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McKeen’s 2020-21 Hockey Yearbook: San Jose Sharks Top 20 Prospects

McKeen's Top 20 New York Rangers prospects for the 2020-21 season. You can read an organizational assessment prior to the draft in Ryan Wagman's article found here. Following the draft we provided a review on each teams performance based on our rankings found here.

  1. Ryan Merkley, D (21st overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 1)

A move to the London Knights to play under Dale Hunter last offseason may have saved Merkley’s status as a top end defensive prospect, as he improved considerably in terms of maturity and engagement level. Merkley’s best assets are his four-way mobility and his creative playmaking. His edgework is high end, as his lateral movement is so fluid and explosive. He plays a higher risk style of game, pushing the pace, which leads to the odd turnover, but he did cut down on those turnovers last year by playing less selfishly and by selecting pinches more carefully. Even without a great shot, he moves well enough to keep defenders guessing. Previously prone to tantrums when things were not going his way, he appears to have figured out how to control his emotions more effectively. Additionally, we saw him more consistently engaged physically in his own zone. The Sharks would be wise not to rush him, ensuring that he can build up confidence at the professional level without becoming frustrated and reverting back to his previous tendencies. He still projects as a quality top four puck moving defender who can anchor a powerplay unit. – BO

  1. Ozzy Weisblatt, RW (31st overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

The competitive Weisblatt is an abrasive energy player. His speed and relentless pursuit of the puck makes him valuable in a variety of situations. He was a difference maker last year, finishing the shortened season second in team scoring, and among the leaders for all U18 players in the WHL. While not large, he is extremely quick, with the acceleration, powerful stride, and breakaway top speed to be a threat, with and without the puck. He will look to attack quickly in transition and is aggressive trying to beat defenders wide to the net. He is also one of the first back to the defensive end, applying back pressure and trying to force turnovers. Wiesblatt also has strong edgework that allows him to change direction quickly at full speed. He is an intelligent playmaker who demonstrates poise with the puck in all situations. At times, he can be too predictable in his attacks, leading to costly turnovers. He does not have a ton of confidence in his shooting, often passing up shot opportunities to pass instead. Even if Wiesblatt’s offensive abilities fail to translate, he could be an effective middle six piece who fits on both special teams’ units. – BO

  1. Thomas Bordeleau, C (38th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

Bordeleau greatest asset is a wicked wrist shot which he loves firing right over the goalie’s shoulder. He can fire it off successfully whether he is static or in motion, and his lightning release gives the netminder no time to set up. Before he prepares the shot, Bordeleau can also impress with his stick skills. His hands are quick and soft, and he regularly pulls off creative maneuvers. He is a dynamic zone entry machine, and his unpredictable approach leaves defenders guessing, and generally coming up short. He used to limit his effectiveness by staying to the offensive perimeter, but by last season’s second half, he was pushing play up the middle as well, and pulling it off more often than not. Bordeleau will have to show that he can more consistently play with the type of effort needed to succeed in the tough parts of the ice. Even with his greater willingness to play on the inside, that effort is not yet consistent. At higher levels, the outside path will prove much harder for generating scoring chances. He needs to keep his feet moving and get his nose dirty to reach his top six scoring forward potential. – RW

  1. Jonathan Dahlen, LW/C (42nd overall, 2016 [Ottawa]. Previous ranking: 3)

Dahlen is kind of an odd bird in the way that he chose to play in Allsvenskan in three of the last four seasons, although almost all teams in the SHL would have wanted to sign him. He is creative with strong offensive instincts. He has developed his playmaking and is a more dynamic offensive driver than earlier in his career. He is strong both on the power play and at even strength, generally serving as his line’s play driver. His top speed is average by NHL standards, but he has impressive agility and is very elusive with the puck in the offensive zone. Dahlen’s defensive play is okay but still not great and it can cause him to disappear during parts of games as he rarely plays the PK, wins battles in his own end, or turns the play around all on his own. He will need to improve on that side of the game to reach the highest level. He is a top six forward talent. The 22-year-old will probably play in Sweden for at least one more year, maybe even two. He is still a good prospect, and if he can keep developing, could reach his ceiling. - JH

  1. Yegor Spiridonov, C/LW (108th overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 2)

Spiridonov is a limited skater technically but has good balance has at least average speed. He is strong and smart and makes good decisions. He is strong along the boards and in tight areas, works hard and is smart without the puck. He finds open spaces offensively; he has good instincts getting ready to shoot and he plays responsibly defensively. He has the assets to be a useful player on both a power play and a penalty kill. He is good at getting open to shoot but his accuracy and timing on the puck could be better, and he hasn’t yet proven himself as a goal scorer, although he is fine as a playmaker. On the penalty kill, Spiridonov is particularly good at reading passing lanes and disturbing the play. He can detect where the play is going and act appropriately, rather than react after the fact. He has very limited men’s level experience, with much of his success coming in the Russian junior leagues. The lack of elite puck skills and limited skating give Spiridonov a third line ceiling, but his work ethic, strength, PK capabilities, and team play would fit that role, where he could provide offensive depth. - JH

  1. Sasha Chmelevski, C (185th overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 4)

The concern around Chmelevski has long been his skating, and in his first full AHL season, that lack of speed and agility was obvious. Though his puck skills and menacing wrist shot release have made him a lethal offensive option, he had trouble getting past the more mobile defenders of the pro ranks and was hesitant to carry the puck through the neutral zone. Even if he never improves on his feet, he still projects as a long-term NHL piece, as he excels in every other facet of the game. He processes the game at a high speed and makes great decisions with the puck, both offensively and defensively, and has shown himself capable as a penalty-killer. He dealt with injuries for stretches of the 2019-20 season but still posted a solid scoring line and exhibited an ability to score goals in different ways, including as a net-front guy and rebound goblin. Chmelevski's shot and hockey sense give him top-six potential in the future, but with his lack of speed and the uncertain ability to take on heavy responsibility on defense, the Sharks could ultimately deploy him as a middle-six two-way center once his time comes. - TD

  1. Alexander True, C (Undrafted free agent, signed Jul. 18, 2018. Previous ranking: 5)

Not long ago, it was difficult to decide whether True was even a legitimate prospect worthy of being on the radar of an NHL organization. An undrafted center without particularly impressive numbers as a WHL overager has since progressed into one of the most heralded prospects in the San Jose system. He is a dangerous power forward with a plethora of offensive tools, the most notable of which is his overpowering size and balance, which makes him capable of driving the net and playing the cycle against nearly anyone. Possessing a hard shot and great passing skill, his offensive game is more than just grinding; he can set himself or anyone else up for a quality scoring chance from just about anywhere in the zone, though sometimes his decision making and skating speed lags behind his puck skills. Importantly, True is mean, and while that comes with some discipline issues, it also includes a likable assertiveness and aggression. He showed exactly what he can be during a brief NHL recall last season, a bottom six play-driving, cycling center who is hard to defend against. - TD

  1. John Leonard, LW (182nd overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 6)

A sixth-round draft pick, Leonard is a good example of a solid investment and solid development not ending on draft day. Leonard signed with San Jose following his junior season at UMass, and the late bloomer has not disappointed. He spent two seasons in the USHL where his offensive output increased from five goals and nine points to 19 goals and 34 points. Still, neither total was enough for an NHL team to draft him in his first two years of eligibility. His game picked up in a big way in college, and after finally hearing his name called at the draft following his freshman season, he netted a career-high 40 points as a sophomore and was on pace to eclipse that total as a junior, as he led the country in goals and led UMass in scoring before COVID-19 put an early end to the season. The junior was also named New England’s best forward as well as a Hobey Baker finalist. He has soft hands and is able to easily grab loose pucks. He is not afraid to shoot - as evidenced by his goal total — and has a quick release. The former afterthought now has some projecting top six potential. – JS

  1. Tristen Robins, C (56th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

Robins used a terrific second half last season to lead the Saskatoon Blades in scoring. There is a lot to like about him as a very well-rounded offensive player. He plays with pace both with and without the puck and has an elusiveness that makes him a constant threat. The transition to center showcased his ability to create with the puck on his stick and unlocked a new level of confidence. An aggressive shooter, he possesses a quality release which he utilizes for quick strikes coming through the middle. He works the give and go well with his linemates and is always looking to attack. He keeps his feet moving in the offensive zone and can be a menace to defend as he slips behind defenders. Robins is also a competent two-way player whose play without the puck really improved after that aforementioned move to the middle. He uses his speed well to apply back pressure and to angle off forwards in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers. Adding strength will be key for Robins’ effectiveness in traffic and in the cycle. – BO

  1. Brandon Coe, RW (98th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

While North Bay struggled to find the win column consistently last season, Coe was able to elevate his game to become an offensive leader. The major allure of his game comes from his size and speed combination. He is very explosive and powerful for a 6-3” forward, consistently blowing past defenders in transition. However, he is more than just a North-South player, as his lateral quickness and edgework are strong, too, allowing him to cut in and out of traffic at top speed. Coe has also learned to use his size more effectively to protect the puck down low and has gained confidence in his heavy shot being a weapon. There is a question of whether he thinks the game well enough to be more than just a change of pace energy player at the NHL level. Additionally, he needs to improve his play away from the puck to become a more consistent three zone player. His physical tools are intriguing but developing them into a cohesive player will be a project. – BO

  1. Danil Gushchin, LW (76th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

Gushchin needs to play with an edge to be successful. It is clear that when he does so, his skill set can absolutely shine. His hands and feet are both very quick and deceptive. He is capable of pulling off fantastic zone entries. Despite lacking in size, he is incredibly dogged on the puck and skilled at sheltering it from backcheckers, earning himself more than a few penalties. In short, his puck skills are above and beyond is age group. But he does not always play with that edge, which can be spotted by a more lackadaisical approach to puck handling and an excess of turnovers. Gushchin doesn’t have blazing speed, but his feet play up thanks to edgework and agility that can dazzle. His ability to make extra sharp cuts plays into his usage on zone entries as he can carve up multiple layers of the defense. When he loses that edge, his feet stop moving, he stops taking risks, and he functionally disappears. Gushchin tends to be more “on” when his team has the puck, and flat when they don’t. He can go from an expert reading of the play to a disinterested bystander in a single shift. – RW

  1. Artemi Knyazev, D (48th overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 7)

Knyazev saw modest growth in his second season in North America for a much-improved Sagueneens team last year. His 43 points were tops among blueliners on the club, and among the top ten in scoring among defensemen in the QMJHL. He also fine-tuned his defensive game as he improved his play-reading on the smaller ice. His skating is the focal point of his play, and the gatekeeper to his success; it allows him to cover a lot of ice in a short time and in all directions. Not only fast, Knyazev is agile and reaches top speed quickly. He is an offense-first defender and thinks the game with offense in mind. He continued his play as a defensive sharpshooter with a second-consecutive year with double digits in goals. His 11 goals were the most on the team on the back end. His abilities slotted in well next to massive blueliner Louis Crevier, as the pint-sized Knyazev had more permission to freewheel with the big Crevier minding his post. Knyazev is still a project for the pro game, and undersized, but he has the foundation to be a solid powerplay contributor and speedy defender at the NHL level. - MS

  1. Dillon Hamaliuk, LW (55th overall, 20191. Previous ranking: 8)

Hamaliuk moved to Kelowna to help them compete for a Memorial Cup but like most of his teammates never really took stride last year. When his game is on, he is an imposing albeit somewhat lumbering figure on the ice. He is excellent in the cycle game where his size and reach help him dictate play along the walls. He has decent hands that work with his game, he can carry off the wall, and is a solid net front guy. He scores a lot of goals from the goal mouth where he can use his strength to finish off plays in traffic. His skating is a bit of a concern as he looks a step behind the play through the neutral zone and is reliant on others to get the puck in the zone. Defensively he is physical and willing to engage to make a play. It was somewhat of a disappointing season to only collect 31 points in 56 games after being brought in to bolster the offense, after nearly being a point-per-game player last season. - VG

  1. Joachim Blichfeld, RW (210th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 9)

Blichfeld is yet another steal from untapped regions of Europe taken with a seventh-round pick by an organization deserving of tons of credit in the way they get max value out of every draft selection. After dominating the WHL in his final season with Portland with a league-best 114 points, his transition to the pros was a highly-anticipated one, and the Danish winger delivered with 16 goals and 16 assists in just 44 games of action as an AHL rookie. A big reason for his success with the Barracuda is his heavy, rapid shot, which is a weapon at even strength and on the power play (five of his 16 goals came on the man-advantage). Grading out as an average skater, Blichfeld is not really one to carry the puck, but does a superb job at finding open areas of the ice away from the puck to receive shooting chances. With steady hands and decent awareness of the ice, he is a fairly versatile player who could kill penalties and be a depth scorer in the NHL. - TD

  1. Alexei Melnichuk, G (Undrafted Free Agent, signed May 4, 2020. Previous ranking: 10)

A late free agent signing, Melnichuk alone was responsible for moving the Sharks up two slots in our organizational prospect rankings. On the smaller side for a modern netminder, he gained some notoriety two years ago when a hot start with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in Russia’s second men’s league, led to an invitation to wear the national colors during the Junior Super Series. Melnichuk excelled in the tune up series and earned a spot on the Russian WJC team as the backup. He bombed in his only game. That might have prevented him from being drafted, but two years later, with a stellar (mostly) full season debut in the KHL to his name, Melnichuk was back in the crosshairs of NHL scouts. He moves well in his crease and likes to challenge shooters when he can. He works hard for his saves and reads the games well, although the numbers at InStatScout make clear that he can really struggle with shots to the top corners, the bane of many smaller netminders. If Melnichuk adapts well to the AHL, he may be in the NHL before long. - RW

  1. Jacob McGrew, RW (159th overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 11)

Jake McGrew is a California native who has done enough to earn himself a look from as a late round flier.  Unfortunately, his career has been derailed by a couple of season-ending knee surgeries. Last season started with high expectations after his first 30 goal season in 2018-19. He jumped out of the gate with five goals in his first six games and looked to be breaking out, but another season ending knee surgery put a halt to a promising overage campaign. At this point he seems to be a long shot to make the NHL and may even struggle to play in the AHL next season. When he is healthy, he plays an up-tempo game and has a great release that enables him to score goals. If he gets healthy, he has a shot at be a middle six forward if he can get his development back on track and avoid any more long-term injuries. - VG

  1. Brinson Pasichnuk, D (Undrafted Free Agent, signed Mar. 31, 2020. Previous ranking: 12)

If you don’t have picks, you have to attack the free talent pool with gusto. Two members of the Sharks’ top 15 were free talent pickups, and the depth of the system includes a clean dozen others who received some consideration. Pasichnuk is the only one of the bunch that was added in 2020. A physical defender – although one who plays relatively clean – with a big shot from the point, the Arizona State graduate was one of the top NCAA free agents last offseason. Lauded for his maturity, on and off the ice, Pasichnuk may have a chance to break right into the San Jose NHL lineup whenever the 2020-21 season begins. In truth, he very well may deserve to rank higher on this list than the Spinal Tap number, as he has almost a sure-fire NHL player. The challenge is that that he is also older than most of the players above him and his ceiling may not be far above his floor. - RW

  1. Santeri Hatakka, D (184th overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 13)

Hatakka split the 2019-20 season between the Liiga and Mestis, Finland’s second-highest league. He also has a solid, yet unspectacular World Juniors tournament. He role was limited in the Liiga as he averaged fewer than 11 minutes of ice-time per game. A strong skater with very good acceleration, he moves well in all directions and can carry the puck from his own end. Stickhandling needs work, though, as he has occasional problems controlling the puck efficiently and keeping up his pace. His willing ness to battle has always stood out. Furthermore, he defends well in tight areas and is very assertive in the defensive zone. He did not have the strongest season possible, but he showed glimpses of potential in the Liiga and could break out as soon as the upcoming season if he can move up the depth chart. Overall, Hatakka is a mobile defenseman with strong physical tool and some untapped offensive potential. - MB

  1. Scott Reedy, C/RW (102nd overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 14)

A smart and versatile forward who finally put his sense to use offensively, scoring a career high 15 goals in his junior season with the Golden Gophers, Reedy has a few tools that suggest he could make a career for himself on the fourth line, playing in the corners and eating up some minutes on the PK. Before he gets there though, he has to show that he can regain some of the speed he showed in his first year with the USNTDP program. To his credit, his feet move well, but his legs are heavy. That means he can maneuver around small spaces nimbly enough but falls behind when the game opens up. He will have to stress his power credentials more and rely very heavily on his hockey IQ to overcome the skating deficit. Of course, he also has to sign, which he still has not as of this writing. He could become a free agent if he plays out his senior year without putting pen to paper with the Sharks. - RW

  1. Lean Bergmann, LW/RW (Undrafted Free Agent, signed May 28, 2019. Previous ranking: 15)

In his current state, Bergmann is the definition of a raw prospect. He can score, he has very quick hands for someone his size, and he can effectively utilize his size and strength to create offensive chances for himself. The German loves to drive the net, with and without the puck, and has the physicality to make it happen. As a net-front power-play guy, he can get bumped off the puck in front of the goal pretty easily, which makes me fear for how ineffective his body strength would actually be at the NHL level. He is a good shooter and has solid skating speed, especially at 200+ pounds, but has little passing game. He played on the penalty kill with the AHL Barracuda and competes hard. He focuses his energy on shoveling pucks on goal and wearing down his opponents, which is precisely what an NHL team would want out of a depth player like Bergmann can be in the near future. - TD