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Keeping Up With The Pups: How have the Sharks’ top prospects developed this season?

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Who has grown and who has shrunk since we last checked in?

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Sep 25, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; San Jose Sharks defenseman Ryan Merkley (6) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. 
He’s good.
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The regular seasons of junior leagues and international professional leagues are winding down. That makes it an apt time to revel in the growth of some of players in the San Jose Sharks prospect system.

Unfortunately, Emmanuel Perry took down his site, Corsica, so we do not have up-to-date numbers for anyone. Just before he pulled his site down, we captured the percent likelihood of each player making the National Hockey League (NHL) and their respective projected wins above replacement per 82 NHL games (WAR/82), were they to step into the big leagues tomorrow (The Jonathan Dahlén trade had not happened yet, so we do not have this information for his career to date).

San Jose Sharks 2019 prospect update
Some clear risers and fallers
Corsica Hockey | Emmanuel Perry

There are a few clear standouts. Joachim Blichfeld, Dylan Gambrell and John Leonard have all improved their chances of making the NHL and their projected WAR/82 upside.

Joachim Blichfeld

With 113 points in 67 games, Blichfeld is tied for the Western Hockey League (WHL) scoring lead and is operating at a 1.67 points-per-game pace. Presumably, the reason his chances of making the NHL (45.4 percent) aren’t higher is that he’ll turn 21 in July, and most impact NHL players break into the league by age 20.

Dylan Gambrell

Dylan Gambrell is the Sharks organization’s favorite yo-yo. He’s been yanked between leagues all season, appearing in three NHL games while scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace in the American Hockey League (AHL). Assistant General Manager (AGM) Tim Burke appeared on Elite Prospect’s Hockey Prospect Radio earlier this season where he discussed Gambrell. Burke said, essentially, that Gambrell is an NHL player, but that this current Sharks team is very deep down the middle. Burke spoke positively but in more couched terms about Nikolay Goldobin (traded), Julius Bergman (traded, hasn’t played in the NHL yet) and Noah Rod (washed out of North American professional hockey) when he appeared on the show in 2014, so maybe he isn’t just blowing smoke.

Gambrell’s statistical profile in nine NHL games to date belies Burke’s praise. Using Evolving-Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus (RAPM) metric, which attempts to isolate player performance from that of his teammates, opponents, zone starts and the score of the game, we can see that Gambrell’s impact on the game has been mostly poor. His even-strength impacts on shots rank 28 and 29 of 36 forward seasons during the Sharks’ last two seasons. His impacts on expected goals rank 24 and 26. Those figures would be at about the 35th percentile and 40th percentile, respectively, of all NHL forwards this season.

His statistical showing is not for nothing: he’s demonstrated that he may be capable of outplaying the bottom third of NHL forwards. But, time is not on Gambrell’s side. Already 22-years-old, the quick center will have to find a home with the Sharks next season or begin to slide out of the “prospect” conversation.

John Leonard

John Leonard was a bit of a surprise pick at the 2018 NHL Draft. An over-age college hockey forward scoring at below a point-per-game clip was an uninspiring, if not harmless sixth-round selection. Despite the meager point totals, Leonard’s impact on the team’s even-strength scoring network inspired hope that he would evolve past his point totals this season. So far, it appears he has done so, scoring 36 points in 35 games and keeping just above the point-per-game line of demarcation. At one point in the season, the soon-to-be 21-year-old kept his scoring as high as 1.13 points-per-game.

Leonard’s University of Massachusetts team is a top-3 program this season, which likely indicates a long tournament run. He may be finished as early as March 30 and as late as April 13, after which he and the Sharks will have to decide if going pro or staying in college is the next step in his career path. A professional contract and playoff stint with the San Jose Barracuda will suggest he’s ready for more difficult competition.

Scott Reedy and Mario Ferraro

As exciting as half the team’s 2017 NHL draft was, the other half is equally uninspiring. Scott Reedy has remained a depth piece on his University of Minnesota team. Last season, he finished the year scoring 0.42 points-per-game. This season, he’s down to a 0.32 points-per-game pace.

Mario Ferraro has been pushed out of his offensive, puck-moving defenseman role by impressive Cale Makar and, as a result, has seen his point totals dip from 23 points in 39 games (a solid 0.58 points-per-game) to just 12 points in 36 games (.33 points-per-game). It’s clear there’s a gap between these two college athletes and their peers, and it is unlikely either makes an impact at the professional level.

Jasper Weatherby

The Sharks have gone fairly NCAA-heavy during the last three drafts, selecting six players either in the NCAA or on college paths among their 16 total selections over that time. The most head-scratch inducing selection was Jasper Weatherby, a pick we considered to be an “F” at the time it was made in June last year. Already 21, Weatherby has managed just five points in 36 games during his first college hockey season and doesn’t appear to have the skill necessary to make him a draft pick at all, let alone a fourth-round selection.

Ivan Chekhovich, Alexander Chmelevski, and Ryan Merkley

Don’t concern yourselves too much with any negative production changes for these three players. Chekhovich looked fantastic during the 2018 preseason, Chmelevski earned himself ice time and recognition during the World Juniors tournament last winter and Merkley was traded mid-season to a middling team. Chekhovich and Merkley especially figure to feature in the organization’s future NHL plans. Chmelevski, while his skill is apparent, is probably less of a sure thing but still possesses exciting skill and statistical upside.

The Sharks’ non-AHL prospect pool boasts about five players who currently seem to be on some sort of NHL trajectory. That’s an impressive collection of talent for an organization that is going to lose some NHL skill to the salary cap crunch and aging curves this off-season.