Devils defensive prospect Nikita Okhotyuk has returned to action for the Ottawa 67's after injuring a finger in early September that kept him out of Devils training camp.
Okhotyuk, taken 61st overall at the NHL Draft in June in Vancouver, is now in his third season playing in Canada's capital and is one of three Devils prospects on the 67's.
"The good thing with Nikita was that he was able to skate," said 67's GM James Boyd, of Okhotyuk's six-week layoff. "And because of that, he's stepped right in for us."
Okhotyuk, who has been back for four games and recorded two assists in that span. He returned to action at the same time fellow Devils prospect Graeme Clarke was sidelined. Clarke has a serious shoulder injury that required surgery and will keep him out for what is expected to be four to six months. Boyd said everyone is taking a cautious approach but he's optimistic that Clarke will return before the season is over.
"The thing about Graeme is that he is going to get the highest standard of care," said Boyd. "For that, we are optimistic but we are also not going to rush it. You must heal properly and if you do, the shoulder will never be a problem. If you do come back less than 100 percent, it could be a problem.
"We are going to give him the best opportunity here to (fully recover)."
Center Mitchell Hoelscher is the other Devils-drafted player on the 67's, who are now riding high near despite those injuries, suspensions and a difficult September schedule that saw them play just a single home game.
"We are (clicking) now," said Boyd, when asked to comment on his club's recent run of good form despite the obstacles. "The tough schedule, two tough trips are now out of the way, we're now much better."
Okhotyuk was recently named to Russia's roster for upcoming CIBC Canada Russia Series. The annual event takes place between Russia and Canadian-born players from each of the Canadian Hockey League's three-member leagues.
Before being injured, Clarke had been scoring at a 50-goal pace ( seven goals in nine games), earning a roster spot on Team OHL.
Okhotyuk, who will turn 19 in December, played for his country at both the World U18s in the spring of 2018 and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup later that summer, where he served as captain on the bronze-medal squad.
Okhotyuk will suit up for his country against Team OHL for games in Kitchener on Nov 7 and on Nov 11 in London.
"Nikita I'm sure loves playing for his country," said Boyd, "I know that the Russian (hockey) federation really likes him, serving as captain and making the U-18 team as an underage as he did."
The series starts Monday in Saint John and the following night in Moncton with two games against Team QMJHL. After the Ontario contests, it moves to Saskatchewan for games in Saskatoon on Nov 13 and in Prince Albert on Nov 14.
Devils prospect Ty Smith, whose family now lives in Saskatoon, has been named to the roster for Team WHL. The Spokane Chiefs captain is expected to be named part of the leadership group for Team WHL.
"We want to get two wins," said Smith, referencing last season's two-game split that proved crucial in Russia eventually taking the series, "It's a great opportunity to be part of all the really good, skilled players from across the WHL."
The rest of the Russian roster has not been announced but Devils draft pick Daniil Misyul, taken nine picks after Okhotyuk in June, is in the mix for a spot on the Russian roster. Smith, Misyul and Okhotyuk are in their last season for U20 eligibility and expected to be locks for roster spots for their country at the upcoming World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Clarke is a 2001-birth and has one more season of U20 eligibility.
Designed a prelude and evaluator for the World Junior that takes place over the holiday season, the Canada Russia Series started in 2003. It was dominated by the home side until Russia won for the first time in 2010.
The series has become noticeably tighter in recent years, with Canada winning in an extra-time shootout two years ago when both teams finished tied on points after six games. Last year, Russia scored with just seconds left in regulation in Game 6 to clinch the series.
The Devils Nikita Gusev, along with reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, tied for the series scoring lead in 2011 with seven points each.
The CHL has an overall record of 63-25-2-6, while Russia is 33-60-0-3.