When Jason Demers was selected by the Sharks in the 7th round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, expectations were on par with that of a late round selection. Of course, Doug Wilson and his team of scouts must have liked the player enough to select him, but no one could have foreseen what he would become just a year later.
The 186th pick in the 2008 Entry Draft was chosen with little fanfare; Demers was billed as a purely offensive defenseman who needed to add size to find a home at the NHL level. His 59 points in the QMJHL the previous season were impressive, but were somewhat diminished by the relative weakness of the league. Even still, Doug Wilson was confident in Demers' ability.
Historically, the success of late round picks is low. Since 1996, only 26 of the 339 players picked in the seventh round have played more than 200 NHL games. That's just 7.7%. With a success rate so low, any talent gleaned from this round is an added bonus.
You could argue that the later rounds are a crapshoot, but Doug WIlson has made a habit of drafting skilled players with specific flaws (usually skating or size) on the second day. That mindset has led to a deep pool of defensive prospects, as well as the gem that is Jason Demers.
Heading into the 2009-2010 NHL season, there was one spot on the roster which was realistically up for grabs. After trading Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver to free up the cap space for Dany Heatley, Doug Wilson commented on the opportunity presented to the Sharks' crop of young defensemen.
"This is a reflection of where our young players are at. You're not going to keep these guys off the team. We're excited coming into camp that we have young people who have worked their butts off who are battling for spots."
Although Wilson probably had Demers in the back of his mind when he made that statement, he couldn't have thought it would be the 21 year old who made the team out of camp. A player like AHL All Star Derek Joslin, who had seen time with San Jose the previous season, was a much safer bet to make the squad. Even Nick Petrecki, a former first round pick who performed well in rookie camp, had a leg up on the competition. However, it was Demers who won the favor of the coaching staff.
Perhaps it was because, out of all the prospects in the system, Demers most reminded the Sharks of the recently traded Christian Ehrhoff. Like Ehrhoff, Demers isn't a complete player by any stretch of the imagination. He's less than stellar defensively, and needs to work on using his body and reading plays in transition. However, what most evokes the comparison between Ehrhoff and Demers is something that they both did exceptionally well: contribute offensively.
Though he only played 51 games at the NHL level, Demers was named the Sharks' Rookie of the Year, beating out the equally impressive Logan Couture. In those 51 NHL games, Demers scored four goals and 17 assists and was a +5. Whats most impressive about those numbers is that 11 of the 21 points he contributed were scored on the man advantage. That total is not only impressive for a rookie; based on an efficiency standpoint, Demers was the best power play defenseman on the team.
Besides Dan Boyle, Demers saw the most power play time per game of any Sharks defenseman. In the minutes that Demers was on the ice, the Sharks scored 9.03 goals per 60 minutes of power play time. Boyle? 8.67.
That's not to say that Demers is a better player than Boyle. He's not, by any stretch of the imagination. But with the Sharks devoid another elite offensive defenseman, Demers has demonstrated his worth to the team. In 2010-2011, he'll be counted on more heavily to provide offense from the point. At just 22 years old, the hope is that he will continue to do so for years to come.
In a sign of confidence in his young defenseman, Doug Wilson signed Demers to a two year contract extension worth $2.5MM. The contract, which takes effect before the 2011-2012 season, all but guarantees a starting spot in the top six for Demers for the next three years.
Although many have faulted Wilson for failing to add another top two defenseman, you have to applaud the general manager for his handling of Demers from start to finish. Because of his foresight, Wilson nabbed Demers in 2008. Now, in acknowledgment of Demers' potential, Wilson signs him to a very affordable contract that will pay him a fraction of what he could have been worth on the open market. In addition, perhaps Wilson's faith in Demers has made a move for a player like Tomas Kaberle unnecessary. It wouldn't be the first time that a former 7th round pick made a big impact with the team.
Joe Pavelski, who was drafted 205th overall in 2003, is arguably one of the best two way centers in the game. He's a US Olympian, a playoff hero, and a big part of San Jose's future. He just recently signed a four year, $16MM, and has been lauded for his leadership abilities. He's the epitome of a late round success story.
If Demers can find even a fraction of the success that Pavelski has, the one time surprise roster addition could become a fixture on the Sharks blue line for a long time. But if you ask Doug Wilson, "surprise" probably isn't in his dictionary.