensively off the rush. When he does get in tight, he can deke goalies into paralysis. His lack of strength is a weakness, and it looks unlikely that he will ever be able to bulk up much, but you can't hit what you can't catch, so he should be able to remain successful so long as he doesn't lose a step with his skating. Goyette is a true leader in Sudbury and was instrumental in pulling them out of the OHL's basement and back into the playoffs last season.

7. Ty Nelson

Heading into the 2022 NHL Draft weekend there was talk that Nelson could sneak into the first round, but he ultimately fell a lot further than that, all the way down to the third round. Seattle certainly isn't complaining now, because they selected a player who suddenly had a chip on his shoulder, determined to prove the doubter wrongs, which is exactly what happened. The first overall pick in the 2020 OHL draft cemented himself as one of the best defensemen in the league, logging a mountain of minutes and leading the blueline for a Battalion team that finished second during the regular season. For a small guy he has a big personality, an elite compete level, and a cannon of a shot. Nelson could become a special player if he can continue harnessing his energy into explosive play without being too reckless.

8. Lukas Dragicevic

When it comes to offensive defensemen, there simply aren't many others who are as dangerous as Dragicevic from the offensive blueline onward. He possesses elusive footwork and slick hands, which he can use in tandem to dance around and embarrass anyone who tries to recklessly pressure him. He has a bomb of a slapshot that he loves to uncork, but he also has a hard, accurate wrister that he can use to try to beat goalies clean or send in for a deflection. As good as he is on the attacking line, he's also not shy about getting closer to the net to generate offense. Unsurprisingly, he's a monster on the powerplay. Dragicevic is additionally a major factor at driving the play up the ice. However, as easily as he can pull you out of your seat when h has the puck, he can just as easily make you pull out your hair with his mistakes and inconsistency. His decision-making is downright baffling at times, with frequent unforced turnovers. He can get lost in his own end, and worse yet, will often completely shut off his effort. He will need the right shutdown-minded partner on his left side who can cover for his risk-taking.

9. Carson Rehkopf

Rehkopf’s strong athletic profile made him a very intriguing player for scouts this year, even with concerns over the variance in his engagement level. His skating explosiveness is a strength, and it makes him a great quick strike player who can consistently beat defenders to spots or pucks. Additionally, his shot was one of the heaviest in the 2023 draft class. When he’s on, Rehkopf is dialled in physically and flashes the tools to be a very good two-way player and potential shutdown type. When he’s off, he tends to disappear and makes little impact. Are the issues with consistency related to conditioning, mindset, confidence, or all three? We’ll find out the answer in the next few years, but for now, Seattle will need to be patient with Rehkopf as he figures out what kind of player he wants to be. With OHL Kitchener rebuilding this year, he’ll get all the ice time that he can handle, barring a trade to a more stacked club.

10. Oscar Fisker Molgaard

One has to wonder if there’s any such thing as a coincidence when a team hires one of the few former Danish NHLers (namely Frans Nielsen) and a few months later selects the only Danish player of note in the following draft. Regardless of any external motivations, Seattle has added a player to its suddenly burgeoning prospect bin who was one of this season’s biggest surprises in the Swedish SHL. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Molgaard suited up for 41 SHL games, with his +6 for a struggling club being perhaps the most noticeable outcome of his play. A fleet-footed lightweight who has shown himself to be a playmaker at the junior level, he approaches the game with maturity and a strong understanding of play both with and without the puck. Tricky and creative with the puck, Molgaard is very adept at finding shooting lanes and displaying slick mitts around the goalmouth area. His forte in an offensive sense nonetheless remains the carrying and distribution of pucks. Translating those abilities to SHL play turned heads in the scouting community last season. With time on his side, he’s scheduled to continue his development with HV71 this season.

11. Caden Price

A recent draft pick of the Kraken, Price had a disappointing draft year on a poor Kelowna team. There’s a lot of hope that his play will pick up as the team around him improves. Decision making can be an issue, but Price has the potential to be an impact defender at both ends.

12. Tye Kartye

Talk about a great story. Kartye has gone from obscure OHL free agent signing to scoring big goals in the NHL playoffs for the Kraken within a single season. Kartye is so good away from the puck, a testament to the way he thinks the game. He could be a longtime fixture on Seattle’s third line.

13. Ryan Winterton

Winterton just needs to stay healthy. That’s it, that’s all. When he’s on the ice, like last season’s OHL playoffs, he’s an impact player. But the injuries remain a lingering issue, especially given the power forward style that he likes to play. He’ll turn pro this year and fingers crossed that he has put the injuries behind him.

14. Tucker Robertson

Robertson is such an easy player to cheer for given his tenacious style of play. His engine never stops. He was a pillar of strength for Peterborough in their OHL title run last year and it will be interesting to see how his offensive game translates to the pro level this year. The keys are continuing to improve his speed and quickness.

15. Jacob Melanson

The improvement over his QMJHL career was outstanding, with Melanson ending his time in the Q scoring 50 goals last season. Better yet, he brings value outside of scoring with his physicality. Another player to watch as he turns pro this year.

16 Niklas Kokko

A second-round selection in 2022, Kokko had a promising season, split between Liiga and the Finnish second tier. Signed by the Kraken, where Kokko plays this year remains a bit of a mystery, but at this point he appears to be the top goaltending prospect in the system.

17. Semyon Vyazovoi

Evaluating Russian goaltenders pre-KHL can be difficult. But Vyazovoi has been lights out in the MHL and was even impressive in the Russian second league (VHL) last year. Seattle is hoping that he can get some time in the KHL as a 20-year-old this season.

18. Ville Ottavainen

Offense will never be a big part of Ottavainen’s game, but he shows a lot of promise in the defensive end with his combination of length, mobility, and physicality. After two good seasons in Finland, he’ll be playing in Coachella Valley this year.

19. Tyson Jugnauth

Not a lot of players had good years on Wisconsin last year, but Jugnauth was one of the few. His freshman season showed a ton of promise, especially in the offensive end. He’s likely to be a three- or four-year college project, but the upside is big.

20. Logan Morrison

When Morrison finally signed an NHL deal towards the end of the OHL season, those who follow the OHL closely rejoiced. No one deserved it more. Yes, there are concerns over his skating and projection, but the IQ and playmaking ability are high end.