As a precursor to our upcoming trip to the NHL draft, we'll be doing a series of draft related articles, including prospect profiles. Unlike most other sites, though, our prospect focus will be on players who are expected to be drafted at or around the 28th overall pick where the San Jose Sharks currently reside. For this edition, we're pleased to welcome prospect Riley Sheahan of the University of Notre Dame. We'd like to thank Mr. Sheahan and Tim Connoly of Notre Dame's media relations department for making this interview happen.
Riley Sheahan is a 6'2", 202 lb native of St. Catharines, Ontario. With only Juniors B experience under his belt, Sheahan decided to enroll at the University of Notre Dame to play NCAA hockey instead of choosing the traditional OHL route most Canadian prospects do. Notre Dame is not only home of one of the nation's elite hockey programs, but it's also one of the country's most academically rigorous institutions. At just 17 years old, Shehan had to deal with being the youngest skater to play in the 2009-2010 NCAA season, as well as being required to maintain a GPA over 3.8.
Although Sheahan had a disappointing statistical season, he tied Kyle Palmieri (the 26th overall pick by Anaheim in the 2009 entry draft) for the team's rookie lead in points with 17 in 37 games. This is a drop-off from the 73 points (27 G 46A) he scored in 2008-2009 with the St. Catharines Falcons of the Ontario Hockey Association Golden Horseshoe League. He received the Junior B League's "Top Prospect" award that season.
At the midseason point this year, Sheahan was ranked as the 5th best North American prospect by NHL Central Scouting. However, the rating dropped to 22 on Central's final rankings, due in part to his underwhelming second half and an incident in which he was arrested for underage drinking along with the aforementioned Kyle Palmieri.
Sheahan is projected as a second line center, and could move higher if his scoring instincts catch up to his size.
What got you interested in hockey?
Well, my whole family is pretty athletic. I played a lot of sports growing up. I was into lacrosse, soccer & basketball as well, and just that interest in sport got me into hockey. Hockey was my best sport out of all of them, and I just kept going from there.
How did you grow up playing? Were you a rink-rat or did you play outdoors?
I was always playing street hockey; I was one of many kids growing up on my street and we were constantly out there playing. I started playing when I was four and I just continued from there. I found myself in a group where hockey was the big thing and that's how I developed.
Who were the main influences on your development growing up?
Definitely my parents, number one for sure. They not only drove me to all my games and practices but they were always there for me and therefore they have to be the number one. I also had a coach in high school (he was a teacher there too) who was alot of fun and I'm still really close with him now.
First thing that we noticed about you is that you're a Canadian prospect who chose American college over Canadian Juniors. Why did you decide to do that?
The style of college play, we thought, was better for my development in terms of my hockey career. Both my parents are teachers, and that was also part of it. Education is a priority for me. The mixture of school and hockey was something that I really wanted.
A year into it, are you happy with the decision you made?
Yeah, definitely. I've made alot of really close friends up at school and hockey is alot of fun. Also, the working out part off the ice is a bonus as well; we do strength training and conditioning unlike alot of the OHL teams. I definitely don't regret any part of the decision I made.
You're one of only three American college players to be chosen to play on Canada's National Development team. What's that experience been like for you?
It's been, well, I feel like I've been under the radar a bit up to this point. Playing in the States as opposed to playing in Canada I feel like I don't get the same chance to get noticed that alot of the players up in the OHL have. I'm glad I'm finally able to get that chance and hopefully I can show Hockey Canada that even though I'm playing in the States I still have the same skill level as the guys playing in Canada. Or in the States (laughs).
NHL's Central Scouting has you ranked 22nd among North American skaters in their final rankings. At the beginning of the year, you were ranked fifth. Were you overrated then or are you underrated now?
I'm underrated now. My second half of the season didn't go exactly as I planned; the whole team in the second half was inconsistent. So, I think I belong up in that top five range and I feel like I can compete with any of those guys currently in a top five spot. I think the number five range is where I should be but the number 22 ranking is more of a motivator for me to elevate my game. It's making me work harder so I can show people that I belong in that spot.
You mentioned inconsistency. What are you going to try to do to make sure that you, and your team, are more consistent next year.
I just think there were some problems within the team and it just wasn't a good year for us. I feel next year that everyone is going to be more focused; we have a good team next year with alot of good freshmen coming in and I think that it's up to the older guys to be a bit more focused and show the younger guys the way.
Are you planning on taking on some of that leadership responsibility?
Yeah, definitely. I'm not a freshman anymore, and I know that as a young player in a new place you need those role models to look up to. I'm going to try to be a voice in the locker room and make sure that I'm there for the younger guys.
We've heard you compared to Rick Nash. Even you have said that you're alot like the forward. Why is this a good comparison, and do you see yourself as a power forward in the NHL?
It's an extreme honor for me to be compared to a player like that. I've looked up to him my whole life and he's been my favorite player for as long as I can remember. I've always tried to model my game after him. Our bodies are very similar in strength and size, and like him I'm not afraid to throw my weight around. He also likes to control the puck down low, and he can score and make the players around him better. Those are all things that I try to do, and it's a real honor to be compared to a guy like Rick Nash.
Your game has been described as effortless. Although that's a compliment to your advanced skill, how hard would you say you work on a day to day basis?
(Laughs) I work very hard. I know alot of people say that it looks like I'm not working all that hard moving my feet, but I look at that as a compliment like you said. I try to use it to be more deceiving, as I get closer to a defenseman I can really turn it on and catch them by surprise. Off the ice, I definitely work hard in my conditioning and strength assignments and I'm doing more on the ice to improve my skating. In order to make that next step, those are all things I need to work on.
In your opinion, what is the one aspect of your game that needs the most work?
I need to get the idea in my head that when I have the puck, I have to put it in the back of the net. I have a tendency to second guess myself and I have to work on emphasizing the finishing part. I had alot of chances this year and I created alot of chances but I lacked the ability to finish, so I'll be working on that for next year.
On the other hand, what skill are you most proud of?
I take pride in my puck protection and making the guys around m e better. I'm a pass first type player and I think I have good vision, but I also like to use my body to get space for myself and hit people to give my teammates scoring opportunities.
By most accounts you had a disappointing season, statistically, while at Notre Dame. What can you do to put a few more points up on the board?
I have to be alot more offensive. I want to be scripted as an offensive role player, and to do that I have to be a bit more creative and take some chances in the offensive zone. Last year I was too conservative and it's not always a bad thing to take some risks in the offensive zone. I need to take some chances and know that I can get past guys and use that to my advantage.
How have you matured as a player and a person while at Notre Dame?
As a player, I've really learned how to play defensively. In my Junior career that wasn't really an important part of the game. Playing for coach [Jeff Jackson] has taught me how to make responsible decisions and plays in the neutral and defensive zones.
Off the ice, I think the time management and being able to control my life without everything falling out of place has been big for me.
How excited are you for next weekend?
(Laughs) Extremely excited.
Speaking of, what's the weirdest question you were asked in your pre-draft interview?
Actually the Sharks gave me the weirdest questions. They gave me a bunch of questions on Canadian geography, about the time zones and what the biggest river in Canada was. So that was pretty weird.
Oh, and the New York Islanders gave me a psychological written test and some of the questions on there were a little bizarre. One was like, "What would you rather have: a hand written poem or a hand crafted gun." Just weird questions like that. I think they were trying to catch me off guard, but it was fun.
Last question, why did you decide not to hire an agent?
Well, we do have an agent now. We waited quite a while to pick one because I thought it would be too much of a distraction during the season to try and set up meetings and stuff like that. We do have one now and he's been alot of help.
FTF's Basic Observation:
I may be biased since Riley is one of the few prospects that I've had a chance to talk to. However, the questions about his effort level and maturity were quelled for me over the course of the 30 minute conversation I had with the young man.
Bottom line: Sheahan was thought to have top five talent as recently as a few months ago, but some unfortunate circumstances bumped him down a bit in the final rankings. The talent is still there, and in my opinion, this season and the incidents that followed were more of speed bump than a step backwards.
Sheahan has the size to play in the NHL, and if the offensive instincts continue to develop, there's no reason he can't become a power forward at the professional level. In mock drafts that we've seen, he could go anywhere from the mid-first to early second round, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him picked highly. If it's a choice between Toffoli and Sheahan at 28, I think the Sharks would do well with either.