Last season, Russian Defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov was called up to the Sharks just days before the NHL season was postponed. This year he finally has his chance to prove himself at the NHL level.
The 22-year old undrafted rookie is no stranger to American hockey, playing for the Phoenix Firebirds at just 15-years old.
From there, he worked his way up through various leagues in North America. He briefly played for the Regina Pats in the WHL and then suited up for both the Springfield Jr. Blues and the Austin Bruins of the NAHL.
Afterward, the Siberian native moved back to Russia to play in St. Petersburg. Over the course of his three years in the city, he played for Serebryanye Lvy St. Petersburg, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, and the Russian U20 team.
In 2019 Knyzhov decided to return to North America after receiving his first AHL opportunity with the San Jose Barracuda. During that stretch, he played 33 games, scoring one goal and four assists.
His defensive efficiency is clear from a statistical standpoint, finishing his AHL season with a +4 rating. Afterward, he grazed the NHL ice with the Sharks for a total of three games.
One abundantly clear thing is that he will never be an elite scorer, but frankly, that is okay. With a roster that features the likes of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, the team has more than enough aggressive scoring defensemen.
Instead, he fills a much-needed void in being a sound ‘defensive’ defensemen. He hovers primarily in his own zone and makes the effort plays that do not show up on the stats sheet.
Another impressive aspect of Knyzhov is his puck-moving ability. He is not a liability when it comes to turnovers, which should continue to go a long way towards his development.
He also shows promise in the sense that he is a big body who loves to crash into the boards. While he does not always use his size effectively, he has shown promise that he has the ability to do so at a high level.
The chances of him being an all-star someday are slim, but his ability to work hard and play intelligent hockey show that he will be a glue guy.
It is currently unclear whether or not he will begin next season at the NHL level or if he will return to the Barracuda.
But with his young age and his ability to be a sound defenseman already, he should become an NHL regular soon.
Should the Sharks make another playoff push this season, the odds are that he will not play a large chunk of games in the NHL 2020-2021 season.
However, if it becomes obvious that San Jose is headed into a rebuild, his odds to get NHL minutes this year are high. As he highlights one of the more limited and bleak prospect pools that team teal has had in a long time.
With the Sharks draft stock finally replenished, he proves to be a worthy piece in the new-look roster, whenever it ends up happening.