Sharks’ ‘Shak’ set to make NHL debut. Could he stay if he shows he’s ready?

Sharks’ ‘Shak’ set to make NHL debut. Could he stay if he shows he’s ready?

SAN JOSE – Defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin will make his NHL debut Saturday at SAP Center as the San Jose Sharks face the Buffalo Sabres looking to extend their winning streak to a season-long four games.

And just because Mukhamadullin, 22, is getting this chance due to recent injuries to Mario Ferraro and Henry Thrun, that doesn’t mean he’ll automatically be sent back to the AHL once those two other left-shot defensemen are healthy again.

It’ll depend on how he performs, one member of the Sharks’ front office said.

“Shak is a smart player,” Todd Marchant, the Sharks’ director of player development, said Thursday a few hours after Mukhamadullin was recalled. “He continued to get better and better as the season went along, and we had two injuries, so he gets an opportunity to come up and show us what he can do.

“And if he’s ready, he’s ready. Then he stays. We’ve always said that if a player is ready, we’ll make room for him. And if he’s not ready, then he can go back and continue to develop.”

Mukhamadullin, considered the Sharks’ top defensive prospect, will likely start Saturday’s game paired with veteran Jan Rutta as he takes the place of Thrun, who is out with an upper-body injury. Ferraro is out with a lower-body ailment. It appears both will not be available to play again until after the NHL All-Star break next month.

Mukhamadullin had 26 points in 39 games with the Barracuda this season in his first full year of North American professional hockey. A first-round draft pick by New Jersey in 2020, the Russian-born Mukhamadullin came to San Jose as part of the blockbuster trade last February that saw Timo Meier go to the Devils.

Marchant said Mukhamadullin’s biggest growth has been away from the rink as he spent most of the summer in San Jose, learning English and getting used to the United States.

“For me, it’s been his development off the ice. His ability to communicate, his ability to be with his teammates,” Marchant said. “He’s learning the language, and all that stuff makes the understanding of the game that much easier for him. When the coaches go up to the board and they draw something or they’re talking in between periods, if you don’t know the language, it’s a little difficult. But he’s learned and he’s done a great job with it.

“He deserves all the credit because he stayed over here after development camp and lived here and trained here. Now we’re seeing what he’s capable of.”

Thrun was injured in the third period of the Sharks’ 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers, as he landed shoulder-first into the end boards trying to clear the puck out of the defensive zone.

Ferraro was hurt in the second period of Monday’s game in Los Angeles, as it appeared he was hit from behind before he went legs-first into the boards.

San Jose hosts the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday and travels to face the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, with the team’s next game not until Feb. 14.

Thrun was examined again Thursday and Sharks coach David Quinn indicated the injury was nothing major and that there was no structural damage. Before the injury, Thrun, since his recall from the AHL in early December, was averaging 19:38 in ice time per game, fourth-most among all Sharks defensemen.

“It’s tough for all of us because we all saw how well he had been playing,” Quinn said of Thrun. “So it makes it difficult for him personally, and for us as an organization.”

If the Sharks wanted to keep Mukhamadullin on their roster after Ferraro and Thrun return, and there are no other injuries, they might have to place another defenseman on waivers.

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For now, Mukhamadullin is getting his opportunity, with Quinn adding that the 6-foot-4, 190-pound defenseman will also play on the Sharks’ second power-play unit against the Sabres.

“Just relax and enjoy the opportunity. He’s earned it,” Quinn said when asked what he wants to see from Mukhamadullin. “Do all the things that he’s done that have gotten him here.”

NOTE: Quinn said he expected defenseman Ty Emberson (upper-body injury) to be ready to play Saturday. Emberson hasn’t played since Jan. 9. Forward/defenseman Jacob MacDonald (undisclosed injury) might also be activated.