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Top 25 Sharks Under 25: Injury has slowed No. 19 Rourke Chartier’s development

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The center produced well in limited time last season, but his concussion history is a real concern.

KELOWNA, CANADA - DECEMBER 2: Nick Merkley #10, Lucas Johansen #7 and Rourke Chartier #14 of Kelowna Rockets line up against the Kootenay Ice on December 2, 2015 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

Between Rourke Chartier, Jayden Halbgewachs, and freshly drafted Jasper Weatherby, the San Jose Sharks prospect pool continues to corner the market on hockey names. On the ice though, Chartier hasn’t shown us much since the San Jose Barracuda’s 2017 Calder Cup run, but by no real fault of his own. The 22-year-old has both a name and concussion history that belies his age, and any projections or estimations of his potential must therefore be accompanied by a larger than average asterisk, hence his precipitous drop in our rankings.

Chartier was limited to just 28 games in the 2017-18 AHL season. After suffering a concussion during the 2017 postseason, he was held out of action until November. Five games later, Chartier was the unfortunate recipient of a vicious elbow courtesy of the San Antonio Reign’s Mason Geertsen, and would not be seen again until February. Geertsen earned himself a game misconduct and a three-game suspension for the hit.

In that limited sample, however, Chartier did not fail to deliver. Spending most of his time between Rudolfs Balcers (another excellent name) and Ivan Chekhovich, players you’ll read about later, the center recorded 7 goals and 21 points, ranking tenth on the AHL squad in scoring, despite playing fewer than half of the team’s games. His 0.75 points per game placed third among players with at least 20 games played, only behind now-NHLers Daniel O’Regan (may he rest in peace) and Marcus Sorensen, and included a three-point show against Stockton on April 6.

Such a small sample of games is nothing to get too excited about, but expanding our scope to include his previous 67-game season in the AHL, Chartier’s 56 points in 89 games convert to 0.3 points per game in a hypothetical NHL season. Those are good enough production numbers for a bottom-six NHL center and, combined with the former Kelowna Rocket’s two-way responsibility and dependable defensive play, there’s definitely something here.

Unfortunately, Chartier’s injury history must give us pause. Even if the center’s concussion history is behind him — and there’s not much reason to suspect that it is — his absence has seen his position on the organization’s depth chart plummet. Already solidly behind Joes Thornton and Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Chris Tierney, this past year has seen him passed over in favor of Dylan Gambrell, Josh Norris, and probably new arrival Antti Suomela. The Sharks’ training camp will be littered with players fighting for bottom-six spots, and at his position specifically. There just doesn’t seem to be much of an organizational need for another defensively responsible bottom-six center, and Chartier might have to wait a while for an opportunity to open up above him.

Portland Winterhawks v Kelowna Rockets
KELOWNA, CANADA - NOVEMBER 21: Rourke Chartier #14 of Kelowna Rockets faces off against Chase De Leo #9 of Portland Winterhawks on November 21, 2014 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

Compounding those concerns for Chartier will always be the risk of another injury. Concussions are tricky things; he could be through the woods and on the cusp of a productive NHL career, or he could be one more errant elbow away from any number of serious and possibly permanent neurological issues.

One needn’t look far to find tragic examples of players in NHL history whose careers were derailed by concussion, often to detrimental effect on their lives after the game. Keith Primeau, Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros, Steve Moore; these are names that come readily to mind, some of whom still suffer from post-concussion ailments, but Lindros’ younger brother, Brett, serves as a precautionary precedent. After being drafted ninth overall by the New York Islanders in 1994, Brett Lindros suffered three concussions during parts of two seasons with the club and retired as a 20-year-old, citing memory loss and a fear of permanent brain damage.

Doubtless Chartier and his family have had this conversation, probably over and over again, but weighing his possible future career against the risks he’ll be taking on the ice is no small feat. It’s very possible he could fight for the fourth-line center position on the Sharks in a few weeks, but what kinds of risks would he be taking? These questions can’t be answered here, but they must be front of mind when discussing his future and potential.

What we like

A responsible two-way game is at the center of Chartier’s strengths, but the past couple of seasons in the AHL have showcased his ability to put up points as well. At 194 pounds, Chartier is not small, and seems to have little hesitation about using his heavy frame on the ice. He has excelled as a facilitator between explosive, skilled wingers like Balcers and Chekhovich and, before them, Kevin Labanc and Nikolay Goldobin, but he’s a smart shooter as well. All told, Chartier is a strong 200-foot player with solid offensive upside.

Areas of improvement

A lot of what stands in Chartier’s way is out of his control. His health and the logjam of centers ahead of him are the main hurdles he’ll have to clear to see NHL ice. We’ve seen head injuries change the behavior of players in San Jose before; Dan Boyle was never quite the same after his nasty run in with Maxim Lapierre, and Chartier will have to be mindful of his own safety without becoming too hesitant in order to stay effective.

Highlight

Here’s a little taste of Chartier’s offensive ability. He pulls the puck in toward his legs before firing it short side. This helps to protect the puck with his legs from the defender behind him, avoids the skates of the defender in front of him, and uses that same defender as a slight screen to obscure his release. As the tweet says, it’s hard to stop watching it.

Chartier is a dependable, effective center with real offensive flair who has the ability to carve out a career for himself in the NHL. My concerns about his future ability are minor and few. My concerns about his future health are significant.