Part two the of the Sharks top prospects list features a heavy European theme including the only goaltender to appear in the top 15. We also have a couple of players nearly NHL-ready and another 2020 draft pick with sky high potential.
If you missed part 1, read about prospects 11 through 15.
Part 2: Prospects 6 through 10
10. Daniil Gushchin, LW/RW
Drafted: 2020, 3rd round 76th overall
Upside: Top 6 Scoring Forward
2020-21 Team: Muskegon (USHL) & Niagara (OHL)
Leading off this group is another undersized forward with immense offensive skill. Daniil Gushchin was projected by many to go in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft so when he was still available in the 3rd round, Doug Wilson traded up to select him. Daniil generates offense using his speed, passing and elite puck-handling. Last year he scored 22 goals and 47 points in 42 games, nothing eye-opening for the USHL but Muskegon wasn’t very good. So far Daniil has gotten off to a very hot start in the 2020-21 season with 5 goals and 9 points in his first 4 games. What could hold him back is his one-dimensional game and decision making. Daniil can often be caught trying to do too much with the puck which typically tests coaches patience at the professional level. Daniil is quite small at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, so bulking up should be a priority for the next year or two. It has yet to be determined whether the OHL will have a season, and that decision will impact whether Daniil sticks with Muskegon of the USHL or if he makes the move to the Niagara IceDogs who selected him 4th overall in the CHL import draft. As of this writing the OHL season is expected to kick off in February. Daniil has the ability to become a high scoring top 6 forward however he has a long way to go for that to happen.
9. Artemi Kniazev, D
Drafted: 2019, 2nd round 48th overall
Upside: Top 4 D-man & 2nd PP Unit
2020-21 Team: AK Bars Kazan (KHL)
Artemi Kniazev is coming off a strong draft+1 season where he scored 11 goals and 43 points in 51 games, leading the Chicoutimi D-men by a wide margin. If not for missing 13 games he easily could have been top 5 in the entire QMJHL. At 5-foot-11 and 183 lbs, he is small but fits the recent trend of skilled undersized defensemen. Artemi is a smooth-skating mobile defenseman who plays a good two-way game. He doesn’t possess a hard shot from the point but he has patience with the puck and finds the net with accurate low shots. As expected, Artemi doesn’t play a physical brand of hockey instead using a smart stick and good anticipation to play effective defense. He has been loaned out to AK Bars Kazan of the KHL and currently is playing with their minor league team in the VHL. Artemi last played in Russia back in 2018 prior to his move to North America. With his continued development I think Kniazev has a strong chance of making the NHL with a realistic upside of 2nd pairing two-way rearguard. He could also feature on the penalty kill along with running the 2nd power play unit.
8. Joachim Blichfeld, LW/RW
Drafted: 2016, 7th round 210 overall
Upside: Middle 6 Forward
2020-21 Team: SJ Barracuda (AHL) & SJ Sharks (NHL)
Joachim Blichfeld has been an interesting player to follow for the last few years. In 2018-19 he doubled his prior season totals leading the WHL with 53 goals and 114 points in 68 games. This was done in his overage season so the flashy stats were taken with a grain of salt. He really impressed in his transition to pro hockey scoring 16 goals and 32 points with the Barracuda. Blichfeld has an NHL caliber shot, nearly sniper level, and solid hockey IQ. He positions himself well, finding pucks and making plays with a quick accurate release. Blichfeld’s skating isn’t great and he could still improve his overall game but the ability is there to contribute at the NHL level. I wouldn’t expect numbers anywhere near what he put up in juniors but developing into a 20 goal complimentary scorer is possible. He should be viewed as a boom or bust prospect as he doesn’t provide enough of a defensive or physical game to be relied on for those abilities at the NHL level. Joachim was playing in his native Denmark on loan with Frederikshaven, but that league has shut down further play until December. Once the AHL and NHL start back up I would expect Blichfeld to compete for a roster spot with the Sharks this season.
7. Jonathan Dahlen, LW
2019 Trade with Vancouver
Upside: Top 6 Forward
2020-21 Team: Timra (SWE 1)
Next we have the most confusing player on this list, and as a result is probably ranked lower than he should be. Jonathan Dahlen (son of Sharks alum Ulf) had a tough start to his professional hockey career when part of the Canucks organization. The Sharks acquired him from Vancouver, after he expressed frustration with the franchise and fans. Following a short stint with the Barracuda Dahlen decided to go back home to Sweden and play for his beloved Timra. The problem is Timra doesn’t currently play in the top league so he’s playing against inferior competition. As expected he has dominated the league scoring 31 goals and 77 points last season and now with 7 goals and 19 points to start the 2020-21 season. You have to admire his loyalty to Timra in attempting to elevate them back to the top league but it’s not ideal for a young player to be feasting on weak competition. There is no question that Dahlen has the ability to play and likely could develop into a middle 6 forward who contributes offensively at the NHL level. The Sharks seem confident that he will be back in North America following this season which gives me some optimism but I am still worried his bad experiences (social media threats) while playing for the Canucks AHL team took their toll.
6. Alexei Melnichuk, G
Undrafted Free Agent
Upside: Starting Goalie
2020-21 Team: Nizhny Torpedo (KHL) & SJ Barracuda (AHL)
Alexei Melnichuk is the top goaltending prospect for the Sharks. Similar to Brinson Paschinuk, Alexei was signed as an undrafted Free Agent. Recently Russia has become a factory for producing talented young goalies and Melnichuk seems to be following that trend. He doesn’t have a ton of experience at the KHL level but the games he has played have been extraordinary. Last season with St Petersburg he went 8-5-1 with a 1.68 goals against average and .930 save percentage. These are great numbers for a 21 year old goalie playing in the best international league. St Petersburg was a top team last year, but he put up great numbers with their VHL team over the past 2 years as well. Alexei is a technically sound goalie who moves well side to side, has quick reflexes and uses solid positioning to make saves look routine. The next step for Alexei will be to acclimate to the North American game. Currently on loan with Nizhny (KHL), it was expected that Alexei would split goaltending duties with Josef Korenar in the AHL. His style does project well to the modern NHL but the question remains what is Alexei’s ceiling? Goalies typically develop a little slower so he has plenty of time. If all goes as planned he could leap Korenar and be in the NHL as early as 2021-22 depending on the Sharks goalie situation. Long term he could develop into a top 15 starter at the NHL level.
Come back tomorrow for part 3 featuring the Sharks top 5 prospects!