That's why forward David Perron feels the time is finally right to get back into the St. Louis Blues lineup.
Nearly 13 months to the day when Perron suffered a concussion, the Blues forward will make his return Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks after receiving clearance from doctors and going through the proper NHL concussion protocol.
Perron will have missed 97 games, including Friday night against the Colorado Avalanche, since taking a mid-ice hit from San Jose center Joe Thornton. In that game, Perron, 23, returned from the hit, finished the game and scored a goal in the Blues' 2-0 victory.
"I think one thing in practices it's never going to be the same as it is in games. This is the last step obviously to get in a game. I've felt pretty good over the last two, three weeks. I'm ready to be turning the page obviously."
-- David Perron
"It's been a long road obviously," Perron said during conference call Friday. "I didn't expect it to be that long obviously. I'm really excited to get back to the lineup tomorrow. Everyone has been really kind and helpful.
"I'm just glad to be back to 100 percent healthy now and ready to go."
Perron rejoined the Blues in late September and was given clearance for contact a couple of weeks ago. There have been no setbacks.
"It's been a long 13 months. David's been through quite a bit," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said during the conference call. "The one thing that never wavered was his passion to get back on the ice. I saw that over the summer and then when he rejoined our team.
"The hard work that he's put in to put himself in the position has been tremendous. We're just excited to have him back on the ice tomorrow night."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday that once Perron is ready, he won't be gradually pushed back into the lineup. It'll be all-systems-go -- just as the Pittsburgh Penguins did recently when Sidney Crosby returned from a 10-month, concussion-related absence.
"I think when he jumps in, there's going to be no reservations," Hitchcock said. "He's 100 percent or he's exactly like Sid was. Sid had no reservations. It was his time, he was ready and he just did it. That injury is the wrong place to go even if you've got one ounce of reservation.
"(When) he gives us the OK, there's no working him back in. You're in, you play. No different than Crosby or any of these other guys. He's obviously not going to kill penalties. He's not going to be a 20-minute player right off the hop, but when you look this good at practice under these types of circumstances. We've put him in every situation possible, with a lot of traffic and a lot of heat ... he's more than responded. When he gives us the OK, we just turn him loose and let him play."
Perron has gradually worked himself in shape, getting his timing down, working on his stickhandling and getting a feel for the puck again. But what's been most important to go along with the physical aspect is also the mental part of it -- giving and taking hits and being comfortable with them.
"I think the game is going to be different than practice," Perron said. "I've done as good a job to get ready for (the mental and physical aspects). Now that I'm 100 percent and ready to go, I'll turn that to our head coach. He's the one that is going to be deciding on ice time and all that.
"I've taken quite a bit (of contact). I think one thing in practices it's never going to be the same as it is in games. This is the last step obviously to get in a game. I've felt pretty good over the last two, three weeks. I'm ready to be turning the page obviously."
Perron, who Hitchcock said will get back into a top-six role and likely play with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart on the second line, will be joining a team that went into the game against the Avalanche with a 14-8-2 record -- and an 8-1-2 mark since hiring Hitchcock Nov. 6. He's happy to be joining a team on a roll.
"It's going to be awesome. The guys are playing really well," Perron said. "Our goaltending has been really good.
"I'll just get in there, play my game and work as hard as I can and I think for me, it's going to be to keep it simple and just take the excitement of the game and bring two points to the team. Obviously it's going to be a big game for me, but we've got to look at the two points at the end of the night. That's what we want to have for sure."
Perron played 10 games last season and had five goals and two assists before being shelved. Overall, he has 131 points (53 goals, 78 assists) in 235 games after being drafted by the Blues in the first round (No. 26) of the 2007 NHL Draft.
"We're certainly convinced that he's put the proper work in and he's gone through all the steps necessary to deem himself ready for competition," Armstrong said of Perron. "I think probably the last two weeks, the coaching staff has really worked him after practice. They've done a lot of drills that are game-simulated to stimulate the contact that the body is going to be receiving.
"I'm very comfortable that he's ready to go. What we talked about last July, it's probably our best free-agent signing this year was getting a healthy David Perron. We've waited a little bit into the season, but his talent and his skill-set is not easily replaceable in a lineup."
Added Perron: "Over the last 13 months, I went through all kinds of emotions. It was really fun to get the green light to get back in the game. So many people have helped me throughout the whole thing. My parents are coming in for the game, so it will be fun. I was very excited obviously."