Tuesday, August 7, 2012

One To Watch: San Jose Sharks

Does San Jose really have the shallowest prospect pool? Well known prospects website Hockey's Future ranks the Sharks dead last in their most recent organizational rankings but I'm not so sure. Obviously only picking in the 1st round twice in the last five NHL drafts will have predictable results but I think the Sharks have done a rather good job in another way. 

San Jose has signed a lot of free agents in the last few years, guys out of college or undrafted juniors. Thomas Heemskerk and J.P. Anderson are goalies acquired in that way and Travis Oleksuk is a recent example of a forward. Oleksuk played for Duluth and helped the Bulldogs win a National championship in 2011 alongside another Sharks free agent signee, Mike Connolly, who has since been traded. 

Picking late makes it harder but not impossible and the Sharks have some solid guys in their system including Freddie Hamilton, Taylor Doherty, Matt Nieto and Nick Petrecki

So who have I set my sights on for 2012-13? A guy I that think is going to make some noise this year both with his club team and while playing for his country.

Photo: Whiteshark Photography

Sean Kuraly (C)

Miami RedHawks
6'2, 195 lbs
Drafted 133rd overall in 2011

I think San Jose scouts would agree that when they selected Kuraly in the 5th round they did so because of his size and with fingers crossed that the forward would find some offence. Not that 29 points in 51 USHL games is bad for a rookie but having just 8 goals, it's not like Kuraly was putting any fear in goalies that year. 

Well San Jose's hunch appears to have paid off. This past year Kuraly finished 4th in USHL scoring with 70 points, more than twice the number from his rookie year. Even better, the Ohio native lit the lamp 32 times. Suffice to say, the production definitely came around for him in his second season at Indiana. 

Like I described earlier in this series with Scott Mayfield, Kuraly's appearance on TPS was memorable as it was on the eve of the NHL combine. We were very impressed with how well spoken and honest he was in his assessment of how he played in his draft year.

Kuraly's excellent campaign in Indiana helped earn him an invite to Team USA's summer camp in Lake Placid. That camp is going on right now and by all accounts, Kuraly has been a standout so far. 

This coming year he will join the RedHawks of Miami following in the footsteps of his father who also played at the school. Plus it's close to home and he'll join a team that he says includes some friends and former USHL teammates so it's a great fit all around.

Here's what has me interested: Miami has become a the top NCAA hockey programs under head coach Enrico Blasi but struggled last year after losing both Carter Camper and Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele. Despite those two huge departures, I think the RedHawks underachieved last year and I predict a better season for Miami. They will be young but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. 

I'm not sure where Kuraly will fit in on coach Blasi's line combinations considering he'll be a freshman, but I won't be surprised if he works his way up the depth chart as the year goes on. He should have confidence after Lake Placid and should he make the WJC in December/January, even more so for the second half. 

Photo: Whiteshark Photography / USHL
I am very curious to see if Kuraly's breakout year in Indiana will continue or if moving up a level will mean a season of adjustment as it arguably did when he moved to the USHL. 

Personally, I think he succeeds this year both at Miami and in cracking the WJC squad for Team USA. For those reasons I believe that Sean Kuraly is "One to Watch" in 2012-13 for the San Jose Sharks. 

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