Adam Henrique took part in Friday's morning skate as he nears a return from left thumb surgery he underwent in November.
The 2012 Calder Trophy finalist was thrilled to be back on the ice with his teammates.
"It's awesome," Henrique said. "It's just a big morale boost for me just to be around the guys. I think a lot of guys would say the same thing when they're hurt and you don't see the guys as much, obviously. You don't travel, you kind of skate on your own. Just to be in here hanging out with the guys feels like normal. It's still tough watching, but I'm glad we're watching (hockey)."
Head coach Pete DeBoer's looking at another week to 10 days before Henrique might be back. Henrique had five goals and three assists in 16 games with Albany (AHL) this season, but has been sidelined since Nov. 25.
"Right now it's still taking it a day at a time, trying to get the strength back in the shot and used to handling pucks and skating out there," Henrique said. "Obviously it's going to take a bit to get back into game shape."
He had been working off-ice on shooting and stickhandling and more recently began on-ice puck work.
"It felt good," he said. "It was nice to just have pucks out there, playing around with the pucks, getting some shots, getting back into it, getting back into the rhythm and everything. It's coming along."
Henrique is coming off a dazzling rookie campaign in which he posted 16 goals and 35 assists for 51 points in 74 games.
"Henny was a big part of the reason this team was so successful last year," said David Clarkson. "It's good to see him back putting the puck in the net. He's got that big smile on his face, it looks like he's having fun out there. It's obviously a big plus when we can get him back out there."
Henrique got the Devils out of the first round with the double-OT goal at Florida in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. He also made his mark on the Battle of the Hudson, scoring the overtime goal that eliminated the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final and sent the Devils to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2003.
"He scored some big, big ones there in the playoffs," Clarkson said. "There's guys that just score big goals, and he's one of them."
As excited as he is to be back, Henrique doesn't have a return date targeted just yet.
"Right now I'm just looking at it daily," he said. "Getting the strength in there, shooting, handling the puck on the ice. It's different from going to skating with no pucks to handling the puck and then getting back into practice with the guys. I think we're on the right track and we're on schedule, I guess, with where we expected things to be."