Jacob Middleton will be making his NHL debut tonight for the San Jose Sharks, likely slotting in on the top pairing with Brent Burns. The 23-year-old, who sports 12 points and a +15 rating in 26 AHL games this season, has played very well with the Barracuda on their top pairing and serving as the linchpin of the best defense in the AHL.
The call-up comes at a time when San Jose’s defensive corps are reeling from injuries. Already dented by the loss of Radim Simek, the blue line was further decimated against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, with Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic sustaining knee and wrist injuries, respectively. As a result, the Sharks will be missing half of their main defensive corps against the best team in the league, necessitating Middleton’s call-up. He’ll serve as one of three changes in tonight’s lineup, with Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed reuniting on the bottom pairing, having played together as the 'Cuda's top pairing in 2016-17.
It’s currently up in the air as to just how long Middleton will be with the big club. While Braun and Head Coach Pete DeBoer sounded optimistic about his knee injury in post-game interviews against Colorado, the 31-year-old has been placed on injured reserve today and will thus be out for a minimum of a week. Because the placement will be retroactive to Jan. 2, Braun will be eligible to return on Jan. 9, missing three games total, though there's no timetable for how soon he'll actually be back. Vlasic and Simek, meanwhile, are considered day-to-day and look to return sooner rather than later.
Accordingly, given Middleton’s status as the ninth defender on the depth chart, the defender might return to the AHL as soon as Vlasic and Simek are both healthy. For now, however, San Jose will hope that he provides the same solidity on the third pairing that he gave the Barracuda over the first three months of the season.