The beauty of hockey lies in its raw intensity, where players endure physical clashes and mental battles while crafting a mesmerizing dance of strategy and skill on the ice. San Jose Sharks defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov is one player who embodies that beauty. Signed in 2019 as an undrafted free agent out of Russia, the six-foot-two defenseman made his NHL debut with the Sharks in 2019 before emerging as a regular the following year.
In the 2020-2021 season, Knyzhov scored two goals and eight assists in 56 games while skating around 16 minutes per night. He also had the third-most hits among all Sharks skaters with 84 and only 13 giveaways. Perhaps more impressively, the defenseman’s game improved each night while skating alongside the former teammate Erik Karlsson. For those efforts, Knyzhov was named the Sharks’ Rookie of the Year.
Unknown to Knyzhov, he wouldn’t play his next game until this past season. Before training camp in 2021, the defenseman underwent a hernia surgery. One surgery soon turned into another surgery. While recovering, Knyzhov suffered a bone infection which ultimately prevented him from playing in the 2021-2022 season.
Knyzhov’s bad luck continued into the offseason when he tore his right Achilles tendon while training. Another long rehab process began that would test his patience and mental strength.
“Over the last year and a half, it’s been like three or four times like that where I thought I was towards the end,” Knyzhov said in an interview with Corey Masisak of The Athletic. “So I don’t want to jinx anything anymore. I’m just taking it day by day.
In March, 663 days since his last NHL game, Knyzhov returned to the ice for the Sharks in a 3-2 OT win over the Winnipeg Jets.
What’s next for Knyzhov?
Unlike previous offseasons, Knyzhov will get to focus on small details of his game rather than recovery. He will also get the opportunity to re-establish on-ice chemistry with his teammates. Entering this season, Knyzhov isn’t an immediate lock to make the NHL roster. With additional depth on the blueline with the additions of Kyle Burroughs and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Jan Rutta, it is a possibility that Knyzhov starts with the Barracuda. The Sharks have plenty of questions on defense though, so even if Knyzhov doesn’t make the team out of camp, there is still plenty of opportunity for him to earn his spot back in the NHL.
The 25-year-old defenseman is currently signed to a two-year deal worth $2.5 million. With up-and-coming prospects on the left side of the blue line, like fellow countryman Shakir Mukhamadullin, there is a possibility another team could make an offer for Knyzhov. The hope is that Knyzhov regains his spot in the top four and overcomes the early setbacks in his career.
Bold Prediction: Bold Prediction: Knyzhov regains his spot in the NHL this season, playing in 70+ games for the Sharks.
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