“Well, Sheng, I am NHL-ready, right?”
That was Evander Kane‘s response when I asked him if he was ready to play in the NHL — in terms of conditioning — after not playing a pro hockey game in seven months.
There’s no doubt that Kane, if we’re talking strictly about on-the-ice ability, should be in the NHL. He was the San Jose Sharks‘ media-voted Team MVP last season and has scored at a 30-goal pace in each of the last two shortened seasons.
But here Kane was this afternoon, after a tumultuous off-season, making his AHL debut for the San Jose Barracuda. The 30-year-old winger went straight from juniors to the NHL after he was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009.
This is no temporary conditioning assignment either — as acting GM Joe Will spelled out two weeks ago, “He’s just assigned there until he’s not assigned there.”
The presumption is that Kane isn’t with the San Jose Sharks because of locker room strife last season. His ex-teammates have done nothing to dispel such notions since Day One of training camp.
So today, in particular, presented a potentially awkward situation: In the morning, the San Jose Sharks, San Jose Barracuda, Dallas Stars, and Abbotsford Canucks were all occupying the same lower level of SAP Center, separated by temporary partitions or a couple minutes walk. The Sharks and Stars were jumping on for their morning skates, the Barracuda and Canucks preparing for their afternoon clash.
Even at Sharks Ice, where both the Sharks and Barracuda practice, there’s at least another rink separating the squads.
Kane, however, shot back: “I play for the Barracuda, right? So I come to the rink and I go to this room. How would I run into anybody?”
The next, obvious question: There’s no doubt that Kane believes — and he’s absolutely right to — that he belongs in the NHL. But does he want to be there with the San Jose Sharks — taking the ice just three hours after the AHL Canucks wiped out the Barracuda 5-1? The winger, by the way, had five shots in his minor league debut.
“I think I’ve made my stance pretty clear,” Kane said, tersely.
“I think we have a good plan in place,” he offered two weeks ago when asked a similar question. “I’m not going to get into that too much. But I’m looking forward to it.”
So it’s just, as Kane put it himself, day to day in the minors for the seven-time 20-goal scorer. Barracuda coach Roy Sommer said the plan was for Kane to play tomorrow against Abbotsford and for him to join the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate on their upcoming road trip. Kane wouldn’t confirm this, but it appears the best way for this NHL star to play himself out of the AHL is to, well, play.
Six teams had NHL scouts scheduled to watch this Barracuda contest this afternoon, the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Dallas Stars. It’s very much worth noting though that scouting trips are often planned well in advance, and scouts like to go to Barracuda-Sharks double-headers for the convenience. So chances are, there’s nothing to read into from this.
By all accounts, Kane is endearing himself to his Barracuda teammates, which should only help him get back into an NHL locker room sooner than later.
“He’s been very helpful with the guys. He’s given us a little spark,” San Jose’s lone goal scorer Adam Raska said. “At practice, he was helping the guys. He wasn’t that bad of an influence like everybody thought.”
Kane noted: “I told him he was gonna score today, and he did. That was nice to see, he hasn’t had a point all year.”
“I thought he’s been good. We haven’t had a problem with him,” Sommer shared. “He’s showing up on time. He’s been to the rink when he’s supposed to. Showed up tonight on time. That’s all you can ask for. When he was out on the ice, I thought he didn’t cheat us.”
Sheng’s Travel Fund
Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.