NEWARK, N.J. --
Devils center Travis Zajac
took another positive step in his road to recovery on Thursday when he skated for the first time this season in his usual red practice jersey with teammates at Prudential Center.
Zajac, who is recovering from Aug. 18 surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon, is at least two weeks away from making his return to the lineup. Still, teammates were sure glad to see No. 19 back on the ice, skating, stick-handling and snapping shots.
"We still know in the back of our minds that he still has a little while to go," Devils captain Zach Parise
told NHL.com. "It'll probably be a couple more weeks until we see him in a game. But he's made good progress and has taken good steps. It looks like he's moving and skating really well out there. That's important and big for everyone to see.
"We'll welcome him back as soon as he can without rushing him, but we're excited to get him back. He's a big part of our team."
Zajac has 89 goals and 249 points in 408 career games with the Devils spanning five seasons.
"Everyone has kind of stressed that to me during the comeback, to not push it and be patient … you have to listen to your body and right now, I feel great on the ice," Zajac told reporters following Thursday's practice. "I've had a lot of trainers helping me here and getting me back in shape, making sure I'm ready to go. I don't suspect I'll have any doubts about coming back too soon."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer
said ice time will be something he and his staff will monitor closely whenever Zajac does return to the lineup.
"We're aware with the significance of the injury and we've all been very well-versed by the doctors on the schedule and the time frame for him to come back," DeBoer said. "No one is deviating from that. I've talked with him about how, when he does come back, we're going to ease him in and I'm not going to throw him into 20 minutes a night. That's going to be my job; to make sure we don't overuse him early."
DeBoer admitted Zajac won't be given top-six minutes at the outset. Parise said Zajac approached him before practice on Wednesday and asked about his recovery from a knee injury that sidelined him 65 games last season.
"He asked me in practice, 'Was it this hard for you when you came back?' and I said, it is," Parise said. "You come back and are skating by yourself going right into practice mode when the team is 25 games in. You feel like you don't even belong on the ice; everything is so fast and that was hardest for me.
"Even the first 15 or 20 games, it's hard being out so long. As far as rushing back, there's no need. It's only December. There's still a lot of hockey left, so he can take that extra two weeks if needed. We can't afford for him to have a setback and then all of sudden he's gone until April."
In the absence of Zajac and fellow center Jacob Josefson
(collarbone), Parise said rookie Adam Henrique
has done a fine job. Henrique has connected for 6 goals and 18 points in 23 games.
"He's done a good job filling in and playing that position, playing a lot of minutes and on the penalty kill and power play," Parise said. "He's done a really good job but at the same time, Travis is on another level. He's been a great player in this League for a few years now and we'd welcome him back. But Adam has been doing really well; he's been a good surprise for us."
Zajac echoed those sentiments.
"Adam has been great and playing with confidence … the puck follows him and he's not afraid to make plays out there," he said. "He's pretty sound in all parts of the game and reliable defensively. He has poise with the puck and he definitely knows the game."
The Devils will be without defenseman Andy Greene
on Thursday when they play host to the Ottawa Senators
. Apparently, Greene re-aggravated a lower-body injury.
"Andy's got some bumps and bruises and we're going keep him out," DeBoer said. "It's a carry-over from other stuff and I'm not sure what we're really dealing with, whether it's the ankle or foot. We'll know more [Thursday afternoon] after an X-ray."
will make his fourth appearance in the lineup in Greene's absence. Goalie Martin Brodeur
will make his second straight start for New Jersey.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale