Top 25 Under 25 Preview: 2018 Draft Class

The Sharks have retained four of their five selections from the 2018 draft.

While voting is open for Fear the Fin’s annual Top 25 San Jose Sharks Under 25 series, we’re going to familiarize you with the young players in the Sharks system. Working from the 2014 NHL Draft through the most recent draft, we’ll fill you in on each player’s history with the organization. They’ll be brief — the deep dive will happen with the top 25 players — but hopefully will assist with your voting process.

Top 25 Under 25: Rank the 2020 edition

The 2018 NHL Draft saw the Sharks  with just five selections, including two in the sixth round. Doug Wilson took a big swing on defender Ryan Merkley, who surprisingly fell to the team at 21st overall. Without a second-round selection, the Sharks took Swedish center Linus Karlsson in the third round, but by the next trade deadline, his rights were traded to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Jonathan Dahlén. They also selected a QMJHL goaltender and two over-agers out of the NCAA and BCHL.

Ryan Merkley, D

2019-20 Team: London Knights (OHL)
NHL Debut: N/A
Nationality: CAN
Age: 20 | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 176 | Shoots: R

Ryan Merkley was the type of risk the Sharks needed to take in this draft. The once exciting prospect pipeline was starting to thin out and the cost of being competitive has been years of drafting late. Merkley was widely considered a potential top-ten talent, but attitude and maturity concerns caused his draft stock to fall. His size, too, is a bit underwhelming.

Having completed four years of junior hockey with the Guelph Storm, Peterborough Petes and London Knights, Merkley has an important NHL camp ahead of him. Whether it’s with the Sharks or the Barracuda, the defender will be making his professional debut this season and the organization is hoping he’s on his way to becoming a star. With 269 points in 248 career OHL games, there’s definitely an NHL player in there and I’m sure he’s gotten bored of clowning on the junior league.

Jasper Weatherby, C/LW

2019-20 Team: University of North Dakota (NCAA)
NHL Debut: N/A
Nationality: USA
Age: 22 | Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 212 | Shoots: L

The Sharks selected 6-foot-4 Jasper Weatherby out of the British Columbia Hockey League, a Junior A league, where Weatherby put up 37 goals and assists in 58 games his draft year, winning league MVP. He transitioned into NCAA hockey the next year and struggled with the University of North Dakota, putting up just five points the entire season.

The road from the BCHL to the big leagues isn’t easy. Weatherby might be a late bloomer, but his upside is still generously a bottom-six. He’ll return to the University of North Dakota as an alternate captain next season.

Zachary Emond, G

2019-20 Team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
NHL Debut: N/A
Nationality: CAN
Age: 20 | Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 176 | Catches: L

Zachary Emond was a step toward addressing the Sharks’ abysmal goaltending pipeline. Following his draft year, the QMJHL goaltender went on to win a CHL Memorial Cup, as well as Best Save Percentage (.932), Best Goals Against Average (1.73) and a QMJHL Championship.

With a heavier workload the next season, he struggled, going from a 24-0-1 record to 25-23-4. It will be easy for Emond to fall down the goaltending depth chart behind Russian goaltender Alexei Melnichuk, who has been more consistent so far in his career.

John Leonard, LW

2019-20 Team: UMass-Amherst (NCAA)
NHL Debut: N/A
Nationality: USA
Age: 22 | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 185 | Shoots: L

John Leonard might be another sixth round surprise from the Doug Wilson. The UMass-Amherst winger put up 13 goals and 15 assists in his draft year, 28 points in 33 games, leading the team. He continued to play a huge role for UMass, ranking fourth in points in 2018-19 and first during 2019-20.

Leonard is now forgoing his senior year to join the Sharks organization and there’s hope that he’ll be joining UMass teammate Mario Ferraro with the big club. The organization hasn’t had much luck transitioning their own NCAA players in the last few years — Dylan Gambrell and Danny O’Regan come to mind, while the aforementioned Ferraro is so far a success story. Still, 21 of Leonard’s 27 goals were at even strength and he was putting up .9697 primary points per game last season.