Unlike the last time the Sharks had a lottery pick, the top of the 2021 NHL Draft is very uncertain. While there are a handful of top prospects, there's no Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel standing a cut above the rest.
Take Michigan defenseman Owen Power, the No. 1 North American prospect according to NHL Central Scouting. Ten NHL scouts TSN's Bob McKenzie surveyed in April have Power as the top prospect overall, McKeen's Hockey in April ranked Power at No. 3 and Elite Prospects had Power a spot higher last month.
After a season in which most prospects, at minimum, played fewer games than they normally would as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 NHL Draft is as wide open as any in recent memory.
That's a great place for the Sharks to be heading into next month, giving San Jose a chance to inject some much-needed dynamism into its prospect pool with the No. 7 overall selection.
While the player general manager Doug Wilson and Co. ultimately select would -- in all likelihood -- be a long shot to make the roster out of training camp, the Sharks have a chance to add someone who can contribute in the NHL sooner rather than later.
A year after selecting no defensemen, the Sharks -- if they so choose -- could be in position to draft a player primed to eventually take the reins from Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. It's conceivable that one of Brandt Clarke, Simon Edvinsson and Luke Hughes is available by the time San Jose's brass steps to the proverbial podium on July 23.
Clarke turned 18 in February, and impressed in Slovakia's top league (15 points in 26 games) playing against men. Some mock drafts have him as the second blueliner off the board behind Power, but considering Central Scouting ranked Hughes higher in their final rankings, that's not necessarily a lock.
Still, one of Hughes (No. 4 in Elite Prospects' consolidated rankings) and Edvinsson (No. 6) seems likelier to be available for the Sharks at No. 7. Both are left-handed shots, allowing San Jose to envision a long-term 1-2-3 punch of Hughes or Edvinsson, Mario Ferraro and Nikolai Knhyzov down the left side.
Hughes has high offensive upside and NHL pedigree with two brothers (Quinn and Jack) in the league. Edivnsson, meanwhile, has the size -- 6-foot-5, 207 pounds -- and skills that reminded his general manager at Frolunda of Tampa Bay Lightning star Victor Hedman.
Although Ryan Merkley struggled in his first professional season with the AHL Barracuda this year, he now has professional experience under his belt. Ferraro and Knyzhov are established on the Sharks' blue line, so the time is right to add a high-upside defensive prospect.
Of course, the Sharks' ability to do so will come down to the six teams ahead of them. The Buffalo Sabres could easily take Power to pair with -- or play behind -- Rasmus Dahlin, and the expansion Seattle Kraken have the blankest of canvases to work with. The Anaheim Ducks, picking No. 3 overall, have built out from the blue line before and Bob Murray's still the general manager, so picking Jamie Drysdale last year doesn't mean they'll pass on a defenseman this year.
The New Jersey Devils (No. 4), Columbus Blue Jackets (No. 5) and Detroit Red Wings (No. 6) can all credibly say they need a young defender to build around, so it's very possible -- if not likely -- the Sharks draft another forward.
Considering the players available, there's not much downside to that possibility.
William Eklund, Central Scouting's top European skater, seems like the kind of undersized (5-foot-10, 172 pounds), skilled play-maker Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. has prioritized in recent drafts. Michigan center Kent Johnson (No. 7 in Elite Prospects' consolidated rankings) starred on the same team as San Jose prospect Thomas Bordeleau last season, and he has the two-way smarts the Sharks value.
The Sharks should be blessed with options on the blue line and up front once they ultimately pick, even though they didn't benefit from any lottery luck. Any of the aforementioned players contributing in the NHL this season would be a bonus, but San Jose still has a real opportunity to pick a player who, ultimately, can be the face of what the elder Wilson has termed the franchise's "reset."
If the Sharks nail the pick at No. 7, chances like this might not come around very often.