Fear the Five: 5 Sharks prospects who should make the biggest strides this season

Using aging curves and current WAR measures, here are a few players who might take quantum leaps this season.

Now that we’ve agreed upon the best 25 young players in the Sharks organization, we can get excited about who among them will improve most this season. To do so, we’ll reference an NHL player aging curve, produced by the twins behind @EvolvingWild. We’ll also use Manny Perry’s prospect success model. The aging curve model uses a wins above replacement (WAR) measurement, which is helpful because Perry’s model also uses WAR, albeit with different calculations.

We’re going to do some very rough math and apply the NHL player aging curve to some of the Sharks system prospects to see who might show the greatest growth next season. The curve begins at age 19, so while there are a handful of prospects under the age of 19 who will undoubtedly see marked improvement this season, we’ll stick with those 19-years-old and older for this little experiment.

The aging curve shows that players realize the greatest gains in WAR the season that spans ages 19 and 20. They see the second biggest bump during the season they go from 20 to 21. There are 12 skaters in the Sharks system who are of hyper-growth age, but we are limiting ourselves to the five who have the best chances of making the NHL, according to Perry’s model. Those five, in order of the likelihood they make the NHL are:

  • Ivan Chekhovich
  • Sasha Chmelevski
  • Thomas Gregoire
  • Joachim Blichfeld
  • Mario Ferraro/

For each of these players, we will briefly look at their 2017-18 season and their projected NHL WAR per 82 games based on their statistical output. Using the aging curve, we’ll look at the jump they should make in terms of their projected upside this coming season. Finally, we’ll look for other players who reached similar upsides in their appropriately aged seasons to figure out what sort of points-per-game rate we want to see out of each prospect. As I mentioned earlier, this is a very rough bit of math we’re about to perform. The goal of this exercise is more a thought experiment than the creation of a rigorous mathematical projection. But it could provide a decent barometer for measuring these players’ upcoming seasons.

Ivan Chekhovich

2017-18 WAR/82: 0.22
Target 2018-19 WAR/82: 0.4
Target 2018-19 points/game pace: 1.25

Pete Deboer said all we likely need to hear about Chekhovich. The 19-year-old winger played just one preseason game this year, but he took six shots on net, scored two goals and added an assist in just a little over 13 minutes of ice time. Though he took a bit of a step back last season in the QMJHL — scoring at a slightly lower clip and impacting his team’s scoring network less — his draft year performance was that of someone who could very well turn out to be special. In order to make the jump aging curves suggest he might, the young left wing will have to score about 1.25 points per game or better this season. So far, it doesn’t appear he’s slowed down a whole lot after his promising AHL run and beastly preseason. In just his first three games back in the Q, Chekhovich already has eight points. There’s a solid chance we’re watching another late-round gem blossom into an impactful NHL player.

Alexander “Sasha” Chmelevski

2017-18 WAR/82: 0.36
Target 2018-19 WAR/82: 0.54
Target 2018-19 points/game pace: 1.5

Chmelevski and Chekhovich will always be mentioned in the same breath, at least until one of them separates in his quest for NHL stardom. A sixth-round pick in 2017, Chmelevski did not produce at quite the same level as Chekhovich, but the 19-year-old forward’s year following his draft season (D+1) showed growth. Like his late-round counterpart, Chmelevski tore into the AHL at the end of last season, wedging six points into just 10 games. He also played in one preseason game, where he registered a goal in 13 minutes of ice time. Probably due to the Sharks’ uncertainty at center depth this season, Chmelevski stuck around training camp a little longer than most. He has yet to play a game for his OHL Ottawa 67s. When he does return to play, we’ll keep an eye on his point totals. Because he’s starting so high up the WAR projections already, we want to see him pot upwards of 1.5 points per game this season if he is to make the aging curve’s suggested leap.

Thomas Gregoire

2017-18 WAR/82: -0.03
Target 2018-19 WAR/82: 0.12
Target 2018-19 points/game pace: 0.55

Greg-who? It’s not every day that you see a relative no-name signed to an AHL-only contract named to a watch list. But that’s where we are today. His points-per-game rate in the QMJHL has gone from 0.15 to 0.33 to 0.97 to 0.96. That “pop” you hear is the sound of someone exploding into his third season of Juniors. For Gregoire to be really exciting, we would have wanted to see continued growth, rather than the stagnation of the defender’s fourth season in the Q. Still, there is more to point scoring to a defender’s game, so we can take his sustained scoring as a  (slightly) positive sign. Because Gregoire went undrafted, and because the Sharks didn’t want to expend an entry-level NHL contract on the player, we have reason to believe Gregoire’s eye test does not meet the expectations his scoring delivers. Twenty-seven defenders between the ages of 20 and 21 played at least 25 games in the AHL last season. Only five of them scored 0.55 points per game or more. Making this jump would put Gregoire into suddenly elite territory. He’ll have to break out of his scoring stagnation to have a shot at this, but the Barracuda’s defense corps should offer plenty of opportunity.

Joachim Blichfeld

2017-18 WAR/82: 0.17
Target 2018-19 WAR/82: 0.32
Target 2018-19 points/game pace: 1.3

Blichfeld seemed to disappear into the prospect ether after his draft year. He has progressed quietly since. During the past two seasons, the 20-year-old winger has scored at least 25 goals for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. What evades him so far, and what we’d like to see him accomplish this season, is that elusive point-per-game-plus season. The Winterhawks graduated Kieffer Bellows and Skyler McKenzie, leaving Blichfeld as the team’s second-highest-scoring forward. A 1.3 point-per-game rate is not an easy achievement to accomplish, but Blichfeld is off to a solid start already, staring down an early two points in two games.

Mario Ferraro

2017-18 WAR/82: -0.11
Target 2018-19 WAR/82: 0.04
Target 2018-19 points/game pace: ~1

It was difficult to estimate what Ferraro’s projected scoring rate should be this season. There were not a lot of historical NCAA seasons in Manny Perry’s prospect database. Instead, we are using rates from similarly aged defenders in the three CHL leagues and rounding down a bit to adjust for the difference in league quality. Ferraro scored nearly 0.60 points per game last season in his freshman year for the University of Massachusetts. This season, he’ll return wearing a “C” and looks likely to build upon last year’s impressive output. Though his points-per-game rate didn’t scream “unmissable upside,” he was an integral member of his team’s scoring network, a fact that suggests there might be more than meets the box score-gazing eye. A point-per-game for anyone in the NCAA is difficult, let alone for a defenseman. If Ferraro can improve upon an already-solid freshman outing, we might see some fireworks.

This article was a quick hypothetical exercise. We compared two sets of WAR metrics using small sample sizes of players to examine what these players’ coming seasons might look like. The target points-per-game rates are in no way a certain thing. With this caveat in mind, we now have at least some sort of benchmark in place as we follow along with the Sharks prospects’ seasons.

Here is the list of Sharks prospects who are currently either 19 or 20. The organization’s hope is that all of these players do some damage to the box score this year:

Sasha Chmelevski
Scott Reedy
Jacob McGrew
Ivan Chekhovich
Mario Ferraro
Noah Gregor
John Leonard
Thomas Gregoire
Joachim Blichfeld
Jasper Weatherby
Matt Fonteyne