After injuries, COVID and a scratch, can Sharks winger finally find a rhythm?

After injuries, COVID and a scratch, can Sharks winger finally find a rhythm?

SAN JOSE – San Jose Sharks winger Alexander Barabanov has experienced his share of adversity over the last four months.

Barabanov, 29, missed close to six weeks with a broken finger after he was struck in the hand by a puck on Oct. 24 while in front of the Florida Panthers’ net. He then tested positive for COVID-19 a week before Christmas and sat out two games. To boot, while in a contract year, his stats are down significantly compared to last season.

Monday, after a rough game against the Columbus Blue Jackets two days earlier, Barabanov was a healthy scratch for the first time this year as the Sharks played the Vegas Golden Knights.

All of this with Barabanov, a pending unrestricted free agent, possibly headed to another team with the March 8 trade deadline just over two weeks away.

Barabanov talked about it all with coach David Quinn before the Sharks practiced Wednesday, as he hopes to rekindle some of the offensive magic that made him one of the team’s top wingers the last two-plus seasons.

“He’s gone through a lot this year,” Quinn said of Barabanov. “He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent, so there’s a lot to it. So we talked about a bunch of things this morning and he’s going to go back in and where he belongs.”

That would be on one of the Sharks’ top two forward lines for their next game Saturday against the Nashville Predators.

Barabanov has been used primarily as a top-six winger since he came to San Jose in April 2021 in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 147 games, over the next two-plus seasons, he had 93 points, fifth-most on the team.

But aside from a brief stretch in December when he had a goal and four assists in seven games, Barabanov has never quite found a rhythm on offense this season. He entered this week with nine points in 34 games.

Quinn said earlier this week he wants more consistency from Barabanov in terms of being physical and playing with more pace.

“He’s strong for a small guy,” Quinn said of the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Barabanov. “He’s got a low center of gravity, he’s got good leverage, he’s really smart with how to protect pucks, and when he’s engaged physically, he’s a very productive player.”

Asked how frustrating it was to miss more than a month near the start of the season, Barabanov said, “This hurt, you know? When you prepare all summer for a full season and you’re out for one month and more, it’s always tough to come back and play.”

The Sharks would love to see Barabanov, who is on a six-game point drought, find his game soon.

Barabanov is in the final season of a two-year, $5 million contract he signed with the Sharks in May 2022. It’s unclear whether any contract extension talks between Barabanov’s camp and the Sharks have taken place.

At the same time, scouts from opposing teams continue to watch games at SAP Center, trying to figure out what each of the Sharks’ pending UFAs – and possibly others — they could bring to their respective organizations. Barabanov, considering his production in the last two seasons and modest cap hit, could be an attractive addition.

Quinn knows the deadline is on the minds of several Sharks players, and Barabanov, with a young family, is no different. Per CapFriendly, his contract contains a 10-team modified no-trade clause.

“I try (not to) think about (it), but everybody can remind me about this,” Barabanov said of the trade deadline. “Yeah, of course, I think about this.”

Still, Barabanov said the distraction of the trade deadline has not affected his play. He just wants a return to form.

“Of course, be better for our team,” Barabanov said of his meeting with Quinn. “I know I’m a good player.”

TRANSACTION: Jacob MacDonald cleared waivers Wednesday morning and was slated to play hours later at night when Barracuda hosts the Pacific Division-leading Coachella Valley Firebirds.

MacDonald, who has six goals and one assist in 22 games for the Sharks this season, mostly as a forward, was placed on waivers by the team on Tuesday.

The move opened up a spot on the Sharks’ 23-man roster for forward Givani Smith, who was activated off of injured reserve. Smith had been on IR since late December as he recovered from a lower-body ailment, but he has been practicing regularly since the Sharks returned from their bye week on Feb. 10.

MacDonald will help the Barracuda in its attempt to rejoin the playoff picture in the AHL’s Pacific Division.

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Entering Wednesday, the Barracuda, at 17-23-8 with 41 points, were nine points out of a playoff spot with 24 games remaining. Over five-plus seasons, MacDonald has 189 points in 271 AHL games.

MacDonald, who can play both forward and defense, turns 31 next Monday. He, along with forward Martin Kaut, was originally acquired by the Sharks from the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 25, 2023, for forward Matt Nieto and defenseman Ryan Merkley.  He has 25 points in 123 career NHL games.

Smith, who turns 26 next Tuesday, has three points and 33 penalty minutes in 26 games this season.