With Sharks’ Couture out for now, his potential replacement says he’s ready for a big role

Mikael Granlund previously amassed impressive numbers with the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Forward Mikael Granlund was injured just a few days into training camp, but he appears to be on track to play in the San Jose Sharks’ season opener next week, which is encouraging for a team that may have to start the season without Logan Couture.

Granlund took part in full practice on Tuesday, one week after saying he “tweaked” something in the morning skate prior to the Sharks’ home game against the Anaheim Ducks on Sept. 26. Granlund practiced for about 30 minutes the next day and has been skating on a regular basis ever since.

With Couture out with a lower-body injury and not expected to skate again until later this week or early next week, the Sharks need all the center depth they can get. Sharks coach David Quinn said Couture had another positive day on Tuesday with no setbacks, but he has previously stated that everyone involved will proceed with caution with the captain’s NHL return.

If Couture is unable to play in the Sharks’ opener against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12, Granlund appears to be the best option to take over the second-line center position.

Granlund would jump at the chance.

“We’ll see what the lineup is going to look like on opening night,” Granlund stated. “My personal goal is to get up there and play a lot so that I can be an important part of the team.”

“In Nashville over the last few years. I played a lot of minutes, and that’s when you enjoy hockey the most, so hopefully I can continue to play well and get out there a lot to be in those crucial situations.

“Personally, that’s when hockey is at its best so hopefully, I can do a good enough job to earn that.”

Granlund has scored more than 60 points three times in the last seven years, including with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Granlund had 64 points and a career-high 20:25 in ice time over 80 games with the Predators two years ago.

Granlund was frequently on a line with Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, a trio that had an expected goals-for percentage of 55.02 during 5-on-5 play in the regular season, according to Natural Stat Trick. This season, the Sharks’ second line would gladly accept that.

Tomas Hertl has been centering a line with Anthony Duclair and Alexander Barabanov in recent practices for the Sharks. Without Couture, the Sharks’ second line could feature Granlund in the middle and Mike Hoffman, William Eklund, Filip Zadina, and Kevin Labanc on the wings to begin the season.

Can Granlund regain his former form after a forgettable 2022-2023 season in which he scored 41 points in 79 games between Nashville and Pittsburgh? Maybe.

The Sharks’ forward group appears to be deeper and more dynamic than it was the previous two seasons, but Granlund may not get as much power play time in San Jose as he did in Nashville.

“You see the opening lineup for the first game and it’s probably not going to be the same lineup a few games from that,” Granlund stated. “So you just try to do your best day by day.” That’s all you can think of as a player.”

LABANC UPDATE: Labanc is also expected to play in the Sharks’ season opener next week and has stated that he may try to play in San Jose’s final preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Labanc was injured in Anaheim’s game on Sept. 26, claiming discomfort in his upper body in the first period.

“I said, we have time to get it right, and it feels good,” Labanc says now. “So it’s as ready as can be.”

In recent years, Labanc has been the subject of trade rumors, and his long-term future in San Jose is uncertain at best. Labanc, now 27, is one of nine Sharks players set to become unrestricted free agents next year after signing a four-year, $18.9 million contract with the Sharks in October 2020.

Labanc, who became the Sharks’ fourth-longest-tenured player after Timo Meier was traded to the New Jersey Devils in February, said he’s more concerned with ending San Jose’s four-year playoff drought than a new contract right now.

“I just want to win,” said Labanc. “I don’t want to be in the same situation as we were in the second half of the season.” That was not enjoyable to be a part of. So I play the game for the sake of competing and winning. Allow the business to take care of itself, but for the time being, it’s all hands on deck.”

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