July 23, 2024
Mikael Granlund previously put up impressive numbers with the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators

SAN JOSE – Forward Mikael Granlund was injured just a few days after training camp began but appears to be on track to play in the San Jose Sharks’ season-opener next week, a good sign for a team that might have to start the year without Logan Couture.

Granlund was a full participant in practice Tuesday, one week after he said he “tweaked” something in the morning skate prior to the Sharks’ Sept. 26 game at home against the Anaheim Ducks. Granlund practiced for about 30 minutes two days later and has been regularly skating ever since.

The Sharks need all the center depth they can get with Couture out with a lower-body injury and not expected to skate again until later this week or early next week. Sharks coach David Quinn said Couture had another positive day Tuesday with no setbacks but has mentioned previously that everyone involved will take a cautious approach with the captain’s NHL return.

Granlund would appear to be the Sharks’ best option to take over the second-line center position if Couture were to miss regular season games, starting with the Oct. 12 opener at home against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Granlund would welcome the opportunity.

“We’ll see what the lineup is going to look like on opening night,” Granlund said. “My personal goal is to really get up there to play a lot and to get the opportunity to be an important piece of the team.

“The last few years in Nashville. I played a ton of minutes and that’s when you enjoy hockey the most and hopefully, I can play that well and get out there quite a bit and be in those important situations.

“Personally, that’s when hockey is at its best so hopefully, I can do a good enough job to earn that.”

Granlund has scored more than 60 points in a season three times in the last seven years, including the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons with the Minnesota Wild. Two years ago with the Predators, Granlund had 64 points and averaged a career-high 20:25 in ice time over 80 games.

Granlund was regularly on a line with Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, a trio that, per Natural Stat Trick, had an expected goals-for percentage of 55.02 during 5-on-5 play in the regular season. The Sharks would take that in a heartbeat from their second line this season.

In recent practices, the Sharks have had Tomas Hertl centering a line with Anthony Duclair and Alexander Barabanov. Without Couture, a Sharks second line to start the season could feature Granlund in the middle and Mike Hoffman, William Eklund, Filip Zadina, and Kevin Labanc as options on the wings.

Can Granlund recapture that old form after a forgettable 2022-2023 season in which he had a combined 41 points in 79 games between Nashville and Pittsburgh? Maybe.

The Sharks forward group does appear deeper and more dynamic now than it was the last two seasons, but Granlund might not get the same power play time in San Jose that he enjoyed in Nashville.

“You see the opening lineup for the first game and it’s probably not going to be the same lineup a few games from that,” Granlund said. “So you go day by day you just try to do your best. And as a player, that’s all you can think of.”

LABANC UPDATE: Labanc is also on track to play in the Sharks’ season-opener next week and mentioned he might try to play in San Jose’s final preseason game on Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings in Salt Lake City.

Labanc was hurt in the Sept. 26 game with Anaheim, saying he felt some discomfort in his upper body in the first period.

“I said, we have time to get it right and it feels good,” now, Labanc said. “So it’s as ready as can be.”

Labanc has been the subject of trade rumors in recent years and his long-term future in San Jose is uncertain at best. Now 27, Labanc is one of nine Sharks players who are set to become unrestricted free agents next year after he signed a four-year, $18.9 million deal with the Sharks in Oct. 2020.

Labanc, the fourth-longest tenured Shark after Timo Meier was traded to the New Jersey Devils in February, said he’s more concerned about trying to end San Jose’s four-year playoff drought than a new contract right now.

“I just want to win,” Labanc said. “I don’t want to be put in the same position that we were in the last half of the season. That wasn’t fun to be a part of. So just competing and winning, that’s why I play the game. Let the business take care of care of itself, but right now, it’s just all hands on deck.”