After a rough go with injuries over the past two seasons, Nikolai Knyzhov is getting closer and closer to a return as the days go by. The San Jose Sharks defenseman was forced to miss the entire 2021-22 campaign due to a groin injury, and was expected to be fully recovered for the start of 2022-23. That never came to fruition, however, as he suffered a torn Achilles during off-ice training in the middle of August, which has continued to keep him on the shelf.
Last week, San Jose Hockey Now reported that the target date for Knyzhov’s return was late January or February.
While neither head coach David Quinn nor Knyzhov would confirm that timeline, it’s clear that the 24-year-old blueliner is progressing. Today, for the first time since his Achilles injury, he was able to skate with his San Jose Sharks teammates in five-man group drills. He also wore an orange no-contact jersey, another sign of normalcy.
Knyzhov appears to be stepping up to another level in his comeback, this is the first time that he’s been in 5-man group drills, I think. Quinn says they don’t have a return timeline yet though pic.twitter.com/3JnrzdQ7V5
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 29, 2022
Previously, Knyzhov had mostly skated by himself or with the morning skate scratches.
“It was fun being out there, fun being able to mix with the guys,” Knyzhov said after the skate concluded. “Skating for eight weeks without anybody, just going with long drills gets tiring, gets boring. That was the most fun I’ve had in the last couple months.”
He also added that he felt good after morning skate, and is planning to participate in regular practice tomorrow, though again in an orange jersey. He also might sit out some battle drills, but is ready to compete with his teammates again.
As mentioned, a return date has yet to be set in stone, but Knyzhov himself said that he is ahead of recovery. His initial target with to just be back on the ice in February, but he beat that projection by two months.
Quinn was equally optimistic, but admitted that playing in a game with as much time as Knyzhov has had off isn’t an easy thing to jump back into.
“It’s healed enough where he can do this,” Quinn said regarding Knyzhov’s inclusion with the optional morning skate group. “Playing in a game is a big leap from where he came from six, seven months ago when he had the surgery. So, again, we’re taking this very slow with him. It’s just constantly evaluating what he can handle, what he can’t handle. You challenge yourself through the rehab and if it’s too much, you pull back. This is all a part of the process of putting him in a position where he’s getting in great shape, but also continuing his rehab and staying healthy.”
As Quinn brought up, it won’t be easy for the young defenseman to hop back into game action given the amount of time he has had off. That said, he does appear to be progressing quicker than initially expected, which is great news for both Knyzhov himself as well as the San Jose Sharks as an organization.
Just two short seasons ago he had himself a very solid rookie season, mostly partnered with Erik Karlsson, scoring two goals and 10 points in 56 games while averaging just under 17 minutes of ice time. He was selected Sharks Rookie of the Year by the media. The hope now is that when he returns, he is able to continue to continue his upward trajectory.
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