It’s no big secret that the Sharks haven’t done well drafting defensemen in recent years. Ryan Merkley finally seems to offer a bit of hope for the future of the teal blue line, but the year prior, the Sharks drafted another defenseman with an offensive upside and he shouldn’t be counted out.
The immediate downside to Mario Ferraro is that he chose the NCAA path, which means it will be awhile before we see what he’s capable of at the professional level. The good news is that at the NCAA level, he’s more promising than expected.
Ferraro’s 41 points in 60 games with the Des Moine Buchaneers of the USHL was encouraging his draft year, where most expected him to go in the third or fourth round. Instead, the Sharks snagged him in the second round at 49th overall. The allegedly 5-foot-11 (according to Elite Prospects, though most articles list him at 5-foot-10) defenseman had committed to the University of Massachusetts - Amherst for the 2017-18 season, where it seemed as though he’d be skating in the shadow of Colorado Avalanche prospect Cale Makar, who had gone fourth overall in Ferraro’s draft.
Ferraro would not be out-worked, though. His 23 points (4 goals, 19 assists) in 39 games was a slight drop in raw production from the USHL, putting up an average of .59 points per game instead of .68, but it ranked him fourth on the Minutemen in points and first in points for defensemen. It was also the most points scored by a rookie defenseman in UMass history. Cale Makar notched one more goal than Ferraro, but came short of out-scoring him with 21 points.
However, the biggest difference between these players isn’t those 2 assists, it’s their effect on the Minutemen’s scoring network. When looking how Ferraro and Makar contribute to the offense of their teammates, Makar is much less effective than expected in all situations and sees a boost from power play performance. Ferraro on the other hand, has a betweenness score of .0962 in all situations and .140 at 5-on-5.
UMass Amherst Betweenness Scores, 2017-18— Evan Oppenheimer (@OppenheimerEvan) June 18, 2018
Cale Makar lower than expected. Looking a little deeper though, he only had 2 goals (1 of which was unassisted) and 2 primary assists at 5v5. I assume that he'd look much better with shot data, since this is goal-related only pic.twitter.com/qw6NwuCiLB
As Oppenheimer mentioned, Makar’s scores did come from small sample sizes and he does take a much larger volume of shots than Ferraro, with 112 last season compared to Ferraro’s 69 (nice). But that also means Ferraro was making good on a higher percentage of his shots, shooting at 5.8 percent compared to Makar’s 4.5 percent.
Of course, all of this measures his offensive output, which is the strongest indicator of defensive prospect's future success. Still, Ferraro indicated that the Sharks have asked him to continue to work on his defensive game. He blocked 54 shots in 39 games last season with UMass and finished the season with a plus-5 rating.
That all being said, Emmanuel Perry’s model doesn’t see Ferraro in a position to make the leap to the big time just yet. Perry’s NHLe for Ferraro is .09, putting him on pace for just over 4 points in an 82-game season were he to play in the NHL next season and retain his current scoring pace. His WAR/82 isn’t incredibly encouraging either, at -0.1. But his value and his probability of making the NHL both increased over his rookie season with UMass, with the latter sitting at 23.25 percent. It might be a battle, but Ferraro has the goods and is putting in the work. How long that will take remains to be seen.
“For 15 years now, it’s been my goal,” Ferraro told Eric Gilmore of NHL.com. “I’m not about to stop now, right? I’m not focused on time, I’m not focused on how long it’s going to take, I’m just trying to work hard and wait for that opportunity to open up, and I trust that this organization, this staff, the coaching staff here will know when I’m ready, and I count on them to make that decision.”
We’ll see what strides Ferarro makes toward that goal in his second season at UMass — and he’ll do it with a C on his chest.
And if hockey doesn’t work out, I can’t wait for his acting career to take off:
What we like
Despite his size, Ferraro isn’t afraid of physicality, even though that’s been an adjustment from the USHL to the NCAA. His offensive production has shown growth and his work ethic indicates that he hasn’t reached his peak. When it comes to specific skill sets, his skating and footwork is described by Corey Pronman as “elite” and he has a strong transition game.
Areas of improvement
The biggest hurdle for Ferraro is his stickhandling, which is something the Sharks have told him to work on. He also said he’s working on taking shots from more areas of the ice, including his shot from the point, which is a shot he’ll need in his tool bag to succeed at the NHL level.
Here's Mario Ferraro's goal that opened the scoring for the Minutemen early in the first pic.twitter.com/xDY9TJN7QD— UMass Hockey (@UMassHockey) March 4, 2018
Every goal from Ferraro seems to be like this: a simple, but smart play. In this, he picked up a rebound from John Leonard and turned it into a wraparound goal. He stayed with the play and had the sense to turn that into a quick opportunity.