The San Jose Sharks may not have many OHL prospects, but the talent is top end.
1. Ryan Merkley - Peterborough Petes
I'd be lying if I told you that I thought Merkley's 2018/19 season should be considered a success. The statistical output was certainly there again, with Merkley establishing new career highs in goals and points. And quite frankly, I don't think anyone is going to question what Merkley can do with the puck and as an offensive contributor. With his skating ability and his aggressiveness, he is an electric player. He opens up lanes so well by drawing defenders in and taking them out of position. This is not news to those who follow the league (or to Sharks fans). But the other parts of his game really are still a work in progress. And that's why he was traded to Peterborough from Guelph this year. At some point Guelph management grew tired of his lack of progression in other areas and his lack of cohesion with the coaching staff was no secret (scratches, benchings, etc). Peterborough offered him a chance for a fresh start. Now...I think a lot of this is just co-incidence (a hot team cooling down, younger players hitting a wall, etc), but it's worth mentioning that prior to acquiring Merkley, the Petes were near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. What followed was a collapse in the second half and a drastic slide down the standings. In Peterborough, things didn't really change. His defensive composure and effort still wavers. And his frustration still boils over in negative ways. There just hasn't been much growth in these areas since he arrived in the OHL three years ago. So where do we go from here? This year will be a massive test for Merkley. He is entering his final OHL season and will be looked upon to provide veteran leadership on a team that has aspirations to capture the Eastern Conference. In order to do so, they will need him to completely buy into his defensive responsibilities and for him to find a way to channel his competitiveness in mostly positive ways. Merkley is always going to be a high risk/high reward kind of player. He's not M.E. Vlasic. But that's OK, so long as the good consistently outweighs the bad. I think it's safe to predict that Merkley will be up over the point per game mark again. But the success that his team experiences will be more important, especially in the playoffs (where Merkley was not strong this year and has yet to win a round in his career).
2. Sasha Chmelevski - Ottawa 67's
Chmelevski got off to a bit of a disappointing start to this OHL season. Found him to be gripping his stick a little tight and thought that he wasn't quite as aggressive as he had been the year prior, especially in terms of creating his own scoring chances and working to create shooting lanes. But in the second half of the year he really turned things around and by the playoffs, he had become one of the most dangerous players in the league. His strong playoff performance and leadership was one of the many reasons that Ottawa made it to the OHL finals. As a player, I really don't know that Sasha improved a ton. That's not a knock on him, because I love what he brings to the ice. But I think the big leap forward for him occurred last year and now, what we see is what we are going to get. Chmelevski is a tenacious worker in all three zones with a terrific shot and the type of guy who profiles to be a middle 6 forward in the NHL. I think his skating will continue to be an area that he will want to upgrade for the next level. It has improved a lot over his OHL career to the point of being above average in the league. But in the NHL, with the style of game he plays it may benefit him to become slightly more explosive. I could actually see Sasha going right to the NHL next year, given the wide open nature of San Jose's forward depth right now. He's the type of guy who wouldn't be hurt by playing a 4th line center role right now and I think he could be ready for it.
3. Zach Gallant - Peterborough Petes
A recent signing by the Sharks after an impressive development camp performance. Gallant was initially a high pick of the Detroit Red Wings, but injuries really derailed his development and as such Detroit believed that he was not worth signing. When he's at his best, Gallant is a hard working two-way center who does a lot of the little things well. He plays a very physically intense brand of hockey. He is one of the better defensive forwards in the league. He is one of the better face-off men in the league. But as an offensive player, he has stagnated. His skating ability, especially his power and top speed, remains an area needing improvement. And his puck skill is still quite unrefined. He can struggle having to making quick decisions and quick plays. San Jose has already announced that they will be sending Gallant back to Peterborough for his OA year and that is very much the correct decision. It worked out really well for them in regards to Kevin Labanc recently and I am guessing they are hoping to work the same magic. In the OHL, Gallant will get to captain the Petes again and hopefully lead them to an Eastern Conference title. I would look for him to really gain confidence in his ability to play with the puck, and to use his size more effectively in the offensive end. I think a 35/35 season is very probable, so long as he can stay healthy.