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Sharks top 20 Prospects 20-14

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Ian Reid breaks down part one of his annual top 20 prospect rankings

Nikita Jevpalovs - San Jose Barracuda Flickr

For three seasons running now, I have done my own list of top 20 prospects for the Sharks. This year I am excited to bring the list to Fear The Fin to really put its feet in the fire. My method for doing so is trying to balance out where they are in their development today and their expected ceiling.

I have done my best to combine my own viewings with some trusted opinions from others like Chris Edwards, Zachary DeVine, and former Fear The Fin writer Dylan Finan to come up with this list. I want to thank them all for taking the time to help me out here.

The criteria I have used for who is a prospect is fewer 75 NHL games played as well as under the age of 25, so sorry Barclay Goodrow, Tim Heed, Ryan Carpenter, and Troy Grosenick but you don’t make the cut. This also differs from the Sharks 25 under 25 because players like Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney also don’t qualify.

Be sure to check out the other parts of the list: 20-14 / 13-7 / 6-1

#20 Manuel Wiederer - C/RW
Born: 11/21/1996 (20)
Nationality: German
Shoots: Right
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 174 lbs.
Acquired: 2016 NHL Entry Draft (5th round, 150 overall)
Current Team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

There is a lot to like about Manuel Wiederer, including that he was playing at the highest level of the German Elite League (DEL) at the age of 18. He then made the trip to North America to join the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL and scored 29 goals and 35 assists in 54 games.

Now playing in his overage season in The Q he has seen a little drop off in points production. He has 29 goals and 23 assists in 57 games and was traded to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

While there is potential for some offensive upside at the pro level Wiederer has a strong two-way game that will lend itself well to a bottom six role. Wiederer was one of the last of the Sharks prospects to be cut in training camp this past fall with the team and should be a lock for a regular spot on the Barracuda next season.

#19 Nikita Jevpalovs - LW/RW
Born: 09/09/1994 (22)
Nationality: Latvian
Shoots: Right
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 207 lbs.
Acquired: Undrafted Unrestricted Free Agent
Current Team: San Jose Barracuda (AHL)

The former 100 point scorer for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada had a rough transition to the pro-game last season with the Barracuda. He made a couple of trips to the Allen Americans of the ECHL last year including taking part in their Kelly Cup run.

This year, while he still has not found the scoring touch that many were looking for when he was signed, has made some serious progress in his game. Roy Sommer has been able to deploy Jevpalovs on any line and at every forward position this season with positive results. Zachary DeVine of DobberProspects.com credits this to his improved skating in his January Observations and I agree.

January 2017 – Jevpalovs' improved skating this year influenced much of his progress. He is trusted in defensive situations, sets the tone on the forecheck and chips in with the odd goal and assist. While more offense likely is expected of the former QMJHL star, the transition from juniors to pro can change a player's game, even from the AHL to NHL as a player like Barclay Goodrow demonstrates. The points are off the pace from last season, but the off-puck play is improved.

His road to the Sharks, however, is filled with obstacles and his road to the NHL may need a change of scenery. It will be interesting to see what the Sharks do with the pending restricted free agent this summer.

#18 Cavan Fitzgerald - D
Born: 08/23/1996 (20)
Nationality: Canadian/American dual citizen
Shoots: Left
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 196 lbs.
Acquired: Undrafted Unrestricted Free Agent
Current Team: Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

Cavan Fitzgerald is an easy guy to root for. He wasn’t drafted through either the NHL nor the QMJHL. Everything he has is through hard work and determination. The offensive-minded defenceman generally slips under the radar on most prospect rankings despite the fact that his 15 goals and 25 assists are respectable even by QMJHL standards.

Fitzgerald’s biggest strength is his shot, which I’d argue is pro-caliber today. His ability to move the puck in transition also gets top marks. His skating will need some work as will his defensive play but these are both things that will have the opportunity to be improved with either the San Jose Barracuda or in Allen when he turns pro next season depending on the logjam for spots on the Barracuda blue line.

17 Noah Rod - C/LW
Born: 06/07/1996 (20)
Nationality: Swiss
Shoots: Left
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 192 lbs.
Acquired: 2014 NHL Entry Draft (2nd round, 53rd overall)
Current Team: Geneve-Servette (NLA)

Noah Rod has a game that probably better suits the NHL than it does the European game. He’s a hard working defensive forward with more than a little sandpaper in his game. He has had some injury issues the past couple of years, only suiting up for 27 games in the 2016-17, season scoring five goals and nine assists.

The concern that I have with Rod is wondering if he is ever going to make his way to North America. He just recently signed a six-year extension with Geneve-Servette with only a rumored NHL out clause. With a sudden logjam of players fighting for jobs on the Barracuda and almost no experience on North American ice I think it is safe to be concerned that this is a guy who may come to the NHL but as a UFA for another team. That being said I do take the fact he was at Sharks rookie camp as promising.

16 Rudolfs Balcers - LW
Born: 04/08/1997 (19)
Nationality: Latvian
Shoots: Left
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 174 lbs.
Acquired: 2015 NHL Entry Draft (5th round, 142nd overall)
Current Team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

Rudolfs Balcers is yet another Sharks prospect to make the jump to North America this year, leaving the top league in Norway where he had been playing since the 2014-15 season. In his first season of hockey with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL he has adjusted quickly to the North American game scoring 40 goals and 36 assists in 64 games.

Balcers is more of a perimeter player than other Sharks prospects and it will be interesting to see how that will mesh with a Roy Sommer coached team as soon as next year should he receive an entry level contract. Still, he has a scoring touch and excellent vision but will need to continue to work on getting bigger is he is going to contend at the pro level in North America.

15 Joachim Blichfeld - LW/RW
Born: 07/17/1998 (18)
Nationality: Danish
Shoots: Right
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 181 lbs.
Acquired: 2016 NHL Entry Draft (7th round, 2010th overall)
Current Team: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

The Sharks always seem to find late round gems in the draft and Joachim Blichfeld is no exception. Making his jump to North America and joining the Winterhawks he has done well with 28 goals and 30 assists. As with most prospects, his weakness mostly lies in his skating which has seen some improvement already and he will need to continue to bulk up his frame.

Zachary DeVine said the following after watching him in February.

The move to North America looks to be a fantastic one for the Sharks seventh round pick. After a strong start with the Portland Winterhawks, Blichfeld was a key contributor to the success of Denmark's World Junior Championship side and recorded three goals and an assist in five games as Denmark qualified for the knockout round.

14 Dylan Gambrell - C
Born: 08/26/1996 (20)
Nationality: American
Shoots: Right
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 179 lbs.
Acquired: 2016 NHL Entry Draft (2nd round, 60th overall)
Current Team: University of Denver (NCAA - NCHC)

When this pick happened I was less than impressed that the Sharks would take a double overage player with their first pick of the 2016 draft. While over-age picks are starting to become more of a regular thing at the NHL draft, possibly because of analytics, it was still a tough pill to swallow.

However, I have warmed up to the pick over time with some help. Gambrell is a pretty complete player with good vision, he also works very hard. His production dropped off a little bit a little bit from last year, down to 11 goals and 26 assists for 37 points. It will be interesting to see what Gambrell does this coming offseason as he could make the jump to pro or remain in college for another year. With how good the University of Denver has been it may not be the worst thing to continue his development at school.