SJ Barracuda’s Evander Kane set to play his first AHL game Saturday

SAN JOSE — Six months after his last professional game, Evander Kane is set to play again Saturday and take another step toward a potential return to the NHL when the Barracuda — the Sharks’ AHL affiliate — plays the Abbotsford Canucks at SAP Center.

Kane was a full participant in practice Friday, his first this week and his third with the team since he cleared waivers on Nov. 29. Thursday, Kane told this news organization that he wanted to make sure he was 100 percent healthy before he played a game with the Barracuda.

Kane has reached that point. Barracuda coach Roy Sommer said shortly after practice Friday morning that Kane still had “some things he’s got to iron out and kick around” but was optimistic about the forward suiting up for Saturday’s home game at 1:15 p.m.

Confirmation that Kane would play came Friday afternoon. San Jose and Abbotsford also play Sunday at 3 p.m.

“The bottom line is he wants to play,” Sommer said of Kane.

Kane has not played a professional game since May 12 — the date of the Sharks’ 2020-2021 regular-season finale — and did not participate in training camp earlier this fall before he was suspended for 21 games by the NHL in October for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocol.

Kane was placed on waivers by the Sharks on Nov. 28 and his first practice with the Barracuda came on Nov. 30. He also practiced two days later before the Barracuda left to play games last Saturday and Sunday in Abbotsford, B.C.

Kane did not play in those games, or against Stockton on Tuesday when the Barracuda got blasted 10-1.

“He looks good,” Sommer said of Kane. “The guy is a freak. We had him practice — the first one I think he had here — and he wasn’t even tired. Six months out (from his last game), he was handling the puck and making plays. So the ability is there, that’s for sure.”

The game is Kane’s first in the AHL in his 13 seasons as a professional. He made the Atlanta Thrashers out of training camp in the 2009-2010 season as an 18-year-old and has never played a game in the minor leagues.

“He just wants to make sure everything’s right before he dives in, that he’s feeling right because he hasn’t had a lot of practice time,” Sommer said. “And this has kind of been his mini training camp.”

Kane, 30, is attempting to come back to the NHL after he became persona non grata with the Sharks. Kane led the Sharks last season with 22 goals and 49 points in 56 games, but reports in the offseason indicated that a large number of his teammates no longer wanted him around. Kane has downplayed the friction he had with the Sharks.

With Kane in Saturday’s lineup, Sommer said won’t be shy about putting him on the ice as much as he would for any top-line forward. Kane has averaged close to 19 minutes per game throughout his 12 NHL seasons, and he averaged 20 minutes per game for the Sharks last season.

“If he plays, he’s playing,” Sommer said. “He’ll play top minutes and be on the power play and play. If he’s jumping in, then he’s playing.”

The Barracuda (6-10-1) is looking to bounce back after Tuesday’s lopsided loss, their sixth loss in seven games. Sommer had the team go through a bag skate Wednesday before it went through a normal practice Thursday.

“Disgusting was the word for it, and hopefully it doesn’t happen again because I don’t know if I could go through that again, let alone them,” Sommer said of the drubbing.

“The compete wasn’t there, there were a lot of breakdowns. You could go on and on. You have those during the year. Every team does. NFL teams that get blown out. Baseball teams lose 18 -1. I mean, it happens. Whatever they were shooting was going in the net. There were just a lot of things.”

San Jose is ninth and last in the Pacific Division. Fourteen players on the team have played at least one NHL game, including leading scorer Scott Reedy, who has nine goals and 15 points in 15 AHL games this season. Other leading scorers include Jayden Halbgewachs and Joachim Blichfeld with 14 and 12 points, respectively.

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