Ever since Tomas Hertl went down with a serious right knee injury in December, it’s been a challenge for the Sharks to replace the impressive rookie who managed to score 15 goals in his first 35 NHL games.

With the NHL’s trade deadline of March 5 fast approaching, there’s a distinct possibility that the club could be looking to acquire another winger that could fill that role on the left wing of Joe Thornton.

Or, maybe they already have that guy in rookie Matt Nieto.

After sitting out on Friday in Buffalo as a healthy scratch, Nieto returned to the lineup against the Devils on Sunday. He pumped in the game-winning goal in the third period while skating with Thornton and Joe Pavelski, as a badly slumping Brent Burns was demoted to the third line.

“He played an excellent game,” Todd McLellan said of Nieto. “He seized the opportunity, played really well, was effective penalty killing, was very good on that line.”

Nieto said: “[The coaches] didn’t say anything, but I kind of know what I have to do when I play with those two. They are puck possession guys, so I have to go in on the forecheck and retrieve pucks to them. When I get them the puck, get open. Pavs made a great pass to me, and I was able to get it by.”

Burns coming off of the top line was the most notable change, but the switch that had the most impact was McLellan reuniting Tommy Wingels with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, in place of Marty Havlat. It was the first time that trio started a game together since late December.