Over the last few seasons, the San Jose Sharks have signed several undrafted college players as their seasons have concluded. From the Sharks perspective, it’s simply another way to keep the talent pool headed to San Jose.
“We look at it as a second draft,” Director of Hockey Operations Joe Will said.
Names like defensemen Tom Preissing (six National Hockey League years and now with Colorado) and Andy Sutton (more than 10 seasons and now with the Islanders) are examples of notable signings that showed success could be found on this route.
Next on the list could be another defenseman, Mike Moore
, who was also signed as an undrafted free agent and is playing very well at San Jose’s top development affiliate in Worcester.
A prime example of undrafted college free agent success is defenseman Dan Boyle
, who was signed by Florida after a stellar career at Miami of Ohio. From top end player to fourth line checkers, there are diamonds to be found if you look hard enough
Because of the Sharks success and goals over the years, the club had sacrificed prospects and picks in trying to win a Stanley Cup. Going after overlooked and late blooming undrafted free agents has helped San Jose restock their talent pool in a route outside the annual NHL Entry Draft.
“This lets us replenish our prospects and helps keep the cupboard full,” Will said.
Will said there are various reasons why a player could have been overlooked during his draft year.
“Maybe they weren’t getting as much playing time,” Will said. “Maybe they were in an out-of-the-way (territory). They could be late bloomers.”
One recently overlooked change that has allowed many talented players go under the radar is the annual Entry Draft lasts just seven rounds, not nine or 11 as in previous years. Under today’s current system, Evgeni Nabokov would’ve been an undrafted free agent instead of a ninth round pick.
“Another part is we went to a seven round draft with fewer compensatory picks,” Will said. “Because of that a lot of good kids go undrafted. That’s where they come from.”
Age plays a big role in the success of these newly signed players.
A hockey player who has finished his Canadian junior career is 20 years old and not eligible to play U.S. college hockey. Many American college players have played a year or two in the United States Hockey League and they can be up to 24 when they’ve completed their eligibility.
“It’s very common for a freshman to be at 20 years old and already past their draft year,” Will said. “When they finish college, they’re a little older.”
The age helps with the mental maturity, but the college coursework assists kids who may not be focused in the right direction.
“The fact they have to balance their studying with everything else, that helps some kids be more detailed in their lives,” Will said.
The physical maturity of the player is very important in a sport that takes so much out of a player and some athletes simply don’t become fully developed until they’re older. Twenty pounds of battle-tested muscle can make a big difference when competing for an NHL roster spot.
Sometimes the player may have gone undrafted just because of their locale as was partially the case with Jed Ortmeyer, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Rangers in 2003.
“I think it was a combination of being small and being from Nebraska,” Ortmeyer said.
Size can also play a defining role as many high school kids simply haven’t developed into men.
“I was 160 pounds when I went to college and I graduated between 185 and 190 pounds,” said Ortmeyer, who’s listed at 6-foot and 200 pounds.
Many late bloomers from college are able to progress because of the tremendous practice time they get.
“They have more practice time and it’s more consistent,” Will said. “You don’t have the crazy travel schedule and the number of games (about 72). You have about half that.”
An American college schedule isn’t full of games compared to Canadian juniors, but the video and practice sessions are a big help.
NHL teams took some time to incorporate European talent into the game. That same pensiveness applies to accepting NCAA players.
“Now going the college route, there is more acceptance as far as general managers are concerned,” Ortmeyer said. “Before the thought was playing junior hockey and playing 80 games was more like the NHL schedule and the way to go. Now, if you wait for four years, you’ve practiced and learned more about the game. In junior, you play so much there’s not a lot of time to practice.”
When it comes to making the NHL, it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there. Count on the Sharks scouting staff being around to find that “diamond in the rough.”
AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
Defenseman Rob Blake assisted on three goals in the Sharks 4-1 win at Minnesota. The 40-year-old Blake is the third defenseman in NHL history to record three or more assists in one game after his 40th birthday. The others were Tim Horton, who had a four-assist game at age 42 for the Penguins in January 1972 and a three-assist game for the Rangers as a 41-year-old in February 1971, and Carl Brewer, who was 41-years-old when he had three assists in a game for the Maple Leafs in January 1980. Special thanks to the crew at the Elias Sports Bureau for finding this stat.
The Sharks organization has a tie into the upcoming Miss USA Pageant. Lacey Wilson, the daughter of Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson, is the current Miss Massachusetts and will compete for the Miss USA crown on May 16. The event can be seen on NBC.
There’s an online voting system for the Most Photogenic category and fans can help Wilson out by going to www.missusa.com, clicking on Contestants, scrolling to Massachusetts and clicking on the stars next to the words above the picture that say “Rate This Member.”
WILLIE O’REE WEEKEND
Three youth hockey players from the Oakland Bears travel program will attend the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend presented by Hasek’s Heroes in Buffalo from March 26-28.
Etinosa Obasaki, Emmanuel Bryant and Joshua Caballero currently play for the Oakland Bears Squirt travel team at Oakland Ice Center operated by Sharks Ice. The three boys began playing hockey as part of an outreach program at Harbor House Ministries in East Oakland. The Sharks partnered with the boys’ counselor, Matthew Thomas, to bring a group of approximately 20 children to the Oakland Ice Center as part of an ice hockey development program.
Thomas donates his personal time each week to assist the children with their hockey training as well as provide transportation for the children to and from the rink. St. Anthony’s Church in Oakland has also graciously agreed to provide a central meeting place and transportation options for the larger group of children on the weekends.
"Each of our kids has faced their own set of challenges growing up and the neighborhood where they’re raised has little to offer them in the way of positive influences or opportunities,” Thomas said. “Playing ice hockey has been a great opportunity because it gives a healthy outlet for their energy and provides a way to build the character and confidence they need to develop into mature young men. Kids from their neighborhood often end up getting lost just because they can't see anything to look forward to in life. Our guys are thankful for the opportunity to play hockey because they can look forward to something they love."
The Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend will bring together boys and girls from youth hockey organizations throughout North America that are members of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative. This year’s event will include more than 40 participants from 13 different NHL markets including: Boston, Buffalo, Calgary, Columbus, Detroit, Edmonton, New York, Philadelphia, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington, D.C.
Place a deposit for season tickets or a sharkpak next year and you can get playoff tickets this year. Click here for details.
The Sharks will play hosts to Dallas Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at HP Pavilion and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be available on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.