NEWARK, N.J. - Devils captain Nico Hischier returned to team practice Wednesday afternoon for the first time since sustaining a frontal sinus fracture nearly six weeks ago.
"I felt good. I was really happy to be around the guys again," said Hischier, who had skated on his own for the past week. "Obviously, it's different being with them on the ice than being by yourself. It's fun."
Hischier will join the Devils on their trip to Buffalo, but whether or not he returns to the lineup Thursday night when New Jersey plays the Sabres is yet to be determined.
Video: PRACTICE REPORT | He's Back Again
"I can tell you if I asked him, he would want to play (Thursday)," Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's just making sure he's ready and he's up to speed.
"It's important that we get him back as soon as we can, but it's also important to make sure that he's ready when he gets back in the lineup. His first practice today, we want to run him through some compete drills, get some physicality in some of the drills that Nico's in. We want him to be comfortable."
Hischier, who underwent surgery three weeks ago for the injury, wore a protective face shield at practice. Since the injury still requires "some healing," he anticipates wearing it for the remainder of the season.
"With the cage, it's obviously a little bit weird, but safety first," he said. "I'll get used to it, so it's no big deal."
Hischier must be a fast learner, because his coach was impressed with his first outing.
"He is actually ahead of where I thought he would be," Ruff said. "In a first practice sometimes a player will struggle. I didn't see any struggles there. ... It was great to see him back out there. I thought he had a good day."
Hischier, 22, suffered the injury when a deflect shot struck him in the visor, which pushed against his face and caused the frontal sinus fracture. Initially, he didn't think the situation was severe.
"I felt something hit me in the face. I didn't really know what was broken or what the damage was," he said. "When I got off the guys told me it didn't look that bad.
"It is scary stuff, a deflected puck, but at the end of the day for me it could be way worse. I still got lucky there. A little bit bad luck, but it can happen. I'm just happy to be standing here right now and being able to be out on the ice again."
Hischier, who was placed on the Injured Reserve list on March 4, was also placed in concussion protocol as a precaution, but he was cleared on that front.
"I felt a little bit off guard for a couple days after, that's why I was (in the) protocol," Hischier said. "It was not a concussion. I'm totally fine. I got lucky. My brain was totally fine. That's a big force, especially after an impact like that to have the brain not damaged. It's a good thing. That I was happy about."
After the swelling subsided, the first-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft underwent surgery on March 15. It was Hischier's first time going under the knife.
"It was a little bit scary. I was nervous before the surgery," he admitted. "It was my first surgery, too. I think it's normal to be a little bit nervous. But as soon as it was done and everything went well, I was able to mentally look forward and try to get back in the lineup again. I felt better after the surgery mentally and physically."
Video: PRACTICE RAW | Nico Hischier 4.7.21
It's been an adverse year for Hischier, who has played in just five games for New Jersey due to various ailments. He missed the opening 11 games of the season due to an offseason foot injury and the NHL COVID-19 protocol. After a brief return, Hischier was out of the lineup again with the sinus fracture. But the Swiss native is taking the long-term outlook on his situation.
"I just look at it as part of a career," Hischier explained. "In a career you're going to have step-backs, you're going to have injuries. It's just part of the game. Obviously, nobody wants to get hurt. But in every career, there are some step-backs that you have to take.
"For me, if I look at my (career) so far, it's been great. I haven't been hurt a lot. This year was the first injuries that I was out a little bit longer term. It was new for me this year."
Hischier, who was named team captain the same day of his first return to the lineup on Feb. 20, has a better understanding of what it takes to get himself back into the lineup following that first prolonged injured. That knowledge will help him in this go-around.
"It's a learning process as well, how you handle those injuries," he reasoned. "Working back into the lineup, that's a learning process and I'm going through that for the second time now."
Dec. 31 - General manager Tom Fitzgerald announces that Hischier will miss the start of the regular season due to an offseason foot injury
Feb. 8 - Hischier is added to the Devils' COVID-19 protocol list
Feb. 20 - Hischier plays his first game of the season on the same day that he is named Devils' captain
Feb. 27 - Hischier suffers a frontal sinus fracture
March 4 - Hischier is placed on IR
March 15 - Hischier undergoes successful surgery to repair a frontal sinus fracture
March 29 - Hischier begins skating on his own
April 7 - Hischier returns to the team practice