White Hot Sharks Boast Strong Development Team

SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks organization has received a significant amount of flak in recent years (both locally and around the league) for what many call a “lack of prospect depth” in their minor league system. And sure, the Sharks have a history of trading away first round picks in recent years for players like Bill Guerin, Brian Campbell and Brent Burns.

However, while San Jose currently has perhaps just the one “top” prospect in 2012 first round pick Tomas Hertl, one cannot overlook the plethora of mid-to-late round draft choices and undrafted NHL players the Sharks system has produced. Let’s just go down the list:

(D) Andy Sutton-Undrafted (1993)
(LW) Alexander Korolyuk-6th round selection (1994)
(G) Evgeni Nabokov-9th round selection (1994)
(G) Vesa Toskala-4th round selection (1995)
(G) Miikka Kiprusoff-5th round selection (1995)
(RW) Matt Bradley-4th round selection (1996)
(LW) Patrick Rissmiller-Undrafted (1996)
(C) Mark Smith-9th round selection (1997)
(D) Rob Davison- 4th round selection (1998)
(RW) Mikael Samuelsson-5th round selection (1998)
(D) Jim Fahey-8th round selection (1998)
(RW) Niko Dimitrakos-5th round selection (1999)
(D) Douglas Murray- 8th round selection (1999)
(D) Christian Ehrhoff- 4th round selection (2001)
(LW) Ryane Clowe- 6th round selection (2001)
(C) Joe Pavelski- 7th round selection (2003)
(RW) Brad Staubitz- Undrafted (2003)
(D) Josh Gorges-Undrafted (2003)
(G) Thomas Greiss- 3rd round (2004)
(C) Torrey Mitchell- 4th round selection (2004)
(C) Andrew Desjardins-Undrafted (2004/5)
(D) Matt Irwin-Undrafted (2005/6)
(LW) John McCarthy-7th round (2006)
(D) Justin Braun- 7th round selection (2007)
(LW) Frazer McLaren-7th round selection (2007)
(RW) Tommy Wingels- 6th round selection (2008)
(D) Jason Demers- 7th round selection (2008)
(D)Matt Tennyson- Undrafted (2008/9)

All 28 of these players have spent time in the Sharks minor league system and gone on to make some sort of impact at the NHL level. OK, Tennyson’s first NHL action has come in just the past two games with San Jose but all of these names should ring a bell to the average Sharks fan.

That said, they do more than just ring a bell to one particular, often over-looked, member of the Sharks organization. That would be none other than Worcester Sharks head coach Roy Sommer. The Oakland, CA native has coached every single one of these players for San Jose’s top AHL affiliate.

You can read Sommer’s full profile here, but the most telling note of Sommer’s success in both winning and developing is that he is currently the longest tenured head coach in the AHL.

Now certainly some minor league coaches choose to leave for NHL opportunities but the fact that Sommer has been the man in charge of the Sharks top affiliate since 1998 is still impressive.

Of the above 28 names (all of which drafted in the third round or later), only six went in either the third or fourth rounds. That leaves 22 drafted in the fifth round or later, or went undrafted altogether. Now I don’t have the numbers for any of the other 29 NHL clubs, but San Jose cranking out one NHL player from the fifth round or lower every single season over the past two decades sounds like a pretty bang up job.

Both Sommer, and Sharks director of scouting Tim Burke have been in their respective roles since the mid-90′s and done an admirable job in both the scouting and development of their young players.

At Sharks practice Thursday both defensemen Jason Demers and head coach Todd McLellan talked about the work Sommer and his staff in Worcerster put in each and every day.

“The coaching and organization really kind of hammers into us the defensive side of the game” commented Demers. “If you want to play in this league you have to be good defensively. Dave Cunniff and Roy Sommer down there do a great job building players up. It’s a testament to what they do and it bears fruit because they’ve had a bunch of guys come out of there and come up here or go other places and do great things. So it’s really at testament to what they do and how they work down there so it’s fun to see and it’s fun to know they’re really building the players down there, you don’t see it much anymore, so it’s good.”

“They’ve obviously done a tremendous job” added coach McLellan. “[Development] starts prior to [Worcester] it starts in the summer camp right after they’re drafted or signed, they spend a week here and get a lot of information. A lot of one-on-one handling if you will. And then it carries over into, well, this year it didn’t, not into our camp, but into Worcester’s camp. The coaching staff has done a tremendous job down there. I see the organization playing kind of as one now. The message has gone through all the way, this is the way we play, this is the way we need to do things. So as the players come up, they more easily fit into our lineup than maybe they have in the past.”

While some NHL followers wonder about San Jose’s “prospect pool” and whether or not the team will have to “rebuild” at some point with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle aging, the fact is GM Doug Wilson heads a very strong and unified hockey staff from top to bottom.

The work Burke and Sommers have done has allowed Wilson the flexibility to make win-now moves in recent years (trading high draft choices and prospects) without sacrificing much in terms of organizational depth.

To that point, the Sharks are currently featuring Tommy Wingels (6th round 2008) on their second line, Joe Pavelski (7th round 2003) on their “third line”, Andrew Desjardins (undrafted) on the fourth line, Matt Irwin (undrafted) paired with Dan Boyle, Justin Braun (7th round 2007) paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matt Tennyson or Jason Demers (Tennyson undrafted, Demers 7th round 2008) paired with Brad Stuart.

Oh and did I mention team teal is riding a six game winning streak with these pairs and line combinations?

 

For more on the Sharks, follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch

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