Bryan Bickell is one step closer to making his return to the National Hockey League.
The Hurricanes placed Bickell on waivers Thursday with the intent of assigning the veteran forward to the Charlotte Checkers, who open a six-game homestand with back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.
"Get my feel back, get some minutes, get some good practices in and then hopefully everything feels good to come back up," Bickell said after practicing with the Hurricanes on Thursday.
"This is a real good step for him, an opportunity, and a step closer to getting back to the NHL. I think it's an exciting time for him to get back and play," head coach Bill Peters said. "It's a good situation for him to go play at the AHL level."
Video: Bryan Bickell: "It's been a long road"
Bickell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in early November and has missed 48 games this season, having last played on Oct. 30. He has been practicing with the team for over a month and the three-time Stanley Cup champion aims to return to NHL ice before the end of the season.
"It's going to be good to get back out there and play hockey again," he said. "It's definitely special. They didn't think I'd come back this quick. Maybe next year. This was my goal: to get back as fast as possible and feel normal as quick as possible."
Normal, as it turns out, is a new, refreshing feeling.
"I don't know what normal felt like. It's been awhile," Bickell said. "I'm feeling normal, I guess you could say. Everyday things, especially on the ice, are feeling normal, and I'm feeling like myself."
Now is a stark contrast to then, when things certainly were not normal. In and out of the lineup with lingering concerns, Bickell knew something wasn't quite right. There was the diagnosis.
"Finding the news and then not knowing if you're going to play hockey again," he said. "That first month was kind of hard, but to move on as a family and as a player, it's been tough but well-deserved when you get this close to coming back in."
Then the ongoing treatment and rehab.
"I go once a month to get my treatment. Stay there for a couple hours and feel all charged up. It's something I have to do for I don't know how long. Hopefully they can find a cure in the next 10 years. But it's part of my life, and we're working through it," Bickell said. "Physically it's been tough. Taking off that much time … we've been working hard every day to get back. Definitely mentally it's a tough thing to go through. For me to be positive is the biggest thing."
And now, relative normalcy and the potential return.
"His attitude through all this has been unbelievably fantastic. He's really a source of inspiration, in my opinion," Peters said. "He's tackled it head on. It's a moving target of when he's going to get back and play for us at the NHL level, but I'm not betting against Bryan Bickell."