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Preview/Lines #31: Hertl to Play? What Does Boughner Want from Merkley?

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Credit: San Jose Sharks

Tomas Hertl might be checking out of COVID protocol early.

San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner revealed this morning that Hertl tested negative yesterday, and pending a negative test result today, will be in the line-up tonight against the Arizona Coyotes.

Hertl, along with Jonathan Dahlen, was placed in COVID protocol on Dec. 21.

Symptomatic players must be quarantined for 10 days, but asymptomatic players can test out of the NHL’s COVID protocol early with consecutive negative tests on back-to-back days.

“Tommy said he wouldn’t even know [he had COVID],” Logan Couture told San Jose Hockey Now on Dec. 26, “he just feels normal.”

This is Tomas Hertl’s second time in protocol: He had a more serious bout with COVID-19 in February.

Hertl’s potential return turns the San Jose Sharks’ lines tonight on their head. As of yesterday, the lines were trending this way…

San Jose Sharks (15-14-1)

This is projected based off Boughner’s statements over the last three days:

Barabanov-Couture-Meier
Nieto-Bonino-Gregor
Cogliano-Pederson-Halbgewachs
Gadjovich-N. Merkley-Viel

Ferraro-Karlsson
Middleton-Burns
Vlasic-Simek

Reimer

But Tomas Hertl’s return would likely push a fourth-liner out of the line-up.

For what it’s worth, Nick Merkley believes that he’s an NHL’er: “I thought I deserved to stay here the last time.”

Merkley notched a goal and two assists in seven games with the Sharks this year, and was probably the most impressive fill-in for late October’s COVID-battered Sharks.

“He’s got to be able to be strong down low, help out defensively. But when we get to the offensive zone, I want to see his creativity take over. He’s a smart offensive player,” Boughner said. “That’s one thing you don’t want guys to do is come up here and worry about being safe all the time.”

Merkley is actually a natural wing, though the Barracuda have used him as a center this year because of a lack of options up the middle.

“If he’s forced into that position, we really have no choice at this point,” Boughner noted with a dark laugh. “We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of wing in their career and not so much center.”

If Hertl can play, I’d guess that Jayden Halbgewachs skates up with him, along with Noah Gregor. Nick Bonino should then center Andrew Cogliano and Matt Nieto. Lane Pederson would take over 4C, between it’s anybody’s guess.

It’s a lot of uncertainty, but James Reimer spoke eloquently on that today: “The mantra has to be the players and the team that adapt best will have the best success…there’s things that are going to disrupt your schedule, you just have to be a pro and adapt, make the most of the situation.”

Arizona Coyotes (6-21-2)

Where to Watch

Puck drop against Arizona is 7:30 PM PT at SAP Center. Watch it live exclusively on ESPN+/Hulu. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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timorous me

Good luck to Merkley showing he belongs if that’s the line he ends up on tonight!

And good luck to all of us watching on TV (streaming, that is) with ESPN announcers and some unfamiliar numbers in the lineup.

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