Evander Kane plays first AHL game as Barracuda loses to Abbotsford

Evander Kane plays first AHL game as Barracuda loses to Abbotsford

SAN JOSE — The atmosphere Evander Kane found himself in Saturday was certainly different from what he had been accustomed to almost throughout the first 12 years of his professional career.

Instead of playing in front of several thousand people in a packed NHL arena, Kane made his American Hockey League debut before a few hundred hearty fans at SAP Center. There was a teddy bear toss after the Barracuda, the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, scored its first goal, and despite the opposing team being from Abbotsford, British Columbia, ‘O, Canada’ was not sung before the game.

Regardless of the surroundings, though, it was a start, as Kane began his long road back to what he hopes will be a return to the NHL.

“It was nice to get back out there,” Kane said of his first game in six months, “get some competitive juices flowing and have some competition.”

Just two weeks after he was placed on waivers by the Sharks, Kane had five shots on goal for the Barracuda in its 5-1 loss to the Abbotsford Canucks. Kane played on a line with fellow winger Joachim Blichfeld and center Joel Kellman as San Jose lost for the seventh time in the last eight games.

Kane’s speed was still on display and he seemed to become a bit more comfortable as the game went on.

The sparse crowd allowed individual fans, if they yelled loud enough, to be heard clearly throughout the arena. Most fans at the game cheered Kane, while a couple of others got on his case a few times.

“I thought he was pretty good. I wouldn’t say he was horrible,” Barracuda coach Roy Sommer said of Kane. “For a guy that hasn’t been in a game (since May), I thought he did pretty good. He was in on the forecheck, he made some plays.

“But I thought his effort was there. He didn’t cheat us that way.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Barracuda’s Evander Kane skates towards the puck against Canucks’ Madison Bowey (4) in the first period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

Kane had only taken part in three practices with the Barracuda since he officially joined the team on Nov. 30. Kane did not participate in Sharks’ training camp earlier this fall and was suspended for 21 games by the NHL on Oct. 18 — shortly after the regular season began — for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocol.

Kane did get one practice in this week on Friday and felt good enough to dress Saturday for his first pro game since May 12 when the Sharks lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2020-2021 regular-season finale.

“First time playing with a lot of guys. I hadn’t practiced all week,” Kane said. “I thought we had some looks. (Abbotsford was) very opportunistic, but for the most part, played pretty good.”

A half-dozen scouts from NHL teams were credentialed for the game, the first of two on back-to-back days for the Barracuda against the Canucks. The two teams play again Sunday in San Jose at 3 p.m.

“Understandably sluggish at times based on conditioning for game conditions,” one scout said in a text message. “It’s also not easy to fit in with minor league players who simply don’t think the game or have the skills to execute at the major league level.

“Overall, I thought he was a bit above average with his five shots a positive factor.”

There’s little question the Sharks are trying to trade Kane, who is in the fourth year of a seven-year contract that carries an average annual value of $7 million. Kane, though, has a modified trade clause in which he would only accept a deal to one of three teams.

Saturday afternoon’s game started six hours before the Sharks hosted Joe Pavelski and the Dallas Stars.

Kane said Saturday he is taking things day-by-day, but Sommer feels the 30-year-old forward is now a full-fledged member of the Barracuda, slated to practice and play like everybody else.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Fans throw stuffed animals onto the ice during the Teddy Bear Toss in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

“That’s what I’ve been told,” Sommer said, “and that’s kind of how we’re approaching it. He looked like he wanted to get on the ice. Didn’t look like a guy that said, ‘I’m not going to play.’ He wanted to get out there, which is a good sign.”

The teddy bear toss was activated after rookie Adam Raska, a Sharks’ 2020 seventh-round draft pick, scored his first career AHL goal.

“At practice, he was helping the guys. Just some things he was talking to us about something,” Raska said of Kane. “So I think he wasn’t that bad influence like everybody thought.”

“After practice (Friday), I told (Raska) he was going to score, and he did,” Kane said. “That was nice to see.”

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