Photo credit: Dinur Blum
SAN JOSE- With one final preseason game remaining (Saturday night in Anaheim) the San Jose Sharks are still deciding on how to replace the recently injured Raffi Torres.
The main options at head coach Todd McLellan’s disposal are two rookies in left wing Matt Nieto (SJ -2nd round, 47th overall, 2011) and center/right wing Freddie Hamilton (SJ -5th round, 129th overall, 2010) . Another option could be to bump James Sheppard into a third line role and have journeyman grinder Bracken Kearns begin the season on the fourth line.
Kearns scored the lone San Jose goal in Friday night’s 2-1 exhibition loss in Phoenix but it still seems wise to bet on either Nieto or Hamilton grabbing the lineup spot vacated by Torres.
And if you were going to put a bet down between Nieto and Hamilton, you would probably go the way of Nieto at this point in time.
Certainly both prospects have performed well at the amateur level. Nieto was a point per game player at Boston University and Hamilton was even a tad better offensively for the OHL’s Niagra IceDogs.
However, amateur stats aren’t a great indicator when it comes to these two prospects. If you watch these two players in training camp, you get a sense that Nieto is the more offensively gifted player while Hamilton is more of a cerebral defensively responsible forward.
After seeing these two in action, comparable Sharks players of years past come to mind for each. Nieto looks to be in the similar mold of a Jeff Friesen or—as our pals at fearthefin suggested—Nils Ekman. Hamilton on the other hand reminds one of a Manny Malhotra type player.
Both look like they will have the opportunity at some point to prove they belong at the NHL level but for now Nieto looks like the better fit.
It’s not necessarily that Nieto is the better player but that his offensive upside is a bit more fitting to San Jose’s current needs.
Without Torres, the Sharks are down a winger with excellent speed. If the Sharks go with Nieto they will be getting a player who is probably even a bit faster than Torres. We saw last season how the Sharks moves at the deadline helped increase team speed and that among other things helped them take off down the stretch.
Furthermore, the Sharks did struggle for the majority of the season scoring at even strength and depth scoring in particular was an issue. Nieto’s offensive skill set including a slick set of hands should help provide an extra goal here or there.
It may be a small sample size but Nieto did manage six points in his first 11 career games at the AHL level (Worcester Sharks) last season. Meanwhile Hamilton never really got hot offensively with Worcester, finishing with just 26 points in 76 games.
Given the way San Jose’s lines seem to be shaping up, the available lineup spot is on the left side of Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels. Therefore Nieto seems to be the logical fit. He is a left handed shot with plus speed and good puck skills which should complement the slower Pavelski and more defensive minded Wingels—both of whom are right handed shots.
Either way, both Hamilton and Nieto will more than likely make their NHL debuts this season. For now though, it looks like Nieto will get the first crack.
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