SAN JOSE -- It's difficult to pinpoint the last time Erik Karlsson looked 100-percent healthy while playing in a Sharks sweater. Sure, he had a couple of good games in the playoffs. But really, the San Jose blueliner was at his best at the halfway point of the 2018-19 season.
More of those good days could be on the horizon, though, if Karlsson's return to the ice in Thursday's preseason game against the Calgary Flames was any indication.
It was only his first game back, but Karlsson looks like he's ready to rebound from an injury-hampered first season in San Jose and start off the 2019-20 season on a high note.
"The first game is always about trying to feel it out a bit," Karlsson told the media after the Sharks' 4-1 victory over the Flames. "But it felt good out there. It was the first game of the year."
It's understandable that Karlsson or anyone else on the team doesn't want to jump to any conclusions regarding his health. Nevertheless, it was nice to see how much he was able to contribute in Thursday's game.
"For him, a guy that sees the ice as well as he does and makes plays like he does, I think he was getting better and better as the game went on," teammate Brenden Dillon said.
New Sharks captain Logan Couture agreed with that assessment.
"When he wants to go, he can go," Couture said. "And that's a positive. You just hoped he recovered fully from that surgery and it looks like he has."
There were, of course, some questions before the preseason opened up as to how Karlsson would play in his return to the ice after he had surgery early in the offseason. Then Karlsson showed up to work on on the first day of training camp and was a full participant. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer even admitted on the first day of camp that he was surprised to see the two-time Norris Trophy winner participating so heavily.
"I think if you'd asked me a month ago if he'd look like he did right now and he was participating full-out, I'd probably be a little reluctant to say yes," DeBoer said when camp opened up on September 13. "But that wasn't even a question. I thought he looked great out there."
Karlsson put the speculation further to rest on Thursday when he took the ice for his first preseason contest. He was one of the team leaders in ice time and looked especially speedy on the power play. Granted, Calgary didn't put their usual regular-season lineup on the ice. Regardless, Thursday's game proved to be a good jumping-off point for Karlsson and the rest of the Sharks.
"He looked good. His composure, some of his passes were great," DeBoer observed. "It was an exhibition game. It was nice to win, it's been a while since we've won a game. There was some good stuff."
The strong return to game action sets the stage nicely for Karlsson to contribute on a more regular basis this upcoming season -- and in a season that will be unlike the last. Roster changes have made the Sharks a different team than they were last season, and Karlsson and his teammates know they will have new challenges to face and overcome if they're going to remain one of the biggest threats in the Western Conference.
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"It feels like a new year," Karlsson said. "You're going to have to adapt and figure things out as early as possible -- what you need to do this season to be successful within the team. We all know this year is going to be extremely different from last year. That's how it is."
At least, for starters, Karlsson's first game back went well.