SAN JOSE – On Friday, defenseman Jacob Middleton was getting prepared for a San Jose Barracuda weekend series against the San Diego Gulls. Just 24 hours later, he was being held back from the rest of his AHL teammates with there being a possibility he could be getting the call to skate with the big club.
“It’s been quite a quick turnaround,” Middleton said with a semi-toothless grin. “Yesterday I was getting ready to hop on a Southwest flight down to San Diego to play with the Barracuda, and this morning I took a pregame skate with the Sharks.”
With injuries to multiple members of San Jose’s blue line – and news breaking just Saturday morning that Justin Braun has been placed on injured reserve – the 23-year-old Stratford, Ontario native is officially set to make his NHL debut on Saturday evening against a red-hot offense in the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“There’s no easy time to step into this league,” Sharks bench boss Peter DeBoer said. “But he’s not the kind of guy that’s going to be overwhelmed.”
The six-foot-three, 210-pound lefty – who took line rushes alongside Brent Burns at Saturday’s practice – has posted 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) and a team-leading plus-15 through 26 games played with the Barracuda so far this season. In 143 career AHL games, he has posted 49 points (nine goals, 40 assists) and a plus-25 rating. For the last season and a half with San Jose’s AHL club, Middleton has also served as alternate captain.
DeBoer told the press he has total faith Middleton will perform well at the NHL level. Even with a tough team in the building like the Bolts.
“He just has to play his game,” DeBoer said. “That’s easier said than done when you’ve got a lot of speed coming at you and the pace of play at this level, in a game like this tonight. But I have all the confidence in the world he’s going to come out here and give us some good minutes tonight.”
“These are kind of the moments you prepare for,” Middleton told the media. “I’m fortunate right now. I’m 23 years old, I’ve had a few years pro and kind of know what to expect in these big games. If you just play simple and play the game that you’re called up to play, hopefully things work your way.”
In defenseman-related news, Radim Simek briefly skated during Sharks’ morning skate but did not participate in line rushes. Simek told the media on Friday he was feeling better after sustaining a concussion on December 31 but had not been cleared to play yet. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is dealing with an undisclosed ailment, took to the ice on Saturday after the majority of the team had left. Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed skated on a pair together during the team skate.