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Preview/Lines #24: Middleton “Having the Time of His Life” Alongside Karlsson

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Credit: San Jose Sharks

For the last five years, defenseman Jake Middleton has hung his hat primarily with the San Jose Barracuda.

Now, Middleton has taken a step up with the San Jose Sharks.

“Jake does a lot of the dirty work back there and has really had some great patience with the puck,” San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said. “He’s making good plays and providing some sandpaper and some toughness for us.”

Middleton, 25, skated with the Barracuda in 228 games from 2016 to 2021, but has began solidifying himself as an everyday player with the San Jose Sharks. He has played all 17 of his games this season alongside Erik Karlsson on the Sharks’ second defensive pairing, gaining Boughner’s trust by averaging nearly 18 minutes of ice time per game.

“Some guys take longer than others,” Boughner said. “Jake’s a guy that’s paid his dues and put his time in. He’s having the time of his life.”

With defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov undergoing surgery on a lower-body injury at the beginning of the season, Middleton won the competition from training camp to be Karlsson’s defensive partner and has not looked back.

Middleton scored his first NHL goal with an empty-netter against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 24, but did pick the top corner against the New Jersey Devils’ Mackenzie Blackwood last Tuesday, tallying his first goal on a manned net.

“Honestly when I get into those situations, I just kind of try to keep my head up and shoot where it looks open,” Middleton said. “If you ask Karlsson, I’ve had about 30 grade-A chances in the past 20 games, so he’ll be happy that I put one of those in finally.”

Middleton has just two goals and four points in 17 games. However, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound blueliner is known more for his stalwart defense and physical presence, complementing his more highly-skilled partner — a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

“It’s been great,” Karlsson said of his partnership with Middleton. “He looks good on and off the ice, which helps. I think we have a good relationship in general, which helps I think find early chemistry. He’s done a good job for himself, a guy that’s been trying to make a regular out of himself and has come in this year and shown that he’s ready to do just that. So, I’m just happy for him that he’s been able to progress as the season has gone along here. We complement each other well out there, so it’s been a successful partnership so far, and I don’t see it going in the other direction.”

Karlsson explains how the skill set of Middleton complements his own play on the blue line.

“He’s not the most flashy guy or puts up the most points out there and creates the most offensively, but he’s extremely smart and he’s good at reading situations,” Karlsson said. “He puts himself in good spots and he puts me in good spots out there. I think that we’ve been able to make easy reads out there and kind of just go with the flow and been able to play a lot of different type of games.”

“That just shows that his hockey IQ is more than good enough to play in this league for a long time.”

Middleton, Karlsson and the San Jose Sharks look to extend their three-game winning streak on the road against the New York Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden.

San Jose Sharks (13-9-1)

New York Rangers (14-4-1)

Per Daily Faceoff, this is how the Rangers are projected to line up:

Chris Kreider — Mika Zibanejad — Kaapo Kakko

Artemi Panarin — Ryan Strome — Dryden Hunt

Alexis Lafreniere — Filip Chytil — Julien Gauthier

Kevin Rooney — Barclay Goodrow — Ryan Reaves

Ryan Lindgren — Adam Fox

K’Andre Miller — Jacob Trouba

Patrik Nemeth — Nils Lundkvist

Igor Shesterkin

Alexandar Georgiev

Where to Watch

Puck drop against the Rangers is 4:00 PM PT at Madison Square Garden. Watch it live on NBC Sports California and ESPN+. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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