San Jose Sharks GM Mike Grier announced Saturday that left-shot defensemen Nikolai Knyzhov suffered a torn Achilles tendon in his right leg during an off-ice training session. He underwent surgery on August 10 to repair the injury, and the estimated recovery time is around 6 months, putting his return to play just after the All-Star break in February. This is devastating news to all involved, as Knyzhov missed the entirety of the 2021-22 season with a groin injury, and the Sharks were looking to lean heavily on his defense-first mindset for the coming season.
“Not to be Rude but… Who?”
The 24-year old Russian defensemen was one of San Jose’s most promising young players during the shortened 2020-21 campaign. Playing alongside Erik Karlsson on the second pairing, he recorded 10 points (two goals, eight assists) and was named the club’s rookie of the year. His performance was one of very few bright spots for the Sharks that year, as they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Knyzhov’s talents have gone mostly unnoticed outside the organization for primarily two reasons:
1. Both stints of his NHL playing time occurred during COVID-shortened seasons
2. He was kept out of the entire 2021-22 season by a groin injury, which led to a lingering infection that prolonged the recovery process.
What’s Next for the Sharks?
As far as right-handed defensemen, the Sharks are pretty limited to Karlsson, Ryan Merkley, and newly acquired Matt Benning as far as NHL caliber players are concerned (although there are still question marks around Merkley). So, somewhat luckily, the club has a surplus of D-men to fill the gap on the left side that Knyzhov would leave. That includes Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Radim Simek, Jaycob Megna, and another new acquisition in Markus Nutivaara.
If GM Mike Grier doesn’t feel comfortable with those options, could he add another mainstay NHLer to the defensive corps before training camp begins? With very little cap flexibility, that’s hard to see happening without moving out a player or two. The organization has been no stranger to change this off-season, so it’s really anyone’s guess as to what could happen next.