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Welcome to Scott Wheeler’s 2023 rankings of every NHL organization’s prospects. You can find the complete ranking and more information on the criteria here, as we count down daily from No. 32 to No. 1. The series, which includes in-depth evaluations and commentary from sources on nearly 500 prospects, runs from Jan. 9 to Feb. 8.

Though the Sharks’ pool ranks three spots lower this year than it did last year, it’s stronger on the whole now than it was then and slid only because of some bigger additions for other teams in their range.

The Sharks’ group should produce several NHL forwards (though it maybe lacks a true star) and has some unique and interesting prospects on defence (though each with some question marks).

2022 prospect pool rank: No. 14 (change: -3)


1. William Eklund, C/LW, 20 (San Jose Barracuda)

Between his draft season and his post-draft campaign, Eklund had some weird experiences. A bout of COVID. An appendectomy. Nine games with the Sharks out of his first camp. None since. A return to Djurgarden in between. And just three goals across 47 games at four different levels. This season has marked a return to a more natural path though. At the time of writing, Eklund leads the Barracuda through 40 games in assists (17) and co-leads in points (28).

Eklund remains a well-rounded three-zone player who can do a little bit of everything offensively (he’s strong and agile below the goal line, he’s a capable transporter, and he’s a plus-level finisher, handler and passer) and defensively (he supports the play well, takes smart routes to pucks and pinches along the wall, and engages effectively in battles to win his fair share). This season, that competitiveness has really boiled to the fore around a stronger frame (he’s now 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds).

Eklund’s biggest strength, though, is the way he navigates on the ice. He slides in and out of space to get open for his shot (a shot which, despite the lack of finishing last year, is a real mid-range threat) and plays the give-and-go game effectively. He also makes a lot of small-area plays around the net to attack the slot or play a puck into it, with proper timing, for a teammate. He’s just a clever problem-solver who knows his game and how to play within himself to make something happen from shift to shift.

I have little doubt that he’ll be a second-line forward in the NHL. His floor is high that way. Whether he can be a top-three forward on a team instead of a fourth-or-fifth best one is probably the question.

2. Thomas Bordeleau, C, 21 (San Jose Barracuda

Bordeleau’s one of several Sharks prospects I was a big fan of ahead of the draft and have remained a fan of since. After leading a loaded Wolverines team in scoring as a freshman, he played to a point per game as a sophomore and impressed me on a late-November trip to Ann Arbor and an April one to Boston for Frozen Four last year. He’s also the Barracuda’s leading goal-scorer (18) and the other co-leader in points (28) through three games.

That former part of his game has become a real talking point amongst scouts who’ve watched him the last two years. He was a pass-first guy at the national program and in his freshman year with the Wolverines, but he has elevated his competitiveness and looked to attack more for himself (he scored on one of the best shots of the summer world juniors and has ripped a few with the Barracuda) as he has got older.

He has also started to earn a lot of praise for the details of his game, something that was a real work in progress at the program. His habits off of the puck, commitment to the fight and faceoffs (which he excels at taking both ways) have all become assets.

Bordeleau’s crafty and unpredictable. His reflexes and dexterity (catching passes in his feet to his stick seamlessly, etc.) get high marks. And while he can also force it a little, I don’t think that should be discouraged in high-skill players. He has also worked hard to keep himself more and more involved in the play over the years. Bordeleau’s game blends a puck-dominant, play-driving style with problem-solving skill and excellent east-west peripheral vision. And despite his 5-foot-9 frame, I wouldn’t call him tiny and he has proven he can handle physical engagements and bumps just fine in the AHL. He also shields and protects the puck so well for a smaller player, especially leaning into guys with one hand on his stick. He’s a deceptive player who projects as a middle-six piece who can play on a power-play unit at his ceiling.

3. Filip Bystedt, C, 18 (Linkoping HC)

Bystedt is a big boy who moves well (especially when he builds a head of steam through the neutral zone) and thrives in puck control, with the skills of protection out wide to his body that you expect in a player his size, but also the propensity to pull and drag pucks through his feet. Those tools make him noticeable and intriguing by default. When he’s carrying pucks and looking to attack, he’s a lot to handle. He stays around it, he goes to the front of the net, he involves himself physically, and he has become a much more consistent game-to-game, shift-to-shift player this year. There were times last year, in viewings across the J20, SHL and U18 worlds, where he played a different style in each and seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis happening. This year I think he has found himself in the SHL as a driver who uses his finesse, skill and skating where required instead of out of necessity. He has been the most consistent forward prospect not named Marco Kasper and Leo Carlsson in the SHL this season. There’s more than meets the eye with his game offensively, too. He’s got some real dexterity. He projects as a good third-line centre for me.

4. Ryan Merkley, RHD, 22 (San Jose Barracuda/San Jose Sharks)

My understanding is that Merkley’s trade request has more to do with finding an opportunity elsewhere that the Sharks just haven’t felt comfortable giving to the player, and that it’s not about some of the character/attitude questions that followed Merkley for years in junior. The Sharks just haven’t seen a fit for the player, not the kid. And there may not be a fit for the player, who struggles defensively despite having worked hard to cut down on his risk-taking — and whose highly-skilled offensive game hasn’t translated at NHL pace to date. I still think there’s an outcome where it all comes together for him and he becomes a passable five-on-five defender who produces on a power play and finds ways to create offence at even strength though. And on the small chance that that becomes a reality for him somewhere else, I think this is about where he belongs on the list still (though I did think about ranking him a couple of slots lower).

His playmaking and ingenuity have really flashed at the AHL level at times (though not as consistently as you’d hope for) and he has begun the process of proving he can show restraint (both with his game and his approach/attitude). He’s always going to be among the most creative and talented on-puck, passing defencemen in the sport. He identifies and executes plays that few see. He’s got an expert touch and a fearless approach. Concerns over other hockey euphemisms of “compete,” and “effort,” and “attitude,” and “body language” have all come a long way even if they’re still not perfect (I think he’s always going to run a little hot). He cheats less than he used to. He’s always going to come with some give and take. He’s not all that strong to begin with, so even when his effort level is there he’s not going to be a super reliable player in man-on-man situations. He’s not a plus-level skater in terms of power, either. But his ability to escape pressure, transition the puck, and then slice teams up in the offensive zone are all A-level. We’ll see.

5. Cam Lund, C/RW, 18 (Northeastern University)

A bright spot on a Huskies team that has some warts, Lund has stepped right into college hockey as a freshman and played the same game he stepped right into the USHL as a rookie in his draft year last year. Lund tends to be pretty well-liked around the sport for his pro-style game. He’s a pass-and-shot threat who will take what’s available for himself but simplify and play off of his teammates where needed, too. He pushes tempo with plus-level skating, plays with a purpose, works to get pucks back, and then has enough skill to make things happen between checks and races. He’s a strong, powerful 6-foot-2 player who thrives in transition skating pucks, hunting on the forecheck, turning defenders, and creating breakaways. Considering his summer birthday and relative inexperience before the last two seasons, he had a pretty impressive progression.

Here’s Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe from a recent chat: “Big time skater. He has high, high-end speed. When he works against a bad gap, he’s a really tough guy to defend. He shoots the puck really well. And he’s a skilled kid. He has been a little bit unlucky this year. But he’s a dangerous player, he’s always a threat, and I like his overall game — he’s getting better and better. He’s got underrated toughness, when he finishes his checks he can run right through you. So he can bring a lot of different elements. It’s not just his scoring game. I like his ability to forecheck with his speed.”

And here’s Pat Mikesch, who was his head coach with Green Bay in his draft year: “Lundy’s really physically gifted. He’s got extreme power in his legs and he can just riffle a puck. Lundy’s definitely that raw athlete. I always compared him to Charlie Coyle — just physically advanced for a young player and then learning the game quickly to go along with it.”

6. Mattias Hävelid, RHD, 18 (Linkoping HC)

Hävelid’s a 5-foot-9 defender whose defensive game doesn’t come with the deficiencies that you might expect it would. He’s proficient at everything, the kind of player who knows who he is, plays within himself, and always looks like the game is being played in front of him. He plays tight gaps, he’s confident in control, he’s got great poise on both sides of the puck, and everything is executed cleanly and decisively. He knows when to pick his spots to attack and then has the tools (including a great wrister) to make things happen. He never looks like he’s scrambling or having to think out there. He’s a well-rounded, effective and ultimately impactful defenceman. I don’t think he’s a defenceman that coaches are going to see as small. After getting injured just a couple of weeks into this season, Havelid jumped right back into the SHL without returning to junior when he returned in early January and has played 16-19 minutes a night in recent games, a testament to the trust he has at an early age.

7. Tristen Robins, C/RW, 21 (San Jose Barracuda)

Robins plays the game the way a versatile forward should in today’s game. He’s deceptive, using fakes and stutters to bait defenders to trick goalies. His focus as a shooter is on disguising his release point and hitting a spot in the net rather than trying to rip pucks in, with control and shapeshifting taking precedence over power. He’s also an athlete, the kind of kid who is stronger than he looks and able to fight through checks to keep sequences alive. His play without the puck defensively has also always earned some love from scouts. He’ll block shots, he’ll use up all of his energy in a shift on a pivotal footrace, and he reads the play in front of him to break up passes. I think he’s got an all-situations upside and a real chance at reaching it as a contributing third-line piece down the line (though I do think there’s an outcome where he becomes more of a fringe guy).

8. Daniil Gushchin, RW/LW, 20 (San Jose Barracuda)

After two seasons as one of the top forwards in the USHL, Guschin became one of the top forwards in the OHL in his one and only season in the league before turning pro last season, outscoring his nearest teammate by 22 goals and 27 points on a poor Niagara team. This season, he leads the Barracuda in shots on goal as a rookie as well.

The 5-foot-10 winger plays an up-tempo, feet-moving game that buzzes from one play to the next while manufacturing offence. I’ve also been particularly impressed by how threatening he has been off the rush the last two seasons (because he has always been impactful inside the offensive zone, so it has added another element). He’s also an effective forechecker for his size who wins races, fights for his lanes, gets under sticks, and then makes quick, aggressive plays with the puck when he gets possession. He manufactures offence shift-to-shift with his ability to knife through seams, get to the net, and play in bursts with his impressive footwork and acceleration from a standstill. The fear with Gushchin has less to do with any one skill that will hinder him than it has to do with the general difficulty in projecting players his size to the NHL when they don’t have first-round notoriety (rightly or wrongly). Personally, I think he’s got the tools to become a top AHL player, earn an NHL opportunity, and then eventually stick as a contributing top-nine piece who can play on PP2. There’s some risk in that projection though.

9. Ozzy Wiesblatt, RW, 20 (San Jose Barracuda)

Wiesblatt is a well-rounded three-zone player. And while his counting stats haven’t popped the last two seasons, he was still the most productive forward on one of the WHL’s worst teams last year. Despite his first-round selection, though, I’ve typically been a little lower on him than most (and certainly lower on him than some of the Sharks prospects taken after him in 2020 when he was picked 31st). Still, and though he’s just 5-foot-10, Wiesblatt is a deceptively strong forward who can keep plays alive with a low centre of gravity and the soft-area skill needed to play through checks and escape pressure with control in tight spaces. That skill complements a quick release and a heady playmaking style to allow him to play as the focal point on a line or navigate away from talented players as more of a give-and-go type. My concern is that he lacks dynamism, which will limit him as more of a complementary third-best player on an NHL line than a driver or natural creator. He’s got a chance to become a player, but it’s going to take some time and I don’t expect that player will be an impact one.

10. Brandon Coe, RW, 21 (San Jose Barracuda)

After an unbelievable 121-points-in-74-games season to finish his OHL career last year, Coe has played in a depth role behind the higher-skilled players on this list to start his pro career, generating shots and points at a low rate and not playing on either power play unit.

There is belief though, that he’ll step up when those guys begin to get NHL opportunities. His size-skill combination has intrigued scouts since his draft-year growth spurt. Coe is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound winger with surprising skill and poise who doesn’t lose either of those things when the play breaks down or he’s moving at top speed (though he has struggled to get to his spots at pro pace). He’s a heady puck protector with good speed (for his size) and smart instincts. He’s also really comfortable in traffic for a player his size. Despite his slow start in the AHL, there’s reason for optimism about his NHL upside as a potential bottom-six forward someday. He was always going to be more of a long-term project.

11. Alex Young, C, 21 (Colgate University)

Colgate’s most dangerous forward for my money in all three of his college seasons (he finished tied for first in his freshman year, one point back of his big brother in his sophomore year, and sits tied for first at the moment as a junior), Young has followed an excellent Jr. A career by rising to point per game at the NCAA level.

He is, by all accounts, a great kid. He’s also a heady finesse player who makes plays happen in the offensive zone, blending playmaking feel with a great release (I argued his goal totals didn’t do his threatening game justice in his first two college seasons but they’ve been more reflective this year) to thrive with the puck on his stick and weave through lanes with his slick hands off of lateral cuts. He’s also a committed off-puck player who involves himself in the action. Average pace and average size raise questions about his ultimate upside but his work ethic and tenaciousness should help him get as far as his game will take him and he’s got skill. I expect he’ll get signed when he’s done in college, if not by the Sharks then by someone else, even though Colgate doesn’t have a great history of producing NHL players.

Here’s that quick release I talked about from a two-goal first-period against Maine earlier in the year.

The first is while moving in transition, with no visible drawback before he lets it go and surprises the goalie:

The second is from his spot at the right-wing circle on the power play:

12. Gannon Laroque, RHD, 19 (Victoria Royals)

Laroque’s a player who, I must admit, I didn’t spend much time watching until last year because his statistical profile didn’t appear to warrant it. But when the Sharks didn’t just draft him but drafted him in the fourth round and then he followed that up to become one of the more productive defensemen in the WHL, he demanded my attention (especially as a 6-foot-2 righty). Then he missed several months to start this season due to an undisclosed lower-body injury he picked up in the offseason. And while he has only played a handful of games since returning to the Royals (as their captain!), I made sure to review them for this piece and he looked great.

Laroque is an active, athletically gifted, mobile transitional defender who looks to use his skating to play an aggressive style against the rush and join it. He’ll make the occasional mistake when his reads and timing are off trying to overcompensate physically, but he plays hard and he’s got some tools. He wants to dictate terms and impact play and he’s capable of doing both at the junior level. He looks to take space off the line for a hard wrister and slapshot. There are questions about whether he’s quite talented enough to play that same style at the pro level, but he’s signed and they’re going to give him a look in the AHL when he’s done in the WHL.

Here’s that aggression off the line I talked about. He’s not looking to walk across the line, he’s looking to move off of it wherever possible.

13. Magnus Chrona, G, 22 (University of Denver)

Chrona’s a 6-foot-5, 215-pound goalie whose numbers (.913 across four seasons in college) are just good enough to warrant a contract with a team that’s willing to work with his size to continue to refine the rest. I don’t honestly think he’s particularly controlled, or particularly compact, or particularly quick, or particularly explosive. I think his tools beyond the size are frankly just OK. But there are plenty of goalies in the NHL who are less talented than their smaller peers and still stop just as many pucks. He has also played in big games, rose to the moment to backstop the Pioneers to a national title last year, and does have some standout tools beyond his frame, led by superb tracking (he fights through traffic and anticipates play beautifully). He has also developed some real power to his pushes and holds so that when he moves to his spots, he can jam on the breaks in preparation for shots.

14. Jake Furlong, LHD, 18 (Halifax Mooseheads)

One of the top prospects in Eastern Canada growing up, Furlong for a long time considered going the college route before being pulled to Halifax. In his draft year, his second with Halifax, he played huge minutes (which finished with an astounding 48-minute night in Halifax’s triple overtime loss in Game 4 of their first-round series against Acadie-Bathurst) as arguably the team’s top defenceman, playing ahead of older Flames third-rounder Cameron Whynot. This year, he has continued to play a leading role on a strong Mooseheads team.

Furlong is a steady, rock-solid, all-situations two-way defender who makes a clean first pass and plays the game with the maturity and intention players typically find later in their careers. He knows what he is and he plays his game to be effective and consistent. He’s not going to walk through traffic or pull you out of your seat but he manages the blue line competently, he can beat the first forechecker (whether that’s to side-step pressure and headman the puck in his own zone, or beat the first guy off the line into a shot or seam pass), and his head is always on a swivel. I could absolutely see him becoming a third-pairing guy at the next level eventually.

15. Santeri Hatakka, LHD, 22 (San Jose Barracuda) 

Hatakka’s one of those players who has found a coach that likes him and a quiet effectiveness that works for him at every level he has ever played at. I didn’t use to feel like he had the talent and the processing power needed to keep up with the game when his team had the puck — certainly not enough to earn the NHL opportunity he did last season at 20 years old. But his increased willingness to activate off of the line has shown that even though he’s not making plays that lead directly to goals, he’s often keeping pucks in, making the next smart play, and helping to extend offensive zone sequences in his own way. He’s a high floor, low ceiling player who will be a good AHLer and fine NHL depth throughout his career, even if he’s probably more of a No. 8 or No. 9 who serves as injury filler than the No. 6 or No. 7 that spends the season with the team.


The Tiers

Each of my prospect pool rankings will be broken down into team-specific tiers in order to give you a better sense of the talent proximity from one player to the next (a gap which is sometimes minute and in other cases quite pronounced).

The Sharks’ prospect pool breaks down into three tiers divided as such: 1, 2-8, 9-15.

Barrie Colts forward Ethan Cardwell, athletic defenceman Michael Fisher, and goaltender Benjamin Gaudreau were considered but not ranked.

Rank

  

Player

  

Pos.

  

Age

  

Team

  

1

William Eklund

C/LW

20

San Jose

2

Thomas Bordeleau

C

21

San Jose

3

Filip Bystedt

C

18

Linkoping

4

Ryan Merkley

RHD

22

San Jose

5

Cam Lund

C/RW

18

Northeastern

6

Mattias Havelid

RHD

18

Linkoping

7

Tristen Robins

C/RW

21

San Jose

8

Daniil Gushchin

RW/LW

20

San Jose

9

Ozzy Wiesblatt

RW

20

San Jose

10

Brandon Coe

RW

21

San Jose

11

Alex Young

C

21

Colgate

12

Gannon Laroque

RHD

19

Victoria

13

Magnus Chrona

G

22

Denver

14

Jake Furlong

LHD

18

Halifax

15

Santeri Hatakka

LHD

22

San Jose

(Photo of William Eklund: Kavin Mistry / NHLI via Getty Images)

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