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SJ Sharks 2020-21 Top 15 Prospects: 1-5

Ryan Merkley

Part three the of the Sharks top prospects list features the most impressive top 5 the Sharks have had in some time. This exciting group includes a couple of first round picks, a couple of sixth round picks and a player who is immediately dominating the college ranks. Look out for several of these players in the NHL as early as the 2020-21 season.

If you missed part 1 or 2, read about prospects 11 through 15 and prospects 6 through 10.

Part 3: Top 5 Prospects

5. Sasha Chmelevski, C
Drafted: 2017, 6th round 185th overall
Upside: Top 6 Forward
2020-21 Team: SJ Barracuda (AHL) & SJ Sharks (NHL)

Starting off our top 5 we have another in a long line of late round steals for the Sharks (still one more coming). Sasha Chmelevski is a skilled forward who has slowly progressed each year since being drafted. Sasha has good puck handling skills, is able to beat defenders 1-on-1 and passes the puck accurately. His skating isn’t the best but he makes up for it with smart play. Sasha started getting a lot of attention at the 2019 World Junior Championship where he was one of USA’s best players scoring 4 goals and 7 points in 7 games against the worlds best U20 players. Later that season he carried the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL playoffs scoring 12 goals and 31 points in 18 games just missing out on a championship. Sasha adapted fairly well in his jump from junior to pro hockey. After starting slow with 1 point in 6 games and an early season injury, he came on strong with 11 goals and 26 points in 36 games. First line upside is likely a stretch for Chmelevski but making the NHL and having an impact is a safe bet. It’s fair to project him developing into a middle 6 scorer who can jump up lines when needed and play on a 2nd power play unit. His NHL impact could be as early as the 2020-21 season. He may have dropped a few spots from last year but that speaks more to the added depth than his own development.

4. Ozzy Wiesblatt, RW/C
Drafted: 2020, 1st round 31st overall
Upside: Top 6 Energy Forward
2020-21 Team: Prince Albert (WHL)

Finally a first round pick, albeit the last pick of the round. Ozzy Wiesblatt follows the recent trend of strong skaters selected by the Sharks. Ozzy uses his speed and energy to play an up-tempo two way game. While being a bit undersized, Ozzy still throws his weight around fairly well and plays a physical brand of hockey. On the offensive side Ozzy has good vision, above average puck handling abilities and uses patience to wait for a teammate to get open, then dishes the puck tape to tape. During the 2018-19 season Ozzy was stuck in a depth role behind older players such as fellow Shark Noah Gregor. He still managed to 15 goals and 39 points as a 16 year old. With the departure of team leaders, Ozzy grabbed this role in 2019-20 and ran with it. He proceeded to score 25 goals and 70 points in 64 games helping Prince Albert to win the East division of the WHL. There were mixed opinions on whether the Sharks may have taken Wiesblatt a little early but we know that when Doug Wilson Senior and Junior want a player they take him regardless of consensus. I don’t know how “elite” his skills are so he may not develop into a first line talent but I feel confident with Ozzy’s floor and him developing into a high end 2nd liner who contributes in all situations. Due to the WHL not playing games Ozzy has been loaned to the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits but has yet to play in a game. He is likely a few years away from having an NHL impact but Sharks fans should be excited about this pick.

3. Thomas Bordeleau, C
Drafted: 2020 2nd round 38th overall
Upside: Top 6 Center & PP/PK
2020-21 Team: Michigan (NCAA) & USA (WJC)

The Sharks selected Thomas Bordeleau 7 picks after Ozzy Wiesblatt last month. Fans should follow his development closely because he is the most exciting forward prospect the Sharks have had since Timo Meier. Thomas has tremendous upside and could eventually fill that coveted role of number two center. He uses his excellent vision and patience with the puck to be highly effective on the power play. Thomas is also elite in the faceoff circle which will only boost his value to the Sharks. Last year Bordeleau lead the USNDP in scoring with 16 goals and 46 points in 47 games. This month he started his freshman season with the University of Michigan and has immediately impressed. Thomas scored a goal in his first game and now has 7 points through 4 games, 3 of which came with the man advantage. It’s rare to see a true freshman dominate the college ranks so if this performance were to continue that would be a sign the Sharks have a gem in Bordeleau. Typically players who go the college route stay for a few seasons so Sharks fans likely won’t see him in the pro’s for 2 or more years. Placing Bordeleau ahead of Wiesblatt was really a toss up but I like his Bordeleau’s upside a bit more.

2. John Leonard, C/W
Drafted: 2018, 6th round 182nd overall
Upside: Top 6 Scoring Forward
2020-21 Team: SJ Barracuda (AHL) & SJ Sharks (NHL)

Does a late round steal sound familiar? Well the Sharks have another late round gem in John Leonard. The UMass star could be the most interesting prospect for Sharks fans this coming season. Last season Leonard absolutely dominated the NCAA, often making defenders look like cones on the ice. Highlights like the below became common as John Leonard electrified the NCAA for three years with sick goals. He has steadily developed each year at UMass and become more well rounded. His skillset consists of great hands, good vision and an NHL shot. Leonard was a key ingredient over the last 3 years in rejuvenating the struggling UMass program and brought them to the National Championship game in 2019.  Last season Leonard lead the NCAA in scoring with 27 goals in 33 games and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. Had the season not been cut short he would likely have been on his way to another long post-season. The next big step for Leonard will be training camp, hopefully a few weeks from now. Leonard has a realistic chance to make the Sharks roster for the 2020-21 season similar to former teammate Mario Ferraro but it might be beneficial for him to have some time with the Barracuda. Leonard is a big game player with NHL scoring ability. His game should translate to the NHL level, its only a matter of what that ceiling is. Can he score 20 goals? 30? More? This upcoming season will help paint a better picture of what Leonard’s trajectory will be at the pro level.

1. Ryan Merkley, D
Drafted: 2018, 1st round 21st overall
Upside: Top Pairing D-Man & PP QB
2020-21 Team: SJ Barracuda (AHL) & SJ Sharks (NHL)

Finally we have our number 1 prospect, and there wasn’t any debate about this one. Ryan Merkley is far and away the most dynamic prospect the Sharks have had in a while. Offensively the sky is the limit, but to put it in perspective he has similar offensive abilities to a Cale Makar or a Quinn Hughes. Ryan has incredible patience with the puck resulting in perfect cross ice tape to tape passes. Merkley’s skating isn’t elite level but is NHL caliber and he uses his edges well, especially above the circles and in transition. Last season he scored 15 goals and 76 points in 60 games with the powerhouse London Knights of the OHL. This brought his OHL totals to 54 goals and 269 points in 248 games, finishing 6th all time in points and 4th in assists among defensemen. His journey however has been filled with questions regarding his attitude, size and his commitment to playing defense. Over the last couple of season the Sharks have heavily focused on developing the defensive side of his game and we’ve seen some progress. Last season he often found minutes on the penalty kill and overall played a bit more responsible in his own end. On the attitude front these fears have subsided since the Guelph days where he had some issues with suspensions and team hostility. This coming season it is expected that Merkley will play for the Barracuda with a shot of getting NHL minutes as well. His defensive game could still use development and stability so AHL time might be the perfect place for that. Make no mistake, Merkley will never be a shut down defenseman, but the goal is for him to improve enough defensively where he isn’t a liability at the NHL level. This will give him more freedom offensively where he can provide a ton of value. If all goes well Merkley can run a power play and be among the top offensively gifted d-men in the league. His range can be from a Torey Krug type who specializes in PP Minutes all the way up to a Erik Karlsson-lite who takes over a game offensively.




  1. Галина

    November 30, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    Whats the biggest need for the Sharks? For the San Jose Sharks, its pretty difficult to narrow it down to one specific need.

    • AJ Strong

      November 30, 2020 at 8:08 pm

      Biggest need? Scoring. Sharks went from 2nd in the NHL in scoring to 28th.

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