The San Jose Sharks put out the “Help Wanted” sign for the 2021-22 season yesterday morning.
“There’s obviously decisions to be made for next year,” Bob Boughner acknowledged before San Jose snapped their eight-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory over Arizona.
Alexander Barabanov looks like a strong applicant for a job, at least based on last night’s performance.
And it wasn’t just about his first NHL goal, also the game-winner.
Alexander Barabanov gets his first NHL goal 👏 pic.twitter.com/a7zdV98ueL
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) April 27, 2021
“He looks like a confident player,” Boughner offered, “he doesn’t look like a guy with the minimum [NHL] experience that he has over here.”
Barabanov has played in just 14 NHL games, 13 with Toronto, in his debut North American campaign, but the 26-year-old is a veteran of seven KHL seasons, three World Championships, and an Olympics. The San Jose Sharks acquired the Russian winger from the Maple Leafs for Antti Suomela at the Trade Deadline.
Boughner added, “[He was good] under pressure, some of his skill plays under pressure. He didn’t get rattled.”
Here’s an example: Off the wall, Barabanov (94) pulls it off the wall toward the middle, evading Dryden Hunt (28). Hunt is now a step behind and Barabanov has multiple attack options – he chooses to change the point of the attack and distribute it to Brent Burns (88).
At this level, of course, it’s not just about the flash.
“What I really like about him, though, is that he just manages his game,” Boughner said. “If he doesn’t have anything, he’s not afraid to just toss it into a soft area.”
Coming up the right wall, chased by two Coyotes, Barabanov doesn’t challenge Michael Bunting (58) directly, avoiding a turnover risk. Instead, he executes a soft chip – gaining territory by moving the puck forward – putting it in a place where he can beat both Bunting and Ilya Lyubushkin (46) to the puck. It’s a small play: Barabanov just shovels it ahead to Evander Kane (9). But it results in a San Jose Sharks power play.
“He really helped that line out,” Boughner said, of the right winger’s contribution to the Kane-Tomas Hertl line. “He protects the puck, he does a lot of little things. And he’s a smart player, really smart player. So I was really pleasantly surprised.”
Kane agreed: “He had some good patience. He kept it simple through the neutral zone, knows where to be in the o-zone. I thought he did a really, really good job working with me and Tommy.”
So what’s next for Barabanov? First, a repeat performance. Boughner confirmed that Barabanov would get another chance with what’s essentially the San Jose Sharks’ top line tomorrow night.
Second, keep it up until the end of the season. The Sharks have a bevy of young skill forwards who would love a chance to skate with Hertl and Kane if Barabanov falls off.
If all that falls into place? The impending UFA is keeping an open mind. But according to Nikolai Knyzhov, who translated for Barabanov in this afternoon’s media availability: “His plans and his goals and his dream is to stay in North America.”
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