As practice neared for the Blue Jackets on Monday at the OhioHealth Ice Haus, Brandon Dubinsky was one of the first guys on the ice.
The veteran center, who's on injured reserve recovering from a fractured left orbital bone (eye socket), practiced for the first time since returning to Columbus last week earlier than expected during the last road trip. Dubinsky centered the third forward line in practice, and might return from a lengthy injury absence Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go).
"It's been a tough year for me [in] a lot of different ways," said Dubinsky, who got off to a slow start offensively and then sustained the facial fracture Dec. 12 in a fight against Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian. "I need to get back in the lineup, and put everything behind me and focus on the next two-plus months here with the guys - and get us to where we need to be, get us to the dance and give us an opportunity in the playoffs to take the next step."
Dubinsky, who has 12 points (three goals, nine assists), said his early return from the road trip was to deal with "medical issues."
He didn't elaborate, other than to say his departure followed a meeting between himself and undisclosed parties associated with the team prior to the Blue Jackets' optional morning skate last Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Video: Dubinsky comments impending return to lineup
"We talked before that practice, agreed on some stuff and I came home to look after myself," Dubinsky said. "I had some stuff going on, and I just had to take care of it. … I don't need to [go into detail]. Sometimes you've got to look after yourself. That's what I did."
Dubinsky worked with forwards Matt Calvert and Oliver Bjorkstrand on Monday, and said he's eager to play again, after missing 18 games following surgery to install two stabilizing plates in his damaged facial bone.
"I know everyone has a lot of questions, and stuff like that, and concerns and whatever, but my focus right now is just about getting back in the lineup and helping this team win hockey games," Dubinsky said. "I am right there. It will either be [Tuesday], or if not, 1,000 percent [Friday vs the San Jose Sharks]."
His return, whenever it happens, should be a boost for the Blue Jackets.
Dubinsky has one of the top face-off win rates on the team (54 percent), provides a big body down the middle of the ice and plays a strong two-way game.
"I've always said I feel like a big part of this team, an important part of this team," he said. "I've had some big injuries this year, some scary injuries. I just want to make sure when I get back, that I'm here to stay and everything's good to go. I'm excited about the opportunity. Hopefully I can provide a spark for this lineup, and we can continue on our way."
Dubinsky said physically he feels good. That said, he's still dealing with some lingering visual side effects from the injury - specifically his left eye adjusting to bright light. That's why the visor he's wearing, per doctor's orders, has a slight tint.
"A little bit of smokiness on it," Dubinsky said. "It helps me, because the damage that I did get with the eye, I have a little sensitivity to brightness. It helps with the glare and brightness of the building."
Dubinsky will require some adjustment to the visor itself. The only other time he's worn one in competition was during international tournaments. Now, he'll wear one for the remainder of his career.
"It's still [a work in] progress," Dubinsky said. "I don't know if [anybody] saw me today wiping it, wiping it, wiping it. It looks like looking through a water bottle a little bit. Some guys don't even notice those drips and stuff on their visor. It's going to take a little bit to get used to, but the rest of it is fine."
The Blue Jackets are hoping the adjustment isn't too difficult, and that Dubinsky is able to provide what he did prior to the injury - on the ice, bench and locker room.
"He's the heart and soul of this team," forward Cam Atkinson said. "He drags everyone into the fight. You can tell, even when I was out, that that's the biggest part that was missing. It's good to have him back."
News & Notes
-- Defenseman Seth Jones practiced and appears to be fine after missing the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay this past weekend with an illness. Coach John Tortorella said Jones is fine, and is expected to play against Minnesota.
-- Dubinsky said he's not forbidden from fighting, but will also be more judicious about when to accept an invitation.
"That's going to be more of a personal thing," he said. "I have been in a lot of fights. The guys are a lot younger, and a lot tougher than when I came in, so I'm going to try not to do it. If [Atkinson] or [Calvert] or one of my teammates gets hit dirty in front of me, I am going to be right there. Always take care of my guys … but I'm certainly not going to go looking for it."
He doesn't think the injury will impact the physicality of his game, which means he plans to be the same type of gritty center he's always been.
"I don't do anything that warrants fighting," Dubinsky said. "I'm not a dirty player. I don't take cheap shots or stuff like that. I've obviously had a couple incidents, but those are never on purpose. It's [stuff] that happens within a fast game. I will continue to play hard, and play the right way. If it [ticks] someone off, or takes them off their game. … I don't have to answer the bell for making a clean check on somebody, which is sort of what led to this."
-- Tortorella said Sergei Bobrovsky will start in net against the Wild, despite coming off the weekend break for the NHL's All-Star weekend.
Joonas Korpisalo got the start against the Dallas Stars on Jan. 18, coming off the Jackets' league-mandated five-day bye, and earned a win in the 2-1 victory. Tortorella said that decision was made partly because Bobrovsky isn't great, historically, coming off down periods.
This time, he said there are no concerns about Bobrovsky, who's started the past two games - including a strong outing Thursday in the Blue Jackets' 2-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena.
-- Tortorella said defenseman Zach Werenski is battling some nagging injuries, which might be part of the reason his scoring is down from the beginning of the season. Werenski still has 11 goals, one shy of tying the franchise record for goals in one season by a defenseman, but hasn't scored since Dec. 29 in Ottawa.
That was his first game back from a four-game absence stemming from an upper-body injury. Werenski has just three points (one goal, two assists) in the past 11 games.
"I think he's had a really good year," Tortorella said. "He's tapered off a little bit. He's sorting out some things. He hasn't been totally, physically, on top of it, but he's fighting through some things. [He] still has been a very good player for us."
-- Captain Nick Foligno has points in the past two games, and in five of the past seven. He has seven points (two goals, five assists) in those seven games, including a secondary helper on Atkinson's game-winner Thursday.
Foligno now has 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists), but might be playing through an undisclosed injury.
"[He] played a game in Arizona, played through an injury that we weren't sure if he was going to be able to play [with]," Tortorella said. "Fought through that, and I thought played a good game for us. He's beginning to come [along]."
-- Columbus recalled Korpisalo, defenseman Dean Kukan, forward Markus Hannikainen and center Zac Dalpe from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League on Monday. Dalpe's return to Columbus fills the void left by forward Jordan Schroeder, who was loaned to the Monsters during the All-Star break.
Tortorella didn't rule out Dalpe playing Tuesday, saying he hadn't figured out his lineup as of Monday post-practice.
-- Rookie Sonny Milano, who's on injured reserve with a torn oblique, got on the ice before practice for individual work. Milano didn't dress in full equipment. He's still expected to be out a couple more weeks.