Jake Middleton and Erik Karlsson good pair for San Jose Sharks

San Jose Sharks coach Bob Boughner was a restless defenseman ready to take on any comer in his 10-year NHL career.

Prior to that, however, Boughner played nearly 300 minor league games – on the bus and honing his craft. He was almost 25 when he was called up by the Buffalo Sabers in 1996 and he managed to hang on, never playing in the minors again.

Maybe there is some kinship between Boughner and Jake Middleton then, who could begin a similar journey.

Middleton, 25, played 228 games for the Barracuda from 2016-2021, but is now starting to establish himself as an all-game player with the Sharks. He has played his 16 games this season alongside Erik Karlsson in the Sharks’ second defensive duo, earning Boughner’s confidence by averaging over 17 minutes of ice time per night.

“Some guys take longer than others,” Boughner said. “Jake is a guy who paid his dues and gave his time. He’s having fun like his life.”

“He’s a guy who’s proven you can do it,” Middleton said of Boughner. “He spent that time with the miners – about like me, five or six years. It’s one of those things where when you look (hockeydb.com) and realize it’s a possibility and if you just stay passionate and keep working hard hopefully some good things will work in your favor.

Middleton plays a straightforward, stable style and, like Boughner’s playing days, has not shied away from defending teammates when needed with five fights so far this season.

Middleton set the tone in the Sharks’ opener against Winnipeg on Oct. 16. After Rudolfs Balcers was punched into the boards from behind by Adam Lowry, Middleton came out of a scrimmage with Logan Stanley and more than held up against the 6-foot-7 Jets defenseman.

“He’s a great teammate,” Boughner said of Middleton, who is 6-3. “The guys love him and he’s contributed to that team identity that we’ve been trying to create. He’s a big part of it.

Middleton had played 14 NHL games prior to this season. But with the return of the Sharks’ three defensive pairs, Middleton, heading into training camp, was perhaps seen as someone who could fill a seventh defensive role with the team or become a big-minute player again with the. Barracuda.

Then Nikolai Knyzhov, Karlsson’s defensive partner for most of last season, missed the start of camp with what later turned out to be a lower body injury. Knyzhov underwent surgery shortly after the start of the season and will likely not be available for at least the next few weeks.

This opened the door for Middleton to play a bigger role at the back.

“There have been scenarios like this in just about every training camp I have attended for six years. Middleton said: “So I didn’t put too much pressure on myself. I knew I could play the game and I knew where the numbers were. But I expected nothing more than to give it my all in training camp and in those preseason games.

Middleton won the competition to be Karlsson’s defensive partner at camp and hasn’t looked back.

“Playing with (Karlsson). They kind of feed off each other and they like to play together,” Boughner said. “(Karlsson) keeps the game pretty simple for (Middleton), but Jake does a lot of dirty work there. -low and really has patience with the puck, makes good plays and provides us with sandpaper. ”

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – NOVEMBER 30: Jacob Middleton # 21 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates his second goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Middleton scored his second career NHL goal in the Sharks’ 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. The 6-3, 220-pound defenseman isn’t known for his scoring touch, but he picked the top corner over Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood for his first goal on a hard net. His other game was a draw against the Ottawa Senators on November 24.

“Honestly when I find myself in these situations I just try to hold my head up and shoot where it seems open,” said Middleton, who made a great play to break a 2-on-1 Devils right after his move. goal. . “If you ask (Karlsson), I’ve had about 30 Grade A chances in the last 20 games, so he’ll be glad I finally put one in.”

The Sharks may have a decision to make when Knyzhov, the Sharks’ top rookie last season, is healthy and ready to play again. They also have Santeri Hatakka who is waiting for his chance to return to the roster after being in good health the last five games.

“It’s the National Hockey League,” said Middleton. “You have the best players in the world on every team and if a guy like me were to get complacent or comfortable it’s kind of a recipe for disaster for someone in my place.

“I leave with the same state of mind every game. Play hard, give it your all, do it right and be a good teammate, and hopefully we can keep racing here. ”

REMARK: The NHL has officially announced that the New York Islanders season will resume and their game with the Sharks will be played Thursday as scheduled. The league shut down all Islanders activities on Saturday after forward Casey Cizikas became the eighth player to test positive for COVID-19. Forwards Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Ross Johnston and Kieffer Bellows and defenders Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara have also tested positive.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Wednesday that Lee, Bailey, Pelech, Greene and Johnston had broken protocol and that he expects four of those five players to play against the Sharks.

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