The San Jose Sharks have done much work revamping their prospect pool over the past few seasons; a combination of being bad and trading away players has led the Sharks’ prospect pool to start to look respectable to good compared to the rest of the NHL. While they still need a franchise goaltender and a few more game-breakers in the lineup, you can start to see the pieces that will make up the franchise’s future core.
A few personal rules when creating this list.
- Under 50 NHL games played. This takes out players like Jacob Peterson and Fabian Zetterlund. Although both players are still “developing,” they can’t be considered prospects now.
- Must be under the age of 25, except goalies who take longer to develop who can be under 26.
- Upside is king; players who have the potential to be top players will get ranked higher than those who are safer picks with lower ceilings.
- Gannon Laroque (2021 draft): The 19-year-old defenseman had an amazing Draft+1 season (D+1) for the Victoria Royals but followed it up the next year by missing all but four games due to hip injuries. Granted, he still scored five points in those games. If Laroque had played like expected last season, he would be the second defenseman on the list and a strong candidate to make the San Jose Barracuda out of training camp. Expect Laroque to be back in the WHL this year to make up for the lost time last year.
- Magnus Chrona (2017 draft): Magnus Chrona was the lynchpin in the University of Denver’s 2021-22 season title run. The former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick will finally make his pro debut this year, and expectations are big for the 6’6″ Swede. With Eetu Makenimi as the Cuda’s one, Chrona will be fighting for the backup role with the newly signed Georgi Romanov.
- Luca Cagnoni (2023 draft): Cagnoni was seen by many public scouts as an option for the Sharks with pick 36 but fell to them in the fourth round. Cagnoni has a calm game under pressure and showed a lot of flashes during the Sharks Prospect Scrimmage. With smaller defenseman, they either are very good in the NHL or they don’t make it; Cagnoni feels like he will be very good.
Henry Thrun was acquired by the Anaheim Ducks last trade deadline for a 2024 third-round pick after Thrun said he wouldn’t sign with the Ducks. The former Harvard Captain capped off his senior season by quickly making his NHL debut, where he looked good (in a small sample of eight games) and then followed Head Coach David Quinn (and the Sharks staff) to the World Championships. Thrun’s ceiling isn’t as high as some of the other players on this list, but would you be surprised if Thrun turns into a 1,000-game player in the NHL as a team’s fourth defenseman?
What’s next? Thrun is going into San Jose Sharks training camp fighting for a job; he still is waivers exempt, so can play on the San Jose Barracuda, but expect Thrun to win the middle pairing role.
The former second-round pick from the Saskatoon Blades had a very up-and-down season in his first full year in San Jose. He started the season very strong and was one of the leading rookies on the team in terms of scoring, but struggled mid-season as he appeared to have hit a wall. Credit to Robins as he did finish the season strong and eventually made his NHL debut, where he played three games for the Sharks. Robins needs to continue to work on his consistency in the AHL, as he will now be counted on to be one of the leading point producers for the Barracuda.
What’s next? Tristen Robins should still be considered a future middle-six player for the Sharks and will have every opportunity to earn that role in the future. For now, John McCarthy’s club will look to Robins to be the top center for the Barracuda for a majority of the season and play in all situations as he continues to round out his game. Robins should get an extended run with the Sharks post-trade deadline.
8. Mattias Hävelid (2022 draft)
The smooth Swedish defenseman missed the first half of the season for Linköping HC with a back injury but came on strong at the end of the season with four goals and two assists in 25 games in the SHL. Havelid’s skating, puck handling, and shot have the makings of an overqualified second-pairing defenseman who can help run a power play. His lack of size will be a deterrent, but Hävelid’s skill can compensate for it.
What’s next? Havelid will return to Linköping HC this season, where he should continue to soak up more minutes and develop his game. He has yet to sign his ELC with the Sharks, but if Havelid has a good season and Linköping’s season is cut short, he could be traveling with Filip Bystedt to make their San Jose Barracuda debut this sprint.
If there is one player on this list who deserves to play on a good team at some point, it’s Gushchin. He spent an extra season in the USHL due to COVID, played on a terrible Niagra IceDogs team where he was the leading scorer by almost 30 points, and then was on a young Barracuda team that just missed the playoffs last year. Gushchin was known for his wicked shot in his draft year but has really worked to start round out his game and had one of the strongest finishes of any of the Shark’s prospects last year. He famously played five games in six days for the Sharks and Cuda, where he had a casual four goals and two assists in that time. Gushchin projects to still be a scoring second-liner, but there is a chance he could be a potential 30-goal scorer one day.
What’s next? Expect Gushchin to hang around the Sharks training camp until the bitter end before he is sent to the Barracuda. Once on the Cuda, he will be the guy this season and is the leading candidate to represent the Cuda at the hometown All-Star game. Gushchin will probably be one of the first guys called up if a top 6 winger goes down for any period of time and should get an extended run after the trade deadline.
This time last year, some Sharks fans were making a claim that Bordeleau, not William Eklund, was the Sharks’ best prospect. After ending the Vegas Golden Knight’s season in a shootout, it felt like Bordeleau was ready to make a huge jump. Mike Grier wanted his prospects to “overripe” in the AHL, and Bordeleau started the season red-hot and was the Barracuda’s All-Star representative, but the second half was not a great stretch of play for Bordeleau. He struggled with consistency and effort at times as he also seemed to have hit a wall in transitioning from the college game to the pros. The former Wolverine did play some NHL games last year, mostly on the wing, but was quiet in that time, notching two assists in eight games. Bordeleau still projects as a middle-six player for the Sharks, but if he isn’t playing center, can he make the transition to wing?
What’s next? Bordeleau will be another player fighting for a job in training camp. With the Steven Lorentz trade, Bordeleau’s path to a job did become easier. While nothing has been said publicly, it does feel like a put-up or shut-up season for Bordeleau as he enters the last year of his ELC. Expect Bordeleau to get a good long look with the Sharks this season as they try and assess the pieces that they have going forward.
When the New Jersey Devils drafted Shakir Mukhamadullin at 20 in the 2020 draft, it was considered a reach but most draft pundits. But the 6’4″ left-handed blue liner has already shown much in his career. He’s been playing in the KHL since he was 17 and finished last season with 25 points in 67 games. Mike Grier bypassed other prospects like Alexander Holtz in the Timo Meier trade to get Mukhamadullin. After finishing his season in the KHL with the Salavat Yulaev Ufa, he made his debut in San Jose, where he put up 10 points in 12 games for the Barracuda. After a bit of a shaky start, Mukhamadullin really found his game with the Barracuda as they were fighting for their lives for a playoff spot. He will need another season in the AHL where he can get used to the smaller North American ice and a more physical game. His ceiling is still a high-end third defenseman or a low-end second defenseman who can run the power play.
What’s next? Expect Shakir Mukhamadullin to take a big role on the Barracuda this season as he transitions to the North American game. If he can continue to be more consistent in his own zone and drive offense, Mukhamadullin will play NHL games once the Sharks are eliminated from playoff contention and should be a full-time NHLer in the 2024-25 season.
4. Filip Bystedt (2022 draft)
Many Sharks fans (this writer included) scratched their heads with this pick after Mike Grier traded back from 11 to 26 with the Arizona Coyotes, but this pick is looking like the right one. Bystedt had an outstanding rookie season in the SHL and was named the Rookie of the Year. During the World Junior Championships, he notched four goals and six assists in seven games for Team Sweden and really showcased himself well among his peers. The 6’4″ center needs to continue to fill out his frame and work on his speed but looks to be a middle-six power forward of the future for the Sharks.
What’s next? San Jose has an interesting decision with Bystedt; they could send him back to the SHL to play on Linköping, where he will get top-six minutes in one of the best leagues in the world. Or Bystedt could come to San Jose and play in the AHL as he acclimates to the North American game. With how General Manager Mike Grier has been slow cooking his prospects, expect Bystedt to play in Sweden this season and make his North American debut in the Spring.
3. Quentin Musty (2023 draft)
This could be considered aggressive for a player who was taken late first round, but Quentin Musty has the makings of a star player. The former first overall pick in the OHL draft had a tough start to his season with the Sudbury Wolves as he was recovering from mononucleosis but found a different gear in the second half of the season. Many public scouts projected Musty as a top-15 player but fell to San Jose at 26. At development camp, Musty was the talk of camp, where he capped off his 18th birthday with two goals in regulation and a third in the shootout. Musty will need to continue to work on his consistency and his explosiveness in his first strides, but Musty projects to be a top-line winger for the Sharks.
What’s next? Don’t be surprised if Musty hangs around the Sharks to start the season while he will be heading back to the OHL this season. Musty might get his nine games in to taste what’s to come. Musty had 78 points in 53 games last season with the Wolves; expect Musty to push for triple digits this year.
William Eklund had been the two-time reigning champion as the organization’s best prospect, was dethroned this draft. Spending last season in the AHL with the Barracuda, Eklund reestablished his shot that went missing for nearly a season with a dreadful Djurgårdens team. He scored 17 goals and added another 24 assists in 54 games for the Cuda last season. He was rewarded for his work by joining the Sharks after the trade deadline, where he played eight games and scored three points before being sent back down to allow his contract to continue to slide for one more season. Eklund is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery but is expected to be ready for training camp. Eklund still projects to be a top-line winger for the Sharks in the future as he continues to add muscle and strength to his frame. His vision, puck handling, and hockey IQ make him a potential point-per-game type of player if he is paired with the right line mates.
What’s next? Expect William Eklund to play his full rookie season for the Sharks this year and be a top-six forward. If Eklund can create some chemistry with Tomas Hertl and Filip Zadina, the Sharks could have a very effective line in terms of offense.
1. Will Smith (2023 draft)
The San Jose Sharks got their first-line center of the future with Will Smith. With the USNTDP, he set a scoring record with 127 points in 60 games that only linemate Gabe Perrault beat. The 6’0″ Massachusetts native oozes offense and creativity whenever he has the puck on his stick. While many Sharks fans will compare Smith to Matvei Michkov for their entire careers, Smith is well worth a top-four selection and would be second in most drafts. Smith will need to work on rounding out his game, especially in the defensive zone, as he rarely had to play defense for the National Team and has stated that he wants to play in all situations while at Boston College. The Sharks know that building down the middle is the key to success in playoff hockey and hope to be able to recreate the days of having Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Joe Thornton with Smith as a key component.
What’s next? Will Smith is heading to Boston College with USNTDP linemates Perrault and Ryan Leonard, where he will need to play a much more physical game than he is accustomed to. If Smith continues to develop and grow at the rate we’ve seen, he could sign his ELC after the NCAA tournament and play games for the Sharks at the end of the year. That is a lot to ask, so expect two seasons in college before jumping to the NHL.