Todd McLellan is going to coach one of the NHL’s all-time rookies if things break right this fall and Connor McDavid will most certainly be the best freshman McLellan sees in his NHL career. We can gain some insight into McLellan’s view of (normal) rookies by looking into the past and seeing what he valued when in his early years with San Jose. As with our recent look at Peter Chiarelli’s past in this area, there are some surprises.
ROOKIES BY YEAR
It’s important to give some context for McLellan’s rookies. The Sharks were not a building team when McLellan took over in 2008-09 (they would win 53 games that season) so rookies who were playing needed to contribute. We’re looking for fast tracks versus slow play or prospects who
come through on time, and we’re looking specifically at McLellan’s first three seasons as he was adding players from a flourishing system.
2008-09: Tomas Plihal (64 games);Jamie McGinn (35); Brad Staubitz (35); Lukas Kaspar (13); Derek Joslin (12); Riley Armstrong (2 games).
Plihal was a 25-year old rookie with four AHL seasons behind him, while playing a limited (fourth line) role for McLellan’s first SJS team. McGinn was a second-round pick who spent a little more than half of his rookie pro season in the AHL before coming to the NHL. He was up and down again over a couple of seasons during his entry level deal before firmly establishing himself as an NHL player. Staubitz was a minor league enforcer with several years experience.
McGinn wasn’t fast-tracked (he spent significant time in the AHL during entry level) and the rest were minor leaguers or failed first round picks.
- 2009-10: Jason Demers (51 games); Logan Couture (25); Derek Joslin (24); Benn Ferriero (24); Frazer McLaren (23); John McCarthy (4); Steven Zalewski (3).
Demers was a substantial prospect who spent his rookie pro season (2008-09) in the AHL—this is clear evidence of slow (or at least normal) play. Logan Couture was 20 and a new pro, spending 42 games (20-33-53) in the AHL before recall. Oilers fans will recognize his handling as wildly different than a plethora of Edmonton prospects during this time (Sam Gagner, etc) and this is absolutely a reflection of a more mature organization handling a gifted prospect.
Ferriero was signed as a college free agent and arrived at 22 after playing 58 solid AHL games in the Sharks system. McLaren was yet another enforcer prospect and Joslin kept hanging around trying to catch on as a regular.
Demers and (especially) Couture stand in stark contrast to what the Oilers were doing during these years, and it’s hard to argue either player was fast tracked (or slow played). The Sharks brought them up when they were ready.
- 2010-11: Logan Couture (79 games); John McCarthy (37); Benn Ferriero (33); Justin Braun (28); Andrew Desjardins (17); Brandon Mishinter (13); Frazer McLaren (9); Mike Moore (6); Tommy Wingels (5).
Fantastic look at the Sharks during the early years of McLellan. The Sharks stopped Couture from qualifying as a rookie in 2009-10 (and did the same for Ferriero and McLaren) and clearly received the most from their gifted rookie. Interesting to see Justin Braun, at the time 23 and in his first pro season, spend half a season in the AHL before coming to San Jose.
- 2011-12: Andrew Desjardins (76 games); Tommy Wingels (33); Thomas Greiss (19)
- 2012-13: Matt Irwin (38 games)
- 2013-14: Matt Nieto (66 games); Tomas Hertl (37); Eriah Hayes (15); Freddie Hamilton (11)
- 2014-15: Barclay Goodrow (60 games); Melker Karlsson (53); Chris Tierney (53); Mirco Mueller (39); Matt Tennyson (27).
Andrew Desjardins was 25 when he played in San Jose and had already played pro hockey in Loredo before catching on with the Sharks’ AHL team (and playing there for a few years). Wingels was 23 and came to Worcester via college and on it goes. Matt Irwin was 24 as a rookie, Nieto was 21, Hertl was young but fantastic and he’d played one year after his draft in the Czech league.
This past season, I think you could make the case that Chris Tierney was fast-tracked, but in the same way we saw Jamie McGinn, and then only because there were multiple injuries impacting the NHL team. I will absoltuely identify Mirco Mueller as the outlier—he was rushed and it did not work out.
— Greg Balloch (@GregBalloch) March 3, 2015
I think there are some conclusions we can draw from this look at McLellan’s Sharks:
- The Sharks don’t slow play but there’s zero evidence of rushing people
either. In the three year window (and beyond, although this past season
the club clearly rushed Mirco Mueller) it seems they simply elevate
players when it’s obvious they’re ready.
- They entered 2010-11 certain Couture would be able to contribute and that he was NHL ready. This is absolutely superior to the Gagner handling by Edmonton and in a very real way shows the kind of thinking Edmonton will (hopefully) be employing in the future.
- Beginning with Plihal and continuing through the seasons here, the Sharks are auditioning all kinds of players, finding keepers, trade assets and throwaways—but in all cases, giving at-bats to find the answer.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE OILERS?
We could see half seasons for Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl in Bakersfield (based on this look at McLellan’s Sharks) and perhaps auditions for players the organization may want to make a decision on in the coming year. McLellan’s teams in SJ included all manner of prospect types and they were given audition at-bats while the Sharks were winning hockey games.
Sounds like voodoo to me, but we wait and wonder.