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More tests to come for Little, no timeline for return

"We need him to come back in the line-up fully relaxed and comfortable that he's at speed." -Maurice

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - Bryan Little is a few days away from getting some tests done, but head coach Paul Maurice isn't putting any sort of timeline on the forward's return.

Little has been wearing a non-contact jersey for a few weeks and over time, has reached the point of being fully involved in practices - at least, as far as he can go in a gold jersey.

"There isn't a window on this. Even if he passes all these tests, he's still going to have to get through feeling really comfortable on the ice," said Maurice. 

"It was described to me 'this isn't a concussion issue. This is like a car accident. This is a trauma issue.'"

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

Maurice used a concussion as an example. There is a specific protocol in place for players who sustain a concussion, then a number of tests for them to pass before returning to play.

In Little's case, it's not that simple. It comes down to his comfort on the ice in a game that is highly unpredictable when played at NHL pace.

"You don't fully appreciate how fast things happen at ice level until you're right there," said Maurice. "I've always been amazed there aren't more players hit in the face with pucks, with the number of pucks that go to the net, that are tipped. A lot of them, they miss because they pick that reaction up, they move in time. It's all instinct down there."

Even for players coming off injuries that aren't head related - like Nathan Beaulieu against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday - getting that instinct back takes a bit of time.

"He said it was fast last night. This guy, his head is fine, he had a broken bone he was dealing with," Maurice said of Beaulieu. "Even for that, a guy who processes everything, he says 'the game happened real fast last night.'"

To get those instincts back, Maurice feels Little will have to do a couple of things. First and foremost, pass the tests he has coming in a few days.

Then, he has to stack together several full-on practices, which is a challenge given the fact the Jets play 12 games in 22 days to close out February.

Maurice knows Little will put the work in, but ultimately, it comes down to how the forward feels.

"We have to wait until he has that exact feeling on the ice that things aren't happening that fast on the ice in practice over and over. He's comfortable," said Maurice. "We need him to come back in the line-up fully relaxed and comfortable that he's at speed."

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