Visualising the development of San Jose Sharks draft picks made by Doug Wilson

The San Jose Sharks have one of the NHL’s longest tenured general managers in Doug Wilson (only the Nashville Predators and David Poile have had a longer such executive relationship). Since being named the Sharks’ GM in 2003, Wilson has seen the team win a Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09, make the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015-16, and also appear in 14 postseasons.

Wilson’s work in building the Sharks’ rosters throughout the years has kept the Sharks quite competitive for the better part of the past two decades. A large part of that is due to the players the Sharks have drafted with Wilson at the helm.

Continuing my series of visualising the development of prospects as selected by a NHL GM, Reddit user BeastlyChicken requested the entirety of Wilson’s drafting history. From the 2003 through 2019 NHL Entry Drafts, Wilson selected a total of 120 prospects.

By plotting the progression of every prospect, we can break down drafting and development trends for the Sharks, and see how successful the Sharks have been in getting NHL players out of the NHL draft.


While you’re here, please enjoy the other posts in the series:

Visualising the development of Calgary Flames draft picks made by Brad Treliving

Visualising the development of Vancouver Canucks draft picks made by Jim Benning

Visualising the development of Edmonton Oilers draft picks made by Peter Chiarelli

Visualising the development of Detroit Red Wings draft picks made by Ken Holland since 2008

How to read the visualisation

The data visualisation is presented such that the developmental path of every prospect is plotted. The year-by-year progression of each player is shown, with every year labelled with the league that the prospect played the majority of their games in.

To see the progression of every pick, I made a modified alluvial diagram with the x-axis showing years. The first column indicates the league a drafted player played in prior to being selected by the Sharks. Every sequential column thereafter shows where each player played in the following years.

While every player is technically represented, they were grouped based on year-by-year progression. The leagues were roughly arranged based on typical development paths, with the NHL being placed highest as it’s the ultimate goal. The order does not reflect any definitive ranking between leagues, but rather serves as a means to simply label different subsets of leagues.

The AHL, KHL, and ECHL were listed first as players tend to develop in these leagues after being drafted. CHL leagues are grouped altogether, followed by the NCAA, and European leagues such as the SHL, Liiga, HockeyAllsvenskan, etc. making up the European subset. Lower leagues in Canada, the United States, and Russia make up the last sets of leagues.

Note: The large time span captures players who have retired from hockey, which is shown by the “RET/Retired” label. Further, the “DNP” label indicates that a player Did Not Play in that given season.

Each player’s path is traceable by moving across each column horizontally and following the path. Whenever a path truncates, that indicates where the most recent season was played (i.e. 2019-20 seasons).

Since the overall time frame is rather long, sequential years are only logged until a player’s draft plus nine (D+9) year. Anything after that is grouped into a nine plus (D>9+) column, which represents the 2019-20 status of players who have been around for more than ten years.

All prospect data was retrieved from EliteProspects.com, and the visualisation was created with R and modified with Adobe Illustrator. The R “tidyverse” and “ggalluvial” packages were used to create the visualisations, and the colour palette was adapted from Carto. Special thanks to Khalid Keshavjee for assisting with the data collection.

Observations from the dataviz

The visualisation includes a lot of data throughout the years, yet it still shows many insights about the drafting and development tendencies of the Sharks. Observations can be made based on the various factors, such as where they played before being drafted, or when and where they progress to a higher (or regress to a lower) league.

Here are some observations from the visualisation that can be said about Sharks drafting throughout Wilson’s tenure.

  • There are nine players drafted by Wilson who are still in the NHL with careers that have spanned at least ten years. In 2003, Joe Pavelski was drafted in the seventh round. Other seventh round picks still playing NHL hockey include Demers in 2008, as well as Justin Braun in 2007. Nick Bonino was a sixth round pick in 2007.
  • Looking at earlier round picks, Logan Couture and Charlie Coyle are a couple of first rounders in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic was a second round pick in 2005. Thomas Greiss and Alex Stalock are still NHL goaltenders and they complete the list of nine players still playing NHL hockey in 2019-20 while being drafted by 2010 at the latest.
  • Other draft picks with NHL experience who have since retired include Milan Michalek, Matt Carle, Torrey Mitchell, Devin Setoguchi, Frazer McLaren, and Freddie Hamilton.
  • The Sharks heavily favoured drafting American players, as a large fraction of draft picks were used on prospects playing out of USA leagues, which often include the US Hockey League or High School League. They also drafted a handful of players who were already in the NCAA.
  • To build on this point, 97 out of the 120 draft picks were playing out of North American leagues, as the Sharks often avoided selecting players who played overseas.
  • No Sharks prospect made the jump to the NHL in their D+1 season. The five players to make the NHL in their D+2 seasons were Vlasic, Mirco Mueller, and Timo Meier coming out of the CHL; Jason Demers who had a one year pitstop in the AHL in his D+1 year after also being selected out of the CHL; and of course Tomas Hertl, who came over from Europe and never looked back.
  • Most players who were still in the CHL in their D+3 year generally did not make it to the NHL, but there’s an exception in Noah Gregor, who played more NHL games in 2019-20 than in the AHL in his D+4 year. Whether he pushes for an NHL role moving forward is still to be determined.
  • Of the four players drafted out of lower Canadian leagues not a part of the CHL, none have made it to the NHL. Mike Vernace had short stints with Colorado and Tampa Bay. He and Isaac MacLeod have since retired from the sport. Marcus Vela most recently played in the ECHL in his D+5 year, and then there is Jasper Weatherby, who was drafted out of the British Columbia Hockey League in 2018 and is currently playing in the NCAA with the University of North Dakota.
  • A late bloomer, Colin Blackwell made his NHL debut with the Predators in his D+8 year, and in his D+9 year, he played 27 games in the NHL over the 26 games AHL. He was drafted out of the US High School system and spent five years in the NCAA before transitioning to the AHL.
  • Though the Sharks tend to avoid drafting European players, they specifically avoid Russia even more. Wilson has only drafted five players out of Russian leagues. Tragically, one such player was Daniil Sobchenko, who was one of the victims of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash.
  • Other Russians include Emil Galimov, who is still playing in the KHL; Karlis Cukste, who spent time in the NCAA after playing primarily out of the Russian MHL in his draft year; and the duo of Yegor Spiridonov and Timur Ibragimov, both of whom were drafted in 2019 out of the MHL as well.

These are of course, a small selection of observations made from the chart. There’s a lot of information to be explored. To supplement the chart, the data used for the visualisation can be downloaded below. In the spreadsheet, the players are colour coded the same way as the chart, and individual players paths can be looked it with more detail.

What’s next for San Jose

Wilson’s last few years have been primarily focused on extending the Sharks’ window to compete, which includes building around Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Vlasic from the backend, and around Couture, Hertl, Evander Kane, Meier, and Kevin Labanc upfront.

That’s a good mix of homegrown talent and acquisitions as any, and the Sharks will try again to see themselves to a prolonged playoff run in 2020-21 after missing the postseason last year. After re-signing Patrick Marleau to a one-year contract, it’s clear that the Sharks will still try to immediately win without significantly retooling of their current roster.


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