Erik Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth defensemen

Marcus White
NBC Sports BayArea

It would be difficult for the Sharks to find a positive in the wake of Erik Karlsson's season-ending broken thumb.

Their 2019-20 season was lost well before the two-time Norris Trophy joined the ranks of their walking wounded. San Jose faced an uphill climb -- we're talking a 90-degree incline -- to make the playoffs with the defenseman in the lineup down the stretch. Without him, Tomas Hertl (knee; out for the season) and Logan Couture (ankle; out indefinitely), the Sharks are certain to clean out their lockers soon after the April 4 regular-season finale. 

That doesn't mean the season is a lost cause for Karlsson's teammates, particularly those behind him on the defensive depth chart. 

"You're gonna see a situation where a lot of guys get to step up, and see what they can do and prove that they deserve to play in the NHL," former Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan said on Sharks Postgame Live after San Jose's 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. "Sometimes, it's [an] opportunity for other guys, but [it's] just an unfortunate circumstance. When it rains, it pours, and it seems like that's the way it's going for the Sharks right now."

The Sharks recalled Jacob Middleton from the AHL Barracuda before Saturday's game, but defenseman Tim Heed got the first look in Karlsson's absence. The Swedish defenseman skated 14:08, including 1:04 of power-play time. 

Heed had not played since Jan. 16, but was second among Sharks defensemen with two shots on goal Saturday. The 29-year-old seems poised for his longest look in the NHL since making his Sharks debut three seasons ago, and at an opportune time. He's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the summer, and he can use the stretch run to prove he's worthy of an NHL look -- whether in San Jose or elsewhere. 

Heed's fellow Swede, despite the injury, doesn't face nearly as much uncertainty. Karlsson is under contract through 2027 after signing a massive eight-year extension this offseason. The 29-year-old will have played in just 109 of a possible 164 regular-season games with the Sharks over his first two seasons in teal, as a groin injury hobbled him down the stretch last year, too.

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Karlsson previously sustained a lacerated left Achilles tendon in 2013 and underwent major ankle surgery in 2017. Another lower-body injury would've been much worse news for Karlsson and the Sharks, according to Hannan.

"And on a positive -- not knowing, of course, what the extent of that broken thumb is," Hannan said, "but it's not like it was the groin injury [again] for someone that relies so much on his skating, and his ability to evade checks and get away from people. So hopefully, this thumb injury is not that serious and he's able to just get that thing healed and be ready for the start of the season."

The Sharks will count on Karlsson to be at full strength this fall in order to ensure their playoff drought doesn't last longer than a season. His replacements, starting with Heed, will have plenty of motivation to make an impression in his absence. 

Erik Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth defensemen originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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