by Matt Metcalf || AHL On The Beat Archive
Injuries are practically an everyday occurrence in sports. No injury is a good injury, especially when it happens to a young player with endless potential.
Unfortunately for Sharks forward James Sheppard, he was one of those players.
Sheppard, who played three seasons with the Minnesota Wild, missed the entire 2010-11 season after injuring his knee in an ATV accident. After the season had been completed, the Wild traded Sheppard to the Sharks.
Sheppard, the ninth pick overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Wild, is finally healthy and has found a home in the AHL with the Worcester Sharks while the NHL lockout withstands.
He is no stranger to the big stage, playing in 224 NHL games and compiling 49 points. Although this isn’t the type of play that he is accustomed to, he finds himself lucky to have been given the chance by the Sharks and is grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s always exciting to get back on the ice, especially after a long hiatus,” Sheppard said. “It was a great opportunity getting to play four games at the end of last year here. It’s a good group of guys, so I really enjoy playing on this team.”
After his third full season with the Wild, Sheppard seemed poised to have a great campaign in his fourth season, before his unfortunate freak accident kept him out. Although most players would directly look to all of the negatives that come out of injuries, Sheppard would rather focus on the positives that came out of his.
“It happened in the summer after my third season,” Sheppard said. “As many cons as there are, there are also many pros that came out of it. It gave my body a chance to rest. It also made me realize that I miss the game and it allowed me to get the fire back into my game.”
Coming up as a rookie with the Minnesota Wild, Sheppard felt somewhat rushed into the NHL, believing that developmental time in the minors could’ve been potentially beneficial for him as a player.
Prior to Sheppard’s short stint in Worcester at the end of last season, he had never even played a game at the AHL level, going straight from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the NHL with the Wild. He didn’t record his first AHL goal until this season, scoring in the Sharks’ second game of the season which was a 4-3 shootout loss to the defending Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals in Norfolk, Va.
“It didn’t pan out the way that I wanted it to,” Sheppard said. “But in the end, it allowed me to learn a lot as I progress in hockey and as a person. With that being said, I’m very happy with where I’m at right now.”
Sheppard and the Sharks are now 10 games into this season and he has been as solid as ever on both ends of the ice. Slowly getting his groove back, Sheppard has compiled a goal and four assists for five points in those first 10 games, looking better and better each game. He also scored a big goal last Sunday in the shootout to help give Worcester a 1-0 win over the Manchester Monarchs.
Sharks head coach Roy Sommer has been impressed with the way that Sheppard has persevered and battled back from such a serious injury.
“He’s a guy that’s coming back from a potential career-ending injury,” Sommer said. “He’s battled back for two years, which shows you what he’s made of right there.
“A lot of guys maybe would have thrown the towel in, but he’s actually persevered and his knee is actually stronger than it was before.”
Sommer has high expectations for Sheppard as an offensive contributor as the season progresses.
“I think he’s going to be a point producer for us,” Sommer said. “He’s a power forward and he’s extremely hard to play against. He’s playing a lot of important minutes for us right now.
“He’s been a big part of our little winning streak that we’ve got going right now and hopefully that continues.”
Sommer believes that Sheppard will undoubtedly make it back to the NHL.
“Oh he’ll be back,” Sommer said. “There are a lot of eyes on him and I think he’s exceeded his expectations so far this year for a guy that hasn’t played in two years.”
Worcester Sharks fans should enjoy having Sheppard here, because now that he’s finally healthy, this may just be a stop in his journey back to the NHL.