Joakim Ryan's NHL debut on Thursday stands out as one of the best in Sharks history.
Since the NHL began tracking time on ice in 1997, only one Sharks defenseman logged more ice time in their debut than Ryan's 21:24 on Thursday night: Christian Ehrhoff, who played 22:48 in his first NHL game 14 years ago.
Ehrhoff quickly earned the trust of then-head coach Ron Wilson, just as Ryan appears to have earned the trust of Peter DeBoer. He also stands to give his coach plenty to think about moving forward.
The 2012 seventh round pick only made his debut last night due to Paul Martin's move to injured reserve, but Ryan looked great in the 36-year-old's place. He fit in nicely alongside Martin's usual partner, Brent Burns, and appeared comfortable playing with the reigning Norris Trophy winner.
After four years in the Ivy League and two more in the AHL, the 24-year-old Ryan is far more seasoned than most rookies. Yet, pairing up with a player like Burns is a tall task, regardless of experience, and Ryan acquitted himself quite nicely..
Paul Martin's ankle will keep him on injured reserve until, at the earliest, October 17 against Montreal. That means Ryan will play at least one more game, and another strong effort could force the Sharks to make some difficult decisions.
The easiest choice would be to send Ryan back to the Barracuda when Martin returns, and allow him to slide back into his spot alongside Burns. Keeping Ryan, though, means the Sharks would have to send another player to the AHL to get down to the 23-man maximum.
Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier would not have to clear waivers, but can the Sharks afford to send either player down at this point? Tim Heed wouldn't either, but are they willing to send him down so soon? Ryan Carpenter, Dylan DeMelo, and Barclay Goodrow would need to be exposed to waivers, but are the Sharks willing to risk losing any of them without receiving compensation in return?
The Sharks don't need to answer all of these questions right now, and may not have to if and when Martin's healthy. After one NHL game, it's far too soon to automatically pencil Ryan into the lineup.
But after a strong training camp and a stronger debut, it's clear that Joakim Ryan's time as an NHL regular is coming sooner rather than later. If he continues to impress, San Jose will eventually have no choice but to make a corresponding move.
His presence will force the Sharks to address difficult questions. If it means they've developed another top four defenseman, though, they probably won't mind answering.