In the NHL, some teams draft and others deal.
For the past few seasons, the San Jose Sharks have fallen primarily into the latter category, trading picks for established professionals. Logan Couture, drafted in 2007, represents the most recent NHL star taken by the Sharks. Since then, San Jose's development program has ranked near the bottom of the League even as the Sharks clinched their ninth consecutive postseason appearance in 2012-13.
That's still the case heading into the 2013-14 season as the pool of future NHL stars looks shallow, but San Jose is making strides. The organization continues to be one of the best at drafting and developing NCAA prospects, and this year's batch features a healthy mix of two-way centers, physical defensemen and a couple of explosive forwards, many of whom have the tools to make an impact for San Jose in 2013-14.
Here's a look at a few of San Jose's top prospects, according to NHL.com:
Tomas Hertl, C: In a prospect pool brimming with players still a season or two from the NHL limelight, Hertl will enter training camp ready and able to crack the Sharks' opening-day roster. Hertl was taken 17th in the 2012 NHL Draft, and so far the 19-year-old has exceeded all expectations. Last season the Czech Republic native led his hometown team, HC Slavia Praha, with 18 goals and 30 points in 43 games despite being the youngest player on the team.
After a sensational season in the competitive Czech Extraliga, Hertl signed a three-year, entry-level deal June 4. Most prognosticators have Hertl starting the season on the second line alongside Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, replacing TJ Galiardi, who was traded to the Calgary Flames.
If Hertl cracks the roster, expect the 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward to display a willingness to battle for the puck and an ability to make a play with it.
Alex Stalock, G: While not technically a rookie -- Stalock will be 26 years old by the time training camp opens -- the veteran of the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Worcester Sharks, deserves recognition here. With former Sharks backup Thomas Greiss taking his talents to the Phoenix Coyotes and the organization remaining quiet on free-agent goaltenders, it looks like they may promote from within. That's where Stalock comes in.
Drafted in the fourth round (No. 112) in 2005, Stalock played three years for the University of Minnesota-Duluth before joining the Sharks' AHL affiliate. Stalock got off to a promising start, going 39-19-2 in 61 games in 2009-10. Midway through his second season, however, Stalock sustained a sliced nerve from the skate of Dwight King and played 11 games in 2011-12.
After making a full recovery, Stalock had a 2.60 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 38 games in 2012-13. During the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Stalock was the only extra player to practice with San Jose throughout its playoff run.
The Sharks re-signed him to a one-year, two-way deal this offseason, and the 6-foot, 185-pounder will compete with fellow prospect Harri Sateri during training camp for the backup spot.
Matthew Nieto, LW: If Hertl is the forward prospect of the present, Nieto, who spent the past three seasons at Boston University, is an investment for the future.
Nieto, a second-round pick (No. 47) in the 2011 NHL Draft, is shaping up to be a dynamic top-six forward. At 5-11 and 183 pounds, Nieto uses every bit of his size and already displays top-level speed. For testimonials, just ask Boston University's Hockey East rivals. As a junior with the Terriers last season, he had 18 goals and 19 assists in 39 games.
After the season, the Sharks signed Nieto to an entry-level deal and he joined Worcester for the remainder of the season, and had six points in 11 games. Nieto likely needs at least a full season in the AHL under his belt, but if his offensive arsenal continues developing at its current pace, the native of Long Beach, Calif., could be homeward bound even sooner.
Matt Tennyson, D: In January two big-bodied, smooth-skating defensemen named Matt were starring for the Worcester Sharks: Tennyson, a product of the Junior Sharks youth hockey program who was signed as a free agent in 2012, and Matt Irwin. When San Jose shook up its lineup early in the season, Irwin, 25, won promotion over the 23-year-old Tennyson, and went on to play critical minutes alongside veteran Dan Boyle. The 6-2, 205 Tennyson remained in Worcester, where he led all defensemen with 27 points in 60 games and lived up to the hype as San Jose's most prized defensive prospect.
Tennyson has displayed the tools needed to succeed in the NHL -- he had two points in four games for San Jose in April -- and the Western Michigan product's ceiling may be even higher than Irwin's. While his defensive-zone consistency needs work, Tennyson's puck movement and willingness to get forward after just one full AHL season are encouraging signs.
Freddie Hamilton, C: Drafted in the fifth round in 2010 (No. 129) after his second season with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, Hamilton quickly became one of San Jose's top prospects. In his next two seasons with Niagara, Hamilton posted back-to-back 80-point seasons and was selected for Canada's team for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship. Hamilton scored a goal and added six assists at the tournament, outscoring teammates and NHL regulars like Brendan Gallagher and Jaden Schwartz in the process.
Unfortunately, Hamilton's offensive prowess didn’t translate immediately last season, his first season with Worcester. The two-way center showed plenty of backchecking and physicality, but managed 13 goals and 13 assists in 76 games. Hamilton has proven he can shut down opposing forwards at every level, but will need to ramp up his offense if he hopes to join his brother, Dougie, in the NHL anytime soon.
Nick Petrecki, D: In the first round of the 2007 draft, San Jose picked two players: Logan Couture at No. 9 and Petrecki at No. 28. While Couture has established himself as the face of the Sharks' franchise, Petrecki has had trouble adjusting to the rigors of the professional game.
At 6- 3 and 225 pounds, however, he has the build to be a full-time, stay-at-home defenseman for the Sharks. Unfortunately, matching the necessary skills with his size had been a struggle -- until last season, Petrecki's fourth with Worcester. His brute physicality made him more valuable in his own zone than Tennyson or Irwin and earned him a spot at San Jose's training camp in January. The Sharks gave him his NHL debut against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 29, but that was his only NHL action.
After his glimpse of the NHL, Petrecki faded in Worcester, his trademark toughness thwarted in part by nagging injuries. With the Sharks' defensive pipeline stuffed with talent, Petrecki must optimize his limited skill set -- and do it consistently -- in order to assimilate into San Jose's lineup.
Chris Tierney, C: As Hamilton's stock as a two-way center took a hit in his transition from the OHL to the AHL last season, another center in the Sharks' pipeline remained in Ontario and bolstered his credentials. San Jose nabbed Tierney, a forward with the London Knights, with its second pick (No. 55) in 2012, based on his ability to shut down the best forwards in the OHL.
But in 2012-13, his third season with the Knights, Tierney showcased a knack for offense not seen before, clocking career highs in goals (18), assists (39) and points (57). The scoring outburst -- which included a scorching playoff run where he scored 21 points in 21 games, including three game-winning goals, to help London capture the OHL championship -- added another line to Tierney's ever-improving resume.
Originally envisioned as a third-liner and penalty killer at the NHL level, Tierney's newfound offensive touch raises his ceiling quite a bit. Should Tierney continue to progress this season, he could join Hamilton in providing the Sharks with a one-two punch of imposing, gifted centermen for seasons to come.
Travis Oleksuk, C: When San Jose signed Oleksuk in March 2012 as a free agent after his senior season at Minnesota-Duluth, the thought was the talented, two-way center had a chance to make the NHL roster immediately. Oleksuk's numbers steadily increased during his college career, and with six game-winning goals as a senior in 2011-12 and a national championship the season prior, scouts looked at him as a gamer whose intangibles would mask any talent inadequacies. After training camp, Oleksuk was assigned to Worcester, where he struggled offensively, totaling three goals and 10 assists in 60 games.
Despite his troubles, the organization hasn't lost confidence in Oleksuk and he will enter training camp with a chance to crack the NHL roster. With playmaking abilities and a season of professional experience under his belt, he could make waves as an injury replacement in 2013-14.
Taylor Doherty, D: Despite his hulking 6-7, 235-pound frame, Doherty spent much of last season in Worcester lost in the crowd. A host of injuries limited him to 40 games, though the stay-at-home blueliner did score his first professional goal and added nine assists and 67 penalty minutes in that stretch. But the emergence of Tennyson, as well as improved play from Petrecki, pushed the 2009 second-round pick (No. 57) down the pecking order.
This summer at the Sharks' development camp, however, Doherty was one of the few prospects singled out for praise by director of scouting Tim Burke. The defenseman's size gives him tremendous upside if he can align his skating ability and puck-handling skills with his giant frame, but Burke spoke highly of the intangibles Doherty showed this summer.
"Taylor Doherty is pretty close," Burke told CSNBayArea.com. "He kind of took over the camp as a leader type, and that's really good to see, because most of the guys that have made it for us have shown the ability to lead in these. Even though it's a small thing, doing things right time after time adds up after a while."
Danil Tarasov, RW: When he emigrated from Moscow, Russia, at 18, Tarasov started his career in the International Junior Hockey League. He progressed quickly to the United States Hockey League, where he eventually played alongside Sharks draft pick Sean Kuraly. After Tarasov netted 47 goals for the Indiana Ice of the USHL in 2011-12, San Jose signed him as a free agent. Tarasov began last season in Worcester, but was quickly sent down to the San Francisco Bulls of the ECHL for a stint. Upon returning to Worcester, he rediscovered his offense and ended the season with 14 goals and 14 assists in 43 games.
Tarasov's journey to the top of San Jose's prospect pool doesn't look like any of his peers, so it makes sense that his game doesn't resemble any of theirs, either. Offensive-minded to a fault, Tarasov's teammates sometimes can pay the price for his forays with the puck in the offensive end. But his puck-handling, vision and ability to score in a variety of ways convinced San Jose of his NHL potential, and they club signed him to a two-year deal April 2.
Author: Davis Harper | NHL.com Staff Writer