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Sharks defenseman’s journey to NHL milestone: Doubt about future, and one painful stretch

By Curtis Pashelka

Defenseman Jaycob Megna will play in his 100th NHL game Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks play the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center to open a four-game road trip.

It’s a milestone Megna wasn’t sure he would ever reach.

Megna played 43 NHL games over three seasons from 2016 to 2019 with Anaheim Ducks, the team that drafted him in the seventh round in 2012. He played his last game with Anaheim on April 5, 2019, but wasn’t re-signed by the team and became a Group 6 free agent.

“There was a pause there after leaving Anaheim,” Megna said Thursday, “where I didn’t know if I get another chance to play in the NHL.”

Megna, 29, wouldn’t suit up for another NHL game until Oct. 30, 2021, when he was among the three defensemen recalled by the Sharks from the Barracuda after Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Radim Simek, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

Megna would later be sent back down to the AHL in mid-November after those four players were cleared to play again. But he was recalled to the Sharks in early January of this year and has remained in the NHL ever since, signing a two-year, one-way contract extension with the team in May.

Megna played in 368 AHL regular-season games after he left the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2014.

“(The milestone) definitely means a little bit more going through that, the ups and downs,” Megna said. “It’s something that I’m definitely proud of, and it’s something I don’t take for granted.”

After he left the Ducks, Megna completed a solid season with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL in 2019-2020, with 10 points in 60 games before the league paused operations in March because of the pandemic. He remained a free agent through the summer and into the fall, not sure where he would play next, before he signed a one-year AHL contract with the Barracuda in Nov. 2020.

“It’s one of those things where it was definitely a humbling experience. I didn’t know if I would have any more time in the NHL or be on an NHL contract again,” Megna said. “Honestly, I was grateful to the Barracuda for giving me an opportunity. We didn’t know if the season was going to happen in the American League or what was going to go on.

“(Being a free agent in 2020) wasn’t expected and it was something that was not easy to wrap my head around at the time, but I’m grateful for it. I think it’s made me kind of the player and the person I am today.”

Megna’s steady play and leadership with the Barracuda earned him a one-year, two-way NHL contract the following year with the Sharks. In 2021-2022, he dressed for 44 NHL games and averaged over 19 minutes per night as he became a top-four mainstay in San Jose’s defense corps.

Megna likely would have reached the 100-game mark already had he not missed 10 games last season due to a displaced fracture in his ankle which required surgery,

Megna’s injury took place after he blocked a shot in a Jan. 22 game at home against Tampa Bay, but he played throughout the Sharks’ ensuing four-game road trip before the all-star break in tremendous pain, including back-to-back games against Florida and Carolina where he had over 22 minutes in ice time both nights.

“I’m never pulling myself out of any lineup, regardless of what’s going on,” Megna said. “It wasn’t easy, but I credit our medical staff and trainers, and they were able to kind of get me through that last road trip before we had that two-week break.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 15: San Jose Sharks’ Jaycob Megna (24) hits the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks in the third period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

Megna played over 24 minutes against the Hurricanes on Jan. 30, as Mario Ferraro, who caught a puck in the face the night before and needed dental surgery, had to miss the game. The Sharks were also without Erik Karlsson, who was recovering from forearm surgery.

“So it was a tough stretch there, but I was never going to pull myself out of the lineup for anything as long as I felt like I could play and help the team,” Megna said. “I was going to do my best to go out there. It was a pretty good road trip for us, I don’t regret doing it and luckily I was able to get it fixed up afterward and have no issues now.”

Megna has been Karlsson’s defense partner for the majority of the season, and Thursday marks his 13th game of the year. Before the game against the Blues, Megna had averaged close to 17 minutes of ice time per game and is third among all Sharks defensemen in average penalty kill minutes per game.

Source: Paradise Post