Michigan Tech senior Jake Jackson just attended his sixth NHL development camp with the San Jose Sharks. When he first headed out to the Bay Area in 2013, he was a 170-pound string bean, and Todd MacLellan was the Sharks coach.
“I was so nervous, just out of high school,” Jackson said. “I hadn’t really been away from home.”
The former newbie has since climbed three rungs on hockey’s developmental ladder: from the North American Junior League to the USHL to two seasons of NCAA Division I. Jackson is now a technical communications major at the prestigious engineering school Michigan Tech.
It’s a remarkable confluence that a tech major is affiliated with the only NHL franchise in Silicon Valley. The Sharks run every prospect through a battery bests every July, and after six sessions in San Jose, they now have reams of data on Jackson.
“They do a pretty strenuous list of tests every year,” Jackson said. “They keep track of them from year to year.”
The testing is prodigious: body fat percentage, vertical jump, broad jump, pull-ups, movement testing, balance with flexibility tests, six consecutive length-of-the-ice sprints with 15-second recovery splits, straight-line speed, crossover speed, five-10-five shuttle drills, and lest they forget, height and weight.
All of Jackson’s data has been meticulously recorded, entered into laptops, and stored on hard drives for the duration of his affiliation with the Sharks. When charted out, all of Jackson’s growth axes are pointing northeast.
“Everything has gone up since I started,” said Jackson, who likened some of his NHL testing to the short-burst drills conducted at Michigan Tech. “Those have skyrocketed.”
Another tangible way to track Jackson’s growth is to read his bio line in the Michigan Tech media guide: Sophomore year—“Most improved player;” junior year—63 percent jump in production up to 26 points as a top-six scorer.
Jackson’s annual production reads like a blue-chip stock, a relentless incremental climb to success. He has yet to plateau, and the Husky senior has a final season of college hockey before him, a hockey environment that is so conducive to self-improvement: four days of practice and weights prior to each weekend doubleheader.
Jackson is a project, a young man that NHL franchises refer to as organizational depth. Few could have imagined him as an NHL candidate five years ago, but he has added two inches, 20 pounds and a world of experience since he wandered into the Sharks NHL facility with stars in his eyes. San Jose scouting director Tim Burke has taken a special interest in Jackson, and has made a point of teaching him “the Sharks’ way.”
“I know Tim Burke pretty well,” said Jackson, shortly after his sixth camp in San Jose. “He’s been a lot of help to me over the years. He’s detail oriented and very blunt.”
#10 Jake Jackson
Michigan Tech Huskies
2017-18 Point Scoring
For example, Burke likes to confront his prospects and demand to know what they are doing—that very day—to improve their hockey fortunes. Jackson then provided a typical exchange between Burke and one of his charges.
“What are you doing on Monday?” barks Burke, clipping his vowels in his New England chowder accent.
“Oh, I’m skating and then doing a lift,” says the camper.
“Well, you should be in your garage stickhandling, toe-drag, quick hands!”
Burke has spent the last six years implementing techniques specific to the Sharks organization: evading defensemen in the corners, shooting through defenders’ legs, and Burke’s specialty, shooting one-timers.
“It’s different than what you’d expect,” said Jackson, “and Burke is the one that’s teaching it.”
Sometime in late March or early April, Jackson’s NCAA career will come to a close up at Michigan Tech. It’s likely the Sharks, who have monitored Jackson’s development in minute detail, will offer him a professional contract.
The Sharks minor league affiliate is also in San Jose, so there is a good chance Jackson will start his next hockey chapter in the Bay Area.
“The more I go there, the more I like it,” Jackson said. “I’m comfortable getting around the city, around the guys, around the staff. That’s the angle, right? To make it to the NHL.”
Then Jackson soberly assessed his lifelong dream that he has been patiently striding toward for over five years: “If I get the opportunity to sign a contract, and play in the NHL or the AHL, either way, I’m ready for the opportunity.”
WCHA Prospect Check-Ins:
Brandon Kruse, Bowling Green — Vegas Golden Knights
Philip Beaulieu, Northern Michigan — Boston Bruins
Cooper Zech, Ferris State — Washington Capitals
Steven Ruggiero, Lake Superior State — Anaheim Ducks
Jake Jaremko, Minnesota State — Nashville Predators