Starting this prospect series with perhaps the most rawly-talented Sharks prospect, 19 year old Nikolay Goldobin, seemed like an obvious choice. With his speed, hands, and vision, Goldobin projects as one of the few potential NHL scoring forwards in the Sharks' system.
His 2014-2015 season in summary:
The Sharks' 2014 first rounder had a successful year in the top Finish Men's league in his 2014-2015 campaign with 21 points in 38 games in the regular season and added 6 points in 8 playoff games. On a playoff team loaded with players in their prime, Goldobin was seventh among forwards in both ice time and points, despite having played around two-thirds the amount of games the rest played.
Goldobin originally went to the Finnish Elite League in order to improve his physical and defensive play. Although both remain areas to work on, there has been improvement. Midseason, he came back across the Atlantic to post 5 points in 7 games while helping Russia to a WJC Silver Medal. After his FEL season ended, Goldobin reported to the Worcester Sharks to aid their campaign to qualify for the playoffs and recorded 5 points in 9 regular season games and zero in 4 playoff games.
Both of these totals are fairly consistent with other 2014 first rounders who joined the AHL this past spring. Goldobin's AHL play was very up and down; although his talent and scoring ability was very evident to the eye, his play away from the puck remained troublesome and must be improved if he wishes to make the NHL. At the Sharks' summer prospect scrimmage, Goldobin was probably the biggest standout besides NHLer Chris Tierney. Overall, his post-draft season more than justified his first round selection and makes him one of if not the most intriguing prospect in the Sharks' system.
Why he'll succeed:
Goldobin's biggest strength is his tremendous offensive instincts and scorer's touch. He has high-end skating ability and is quick and creative with the puck as both a distributor and a shooter. He is extremely dangerous in the offensive zone, slipping into prime scoring areas unnoticed.
Goldobin's quick hands and wheels help him get by defenders. From watching his AHL play, it is evident that he has NHL talent; although he was not statistically dominant, per se, he was a shot in the arm for the offense-starved Sharks. He did not look out of place in a playoff-bound Worcester's top-6, which is certainly an accomplishment for any teenager. Goldobin's ability to succeed will not depend so much on his talent, but rather rounding out other aspects of his game.
Why he'll fail:
I hate the Russian stereotype as much as everyone else, but there are certain aspects of it that do apply to Goldobin. His play away from the puck is a bit discouraging; he can look lost at times and the defensive side of the game does not come naturally to him.
Goldobin has the physical tools and the smarts to fix this, but it won't come without serious effort and a little change in terms of how he thinks about the game. Until he fixes his defensive zone play, and play without the puck in general, it will be hard for him, especially as a young Russian winger, to earn the respect and ice time that comes so easily to a player like Tierney in the NHL.
Additionally, Goldobin's size is a bit of an issue. At 6'0", his height is not so much a problem as is his slight stature. He is easily pushed around by men as of now, and this must change if he wants to be able to withstand the physical play of the NHL. While Goldobin is an elusive and quick player, he does not have the high-end escapability of a Patrick Kane, and therefore must learn how to play against players bigger than him who are also as talented. If Goldobin does not pan out as a scoring winger, it is unlikely Goldobin will be able to be a checking type of NHLer.
Estimated NHL Arrival and Ultimate Upside:
Goldobin was one of the older 2014-eligible players, and will turn 20 at the very beginning of the season. Barring a fantastic camp, he will start the season with the Barracuda and be counted on to be an offensive leader. Although it would not be surprising to see Goldobin in the NHL, as both Tomas Hertl and Mirco Mueller were pencilled into NHL spots despite the fact that it might have been beneficial for both but especially Mueller to spend another year developing before being NHL-ready, forcing Goldobin into a top-9 spot on a team with playoff aspirations is probably inadvisable.
That said, he would probably be reasonably successful riding shotgun with Joe Thornton. If Goldobin pans out, he could be a good 2nd line scorer. While there is a chance he could play on a first line, a good second liner is a much more reasonable goal and would certainly be a win with a very late 1st round pick. Goldobin is a highly talented prospect and is worth getting excited about for Sharks fans.