2021 NHL Draft: Sharks select Gannon Laroque in fourth round

The Sharks go off the board for a WHL defender.

The San Jose Sharks have so far collected a forward and a goaltender in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. They’ve got two picks in the fourth round.

With the 103rd overall pick, the Sharks selected defender Gannon Laroque from the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals.

It’s hard to beat around the bush here: the pick was off the board. Laroque had just one ranking prior to the draft, with the NHL’s Central Scouting ranking him at 219 just among North American skaters — which basically translates to going undrafted.

But perhaps there’s something there, as Laroque is one of the youngest players in the draft, still 17 years old for the next month or so, which might explain why he’s been overlooked. In 21 games with the Royals in 2020-21’s shortened WHL season, he notched one goal and six assists, taking 30 penalty minutes. He also appeared in four games with the Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, adding two assists.

Among the 14 WHL defenders eligible for the 2021 Entry Draft, Laroque ranked 11th in points last season.

However, the Royals faced a rough season overall, with only four player scoring in double digits. Laroque was actually the team’s highest-scoring defender. They closed out the year at the bottom of the Western Conference with just eight standings point and a 3-17-2 record.

Prior to joining the Royals in the 2019-20 season, Laroque played in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, putting up a point per game at the under-16 level before getting bumped to under-18, where he scored at a point per game again the next season.

Perhaps — and I say this with extreme trepidation — with his offense history, age and the Royals’ team stats under consideration, Laroque is on the verge of a breakout. We know the Sharks love to scout the WHL, and maybe they saw something in Laroque just by process of actually scouting the Royals, despite their season.

This, from a column on the Royals from the Times Colonist, seems encouraging:

Forward Brayden Schuurman leads B.C. Division rookies in scoring with five points on three goals and two assists. Gannon Laroque with three points on a goal and two assists and Jason Spizawka and Kalem Parker with three assists each are tied for second place in B.C. Division rookie scoring and are also tied for the lead in scoring by rookie defencemen in the division. In addition, Victoria rookie goaltender Connor Martin has been a revelation.

“The rookies are doing a great job versus older competition and are playing lots of minutes and important minutes,” said Victoria GM and head coach Dan Price. “They are getting better and closer every day. You can feel the increased confidence day-to-day and game-to-game.”

It just seems like a strange player to use a fourth-round selection on, especially with the number of picks they have later in the draft.