Sharks fans no doubt are waiting with bated breath as Radim Simek gets his AHL conditioning stint underway en route to playing for a healthy game for San Jose.
Now, the Czech defenseman probably isn't hopping back on NHL ice after just one game with the Barracuda. But at the very least, Simek appears to be on the right track -- and for a Sharks team in need of a boost after a rocky start to their season, that is a very good thing.
Simek registered a plus-one in the Barracuda's 5-0 rout of the Bakersfield Condors on Wednesday, and set up a third-period goal by Lean Bergmann in his first contest since getting injured last March. For a skater who hasn't played in a game for almost a year, the ability to shake off the rust and get on the scoresheet in a positive way obviously is a good sign.
"To be honest, he really didn't look like he missed a beat," Barracuda coach Roy Sommer told the media after Wednesday's game. "I don't think we're going to have him for long."
Of course, as encouraging as that endorsement is, how Simek's surgically-repaired knee responds to playing again is going to be a big factor. Simek said his knee still had to be checked out following the game but noted it felt good for the duration.
"I felt great tonight," Simek said to the media. "I wasn't nervous, but it was eight months without hockey. Maybe I was nervous a little bit. The first period was hard for me. But the second and third period was better."
Not only was Simek's physical play up to snuff, but his hockey smarts seem to be as sharp as ever.
"You can tell he's above all of our other guys in moving pucks and making decisions," Sommer said. "He makes his partner look good."
The next step for the 27-year-old blueliner is having that positive impact on his defensive partner on the NHL stage.
The 2019 Sharks' "Rookie of the Year" honoree made a huge impact when he was recalled from the Barracuda last season, cementing himself in the Sharks defense by being the perfect anchor for Brent Burns. San Jose then went 29-9-3 with Simek in the lineup until losing him to the ACL/MCL injury.
Needless to say, that's the kind of record the Sharks could use right now, as they sit just one point ahead of the cellar-dwelling LA Kings in the Pacific Division. They also are giving up the second-most goals in the league -- LA is giving up the most -- through the first 13 games of the season. Clearly, any shakeup to their defense will be a big boost.
How the Sharks' blue line will look after Simek returns is a bit of a mystery.
It would make sense to pencil him back in on Burns' left side since the two played together so successfully last season. Assuming the Brenden Dillon-Erik Karlsson pair doesn't get broken up, that would potentially put lefty Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Tim Heed and make rookie Mario Ferraro the odd man out -- except that Ferraro has successfully taken on a big workload in his first stint in the NHL and Heed has been glued to San Jose's bench for the better part the last few games.
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Long story short: How San Jose's defense will look when Simek returns will have to remain a mystery for now.
At the very least, though, he's closer to making a comeback.