Jordan Staal is set to make his return to the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes when they face off with the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, Dec. 29, head coach Bill Peters confirmed after practice on Sunday.
“I’d be shocked if he doesn’t play tomorrow,” he said. “It’s been a long wait, but he’s worked very hard.”
“I’ve been getting a little anxious the last few weeks, and I’m feeling comfortable on the ice,” Staal said. “I’ve just getting back to the speed of things.”
Staal has missed the team’s first 35 games with a fracture in his right fibula, which he suffered late in the third period of Carolina’s second exhibition game. Surgery and a sometimes frustrating rehab process followed.
“The first bit is always tough, watching your team when you’re out, especially right at the beginning of the season when you don’t get in a game,” Staal said. “The initial shock sucks, but then it’s just putting your mind to getting back and focusing on that.”
Staal first got back onto the ice just about three weeks ago on Dec. 6. That was a brief, light twirl to test out the feeling in his ankle and leg. He then began traveling and regularly skating with the team a few days later.
“You start to recover better and feel better after every practice and not feel so dead,” Staal said. “My ankle started feeling better as well. It was tight for a while and sore, but for the last two weeks, I haven’t noticed it at all.”
The Canes went through a number of battle drills in practice on Sunday, giving Staal some extra reps.
“Hopefully my work when I was out helps with that transition and helps me get back to the speed I want to be at,” Staal said. “Hopefully I’m right there as soon as I get back.”
The plan for Monday night’s game against Montreal is to skate Jordan down the middle with his brother, Eric, and Nathan Gerbe on either wing. That’s short-term. Long-term, Staal’s return helps to solidify the Canes’ depth down the middle and could provide a much-needed offensive boost.
“It will give us some options down the middle. We can leave Rask and Nash there, and if we want to play Eric and Jordan together we can,” Peters said. “We threw a bunch of line combinations up this morning, and we’ll see what we come up with.”
“Hopefully I get the big man going. It’s exciting,” Jordan said of playing with his brother. “I’m just excited to get back. Having him on my wing will ease my legs coming back, as well, knowing he can do a lot of work down low, too.”
One last formality remains: activating Staal from injured reserve, which can be done without a corresponding roster move since the Canes have 22 active players (23 maximum).
That move will likely come Monday, making his return to the ice officially official.
“It’s not fun to watch your team go through a rough patch,” Staal said. “I just try to be as supportive as I can, and when I get back, try to compete as best I can to get them in the right direction. There’s not much you can do as a player when you’re sitting out except get yourself ready. So that’s what I tried to do as best I could, and hopefully I can help contribute.”