Keeping up with the pups: 20-somethings these days

High-growth players are returning a variety of seasons

Just before the beginning of the season, we checked in with a handful of prospects poised to take a big leap this season. By extrapolating NHL player aging curves, we argued, players in their 19- and 20-year-old seasons were likely to take big leaps in their development. In that article, we looked at the five players most likely to make the NHL according to Emmanuel Perry’s prospect model — namely Mario Ferraro, Sasha Chmelevski, Ivan Chekhovich, Thomas Gregoire and Joachim Blichfeld.

Those aren’t the only 19- and 20-year-old skaters in the Sharks system. Today, we’ll do a little heat check on the progress of each skater of high-growth age in the system.

The table is sorted by those who have made the largest jump in projected WAR so far this season. Of the players we profiled before the season, only Blichfeld and Chekhovich have made strides toward their next projection marker. Chmelevski and Ferraro seem to have taken major steps backward in their developments. Gregoire has also moved in the wrong direction, but he’s also only played one game. It will be hard to more accurately judge where he is in his development until the Barracuda coaching staff gets him more minutes. There are others who show plenty of promise, and we’ll explore their seasons a bit more here.

Joachim Blichfeld continues to be a pleasant surprise. The winger scored a nearly a point-per-game pace for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, recording his second consecutive 20-plus goal season. That was enough to buy him a solid upside projection and an NHL likelihood at least better than that of an average draft pick. We estimated that he’d need to score at least 1.3 points per game this season to be roughly on track in his aging curve. So far, the 20-year-old is lighting up the Pacific Northwest, pacing at 1.86 points per game. It helps that he appears to be playing alongside 2017 first-round pick Cody Glass, but Blichfeld clearly has a knack for putting the puck away at this level.

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer praised Ivan Chekhovich toward the end of training camp this preseason. DeBoer said that it doesn’t make sense for the team to play him right now, but that the nearly 20-year-old forward has an NHL future in his horizon. Chekhovich is scoring 1.5 points per game for the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar, a good bit more impressive than the 1.25 points we estimated he’d need to provide to stay his course. His skill was evident during preseason games. Whoever laces up skates on the Sharks fourth line at the end of this season should be watchful of Chekhovich’s looming presence.

John Leonard was a bit of a “huh?” draft pick as a 20-year-old college hockey player whose pre-draft point totals were solid, but expected from someone his age. This season for University of Massachusetts Amherst, Leonard is showcasing the skill the Sharks scouting department must have seen in him. Should he finish the season near where he is currently — at 1.3 points per game — Leonard will end up on a list that includes other NHL players. Due to his overage status, Leonard is more likely to end up like Chris Wagner than he is Phil Kessel.

Scott Reedy had a so-so first season as a NCAA skater for the University of Minnesota. In registering 15 points in 37 games, Reedy looked the part of an NHL long shot. So far in his very brief (the Golden Gophers have only played three games to date this season) season, Reedy is at 0.67 points per game, up from 0.4 point-per-game pace a year ago. The players above him on the scoring list right now are mostly former third-rounders, if they were drafted at all. That likely means the team possesses few difference makers at the college level. While that fact may provide Reedy an opportunity to shine, it also means egregious raw point totals will be unlikely to appear. The forward is inching, well, forward, but his season is young.

Finally, Jake McGrew made a bit of a name for himself this summer. He made the camp roster for Team USA before the Junior Summer Showcase this past July and August. Unlike his fellow draft mates, Chmelevski and recently traded Josh Norris, McGrew did not make the final team roster. Thirteen games into his age-20 season, McGrew stands fourth in line among the Spokane Chiefs top scorers. His 12 points in 13 games is a glimmer of potential for the player who missed his entire draft-year season due to injury and scored at a middling rate the season after.

Those five players are starting the season pacing for positive projections. In most players’ cases, the season is about 15 games old or younger, so the sample size is small and the corresponding metrics fraught with variance. That small sample size of games comes with an additional warning: Some of these players’ point totals will be impacted by the strength of their team. A player on a first-place OHL team (like Sasha Chmelevski) should register points more easily than someone on a middling NCAA team, like Reedy. Generally, speaking, however, more is better. It’s early right now, but there are a few Sharks prospects who have surprised so far. They’ll be worth watching as their seasons progress.