SAN JOSE – Melker Karlsson is expected to make his season debut on Tuesday night against the Islanders on the Sharks’ third line, as the club desperately seeks more production on the scoresheet from its depth players.
Karlsson had been dealing with a nagging lower body injury since training camp, experiencing some setbacks in his recovery. He’s fully confident that’s all behind him now, “or else I wouldn’t be here.”
In his first season as Sharks coach, Pete DeBoer hasn’t seen much of Karlsson in person. He has, however, watched “quite a bit” of tape on the 25-year-old forward from last season, as well portions of his four games in the AHL with the Barracuda.
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"Everyone talks about [Logan] Couture being out of the lineup, I think Melker missing too has hurt us in a lot of different areas, too," DeBoer said. "We missed his presence on the penalty kill, being able to play with good players, being able to make plays, he’s got some speed to his game. It’s nice that he’s available now.”
Joe Pavelski spent much of the second half of last season with Karlsson – memorably dubbed a “puck hunter” by former coach Todd McLellan – as a linemate.
“Last year when we got him, I don’t think we quite knew what to expect from him. He showed up and produced right away,” Pavelski said. “It wasn’t [just] producing with the goals. He scored those, but you saw how he got in on the forecheck, the pucks he turned over. … We expect he’ll bring that.”
Karlsson indicated he had some minor procedures in recent weeks, but “not any big things.” He played back-to-back games with the Barracuda over the weekend, including an assist on Sunday.
The challenge of games on consecutive days was a big test that he apparently passed.
“It held up [after Saturday], I played the next game, and it held up,” he said.
At Monday’s lengthy practice at Sharks Ice, Karlsson spent time centering Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto on what would be considered the third line, despite playing all of last season on the wing. DeBoer wouldn’t confirm that’s the way the Sharks will go against the Islanders, though.
“We’ll see what role I get this year,” Karlsson said. “It’s going to be fun to see where he puts me. I’m just going to play my game. That’s what got me here. Lots of energy, and try to get in the grease and maybe score some goals.”
The Sharks’ fourth line consisted of Chris Tierney, Micheal Haley and Mike Brown on Monday. Since Couture’s injury, the Sharks have struggled mightily to get offense from any line other than their top two.
Perhaps Karlsson can spark that group.
“I’m going to do everything I can,” he said. “I think there are good players on [all] four lines. They maybe just need a bounce in the right direction.”
Karlsson was the Sharks’ 2014-15 Rookie of the Year, with 13 goals and 24 points in 53 games. He had a five-game goal-scoring streak from Jan. 3-10, tying the franchise record for a rookie, and signed a two-year, $3.3 million contract extension on June 27.
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DeBoer gave a brief update on Couture, who continues to rehab from a fractured right fibula.
“He’s making strides, he’s here, he’s exercising, he’s walking. But, the finish line is still in the distance here,” DeBoer said.
Couture had surgery 23 days ago. His original timetable to return, according to the team, was 4-to-6 weeks.
Ben Smith also remains out with an apparent head injury. DeBoer would only say the 27-year-old is still “not available.”