SAN JOSE –- Injured Sharks forward Matt Nieto didn’t skate on any of San Jose’s four lines for practice on Friday, but said he “absolutely” expects to be an option at some point during the Stanley Cup Final.
The Sharks and Penguins stage Game 1 in Pittsburgh on Monday.
"It’s progressed well. I felt really good out there today and people were roughing it up. So, it was good,” Nieto said.
The speedy 23-year-old has not played since crashing into the goal post during Game 6 of the Nashville series in the second round on May 9. He has an upper body injury, as evidenced by a substantial brace he’s wearing underneath his sweater.
Although he's been skating for some time, the next step in his recovery was a full practice, with contact, which apparently happened on Friday.
“I’ve been shooting the puck fine, and passing and moving great, so to take that next step was a good feeling,” he said.
"That's my first time skating with the group in a few weeks and its a lot more fun being out there with everyone than just by myself. Progress is always good, and it felt awesome.”
Although his speed could be a real asset for the Sharks against a fast Penguins team, where Nieto would fit is difficult to determine as coach Pete DeBoer might be hesitant to mess with a winning lineup. The Sharks won games five and six of the St. Louis Western Conference Final series, including a dominant performance on Wednesday in a 5-2 win.
Nieto has one goal and two assists for three points and a plus-one rating in 11 playoff games. Prior to getting hurt, he was the left wing on the third line with Chris Tierney and Joel Ward, where Melker Karlsson has been skating ever since.