San Jose Sharks’ COVID list grows by one; another rookie to make NHL debut

SAN JOSE — No Sharks players were added or subtracted from the NHL’s COVID-19 list over the last two days but equipment manager Mike Aldrich joined a list of team staff members who are now in the league’s coronavirus protocol.

Aldrich joined coach Bob Boughner and head athletic trainer Ray Tufts as non-playing members of the team who have to remain in isolation away from the club. The players still on the COVID list are forwards Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Matt Nieto, and defensemen Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Radim Simek, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The Sharks said in early October that all players were fully vaccinated. The NHL requires that all coaches and support staff be vaccinated, as well.

Aldrich was added to the list late Tuesday and was not near the Sharks’ bench for the team’s 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The Sharks host the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night in the fourth game of a five-game homestand.

According to NHL rules for this season, symptomatic individuals who test positive must isolate from the team for at least 10 days and need a doctor’s approval to return once symptoms have disappeared. Some Sharks players are symptomatic, but the Sharks are not releasing the names of those individuals.

Sharks assistant coach John MacLean said he wasn’t sure when some of the individuals in protocol would be able to return, saying, “honestly, we get differing views on when they test negative or how many tests they need. I think it’s just day-to-day.”

If no players in the protocol can return to the lineup by Saturday’s game against New Jersey, there is some optimism within the organization that they can rejoin the team sometime near the start of their road trip next week. The Sharks play in Calgary on Tuesday and Winnipeg on Thursday.

“That’s the hope. We’re hoping that that comes true for us,” MacLean said.

“We hope they come back tomorrow. We hope (Boughner) comes back tomorrow. We hope the players come back tomorrow, but we just don’t know.”

ANOTHER NHL DEBUT: Rookie defenseman Santeri Hatakka, who suffered an upper-body injury in the second period of Tuesday’s game on a hard hit by Buffalo’s John Hayden, is out of the lineup and will be replaced by Artemi Kniazev, who is making his NHL debut.

Hatakka came into the lineup Saturday after the Sharks lost four defensemen to COVID protocol and was playing in just his second game Tuesday. Kniazev, a second-round draft pick by the Sharks in 2019, takes over Hatakka’s spot on a defense pair with Nicolas Meloche.

“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the NHL,” Kniazev said Thursday morning. “I’m just excited to make my debut.”

Eight NHL rookies are slated to be in the Sharks’ lineup against the Blues. Already this season, six Sharks players have made their NHL debuts, including defensemen Hatakka and Ryan Merkley.

“Artemi’s going to get an opportunity,” MacLean said. “Hopefully he can bring us some energy like the other guys have.”

FOR STARTERS: Adin Hill will start in goal for the Sharks against the Blues. Hill is 3-2-0 this season with a .893 save percentage and will be making his first appearance since Oct. 28 when he stopped 28 of 31 shots in the Sharks’ 4-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at SAP Center.

The Sharks made the switch after James Reimer just led the Sharks to wins over Winnipeg and Buffalo. Reimer stopped 59 of 63 shots in the two games as the Sharks entered Thursday with a 6-3-0 record, including a 3-1-0 mark at home.

DECISION TIME: Rookie forward William Eklund will play in his ninth NHL game Thursday as he is slated to start on the Sharks’ top line with Logan Couture and Jonathan Dahlen. He will also be on the team’s top power-play unit with his linemates, Brent Burns and Nick Bonino.

If Eklund plays a 10th NHL game, whether that’s Saturday against the Devils or next week on the road, the first year of his entry-level contract will officially kick in and he would be eligible to become a restricted free agent after the 2023-2024 season.

The Sharks also have the option to return Eklund, 19, to Djurgardens of the Swedish Hockey League before his next game after Thursday, which would delay the start of his entry-level deal for another year.

If the Sharks have made a decision about Eklund’s future, they weren’t saying so Thursday morning. Eklund said he hasn’t been told what the organization has in store for him, and MacLean was especially coy when asked about the teenager’s NHL future.

Eklund enters Thursday with four points, all assists, in eight games and is averaging 14:11 in ice time per game.

“He has things we can’t teach,” MacLean said. “But there are things that he needs to learn.”

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