Despite justifiably earning a bottom-third designation in most organizational rankings, the Sharks' prospect cupboard is relatively well-stocked with players who reasonably project as depth forwards at the NHL level. From Matt Nieto to Freddie Hamilton to Sean Kuraly to Chris Tierney to Danny O'Regan, the Sharks likely won't have much of an issue picking quality third- and fourth-liners off the farm in the future. Some of those forwards (Nieto and O'Regan in particular) might even fit into an NHL team's top six one day but Tomas Hertl remains the only true blue-chipper up front in the San Jose pipeline.
Given that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are both well on the wrong side of 30 and likely to decline, that's a problem for the Sharks. It's also a problem that might not easily be solved with the 20th overall pick San Jose has in next week's NHL Entry Draft in Newark. With Hertl and Charlie Coyle, the Sharks' scouting staff has had some recent success in finding promising forwards late in the first round but the overall historical numbers aren't pretty; players drafted in the 14th-25th overall range have about a 29.3% chance of becoming an impact NHLer (defined for forwards as playing at least 200 big-league games while scoring at a 0.5 points-per-game clip or better). Unsurprisingly, the hit rate is considerably higher for top-five picks, one of which the Carolina Hurricanes just might be dangling:
Hearing Canes could trade No. 5 pick and move down on draft day if their draft target is taken in top four picks. Unlikely Canes to move up.— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) June 21, 2013
According to Joe Sakic, Colorado will not be taking highly-touted defenseman Seth Jones with the first overall pick but you can rest assured that someone in the top four will snag him. That guarantees at least one of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Aleksander Barkov and Valeri Nichushkin will be available at 5th overall. Any of those forwards would constitute the best prospect the Sharks have drafted since Marleau and would go a long way towards replacing the offense San Jose stands to lose with the decline, retirement or exodus via free agency of the top two scorers in franchise history. So what would they need to offer to get Jim Rutherford's attention?
Analysis of every trade made on the draft floor between 2006 and 2012 suggests that the 5th overall pick is about equivalent in value to the 20th, which the Sharks currently hold, and 18th combined. Since the Hurricanes are reportedly seeking a defenseman, the question is whether a piece on the San Jose blueline has roughly as much value to them as an 18th overall selection. Surely Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dan Boyle are worth far more than that but it makes zero sense for the Sharks to shed either of their top two defensemen for a prospect, no matter how talented, when they're set up well to be competitive next season. Would any of the Sharks' trio of less experienced defensemen in Justin Braun, Matt Irwin and Jason Demers be enough to get a trade done from Carolina's perspective? Is there any chance Brad Stuart generates interest as a potential upgrade on what the Hurricanes lost when Bryan Allen bolted for Anaheim last summer?
I'm guessing the answer is no on all four counts, particularly if a bidding war erupts for the pick. And it's entirely possible Jim Rutherford, who historically avoids defensemen like the plague in the first round, would be averse to moving the pick if Barkov or Nichushkin is still on the board. Still, this is the type of discussion that makes sense for the Sharks to be engaging in and seems to fit in with resetting or rebooting or rebuilding-on-the-fly or whatever name is being assigned to the process Doug Wilson began at the trade deadline. At least on paper, the Sharks appear to have the second round picks and moveable roster players necessary to move up next Sunday, even if the 5th overall pick isn't a viable option. If they're looking to avoid a prolonged period of mediocrity, it strikes me as crucial that the Sharks are able to add a high-end forward prospect to their pipeline in this draft and taking a risk to move into the upper echelon of the first round seems likely to be worthwhile.