When the puck drops in Pittsburgh tomorrow night, look for two fresh faces in the Jackets' lineup as Oliver Bjorkstrand and Sonny Milano are expected to play according to head coach John Tortorella.
Bjorkstrand returned to practice with the team for the first time today after leaving the Mar. 22 game after being checked into the boards by Toronto's Roman Polak. Polak received a two-game suspension for the hit. Bjorkstrand missed six games.
"It's nice to be back," Bjorkstrand said. "It's nice getting ready right before playoffs start too. It's never fun to be out and hurt and not play. You stay patient and wait to get healthy again. You keep the right mindset to keep going and when you get back you're focused on being ready to play."
Bjorkstrand had started the season with the Jackets, but returned to team's AHL club in Cleveland to play with the Monsters after two games. He played two additional games with the Jackets in December, but it wasn't until he returned to the lineup in mid-February that his offensive production took off.
Video: Bjorkstrand on returning to the lineup in Pittsburgh
In 17 games with the Jackets since February, Bjorkstrand has scored six goals and four assists and added a unique offensive weapon to the Jackets' arsenal.
"I thought he was playing very well before being hurt," Tortorella said. "He changes different things as far as what I can do with the lineup. It's very encouraging to have him back."
Bjorkstrand will have another Monsters teammate on the bench with him Tuesday as well. Monday, the Jackets announced that Sonny Milano was recalled to join the team in Pittsburgh.
The 20-year-old Milano leads the Monsters in total points this season with 16 goals and 27 assists in 59 games. It's a performance that demanded attention at the NHL level.
"This is dealing with an American League player that has just played that good," Tortorella said. "We cannot not take a look at him with the way he's played. The reports coming out on him for quite a while now is that he's playing that good.
Video: Torts on dealing with lineup changes before playoffs
We're always trying to make our lineup better here. The main thing is the person. If he deserves a chance and forces us to make other decisions as we enter the playoffs in another week, that's good news.
"That's how good this guy has played, so he's going to be in the lineup tomorrow night."
- Zach Werenski left Sunday's game against the Capitals in the third period and did not return. He did not practice with the team Monday. Tortorella says his status is day-to-day.
- Center Lukas Sedlak missed his first game Sunday after leaving Friday's game against Chicago. He is considered week-to-week according to the head coach.
- Werenski's absence means that both Markus Nutivaara and Scott Harrington will play Tuesday. The two have split the last eight games for ice time. Each has played four games on the third pair with Kyle Quincey.
Tortorella says he will be changing up the pairings in advance of the Pittsburgh game, but the recent ice time for both players has helped them improve and it helps having a prepared defensive corps with Werenski's absense.
"It's good that Harrington hasn't been iced as much as he was in the beginning of the year," Tortorella said. "He has taken huge steps as a player with us here. Nutivaara wasn't taken out of the last game because of his play. He needed to start playing better and I think he has."