For the first time since suffering an upper-body injury November 12 in a home game against the San Jose Sharks, Anton Stralman was practicing with his teammates in a regular jersey Saturday at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.
In previous practice sessions, Stralman was a participant but limited, signified by the red no-contact jersey he donned.
Saturday, Stralman took contact for the first time since the injury, indicating he could return to the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup soon.
"The big test obviously is to take more physical contact and see how it reacts," Stralman said following Saturday's practice as the Bolts packed their bags for a three-game road trip starting Sunday in Boston against the Bruins. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow, and we'll go from there."
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said there's a "possibility" Stralman could return by the end of this road trip. That would be a big boost for a Bolts blueline that has held together well in his absence. The Lightning currently rank tied for 12th in the NHL for goals-against average (2.50).
Stralman has missed seven games so far to the upper-body injury that occurred after he took a shot late in the game against the Sharks. The time away from the ice hasn't all been negative, however. Stralman said the opportunity to watch games instead of playing in them has given him a new perspective.
"It's never fun to be injured, but I think when you do get some time off, it can also be a good thing," he said. "You can kind of clear your mind and address things that maybe you weren't too happy about in your own game, things that you want to improve. It's a good time to kind of reflect on that stuff that I as a player would like to improve."
After getting injured, Stralman noticed he wasn't communicating on the ice as much as he needs to. He's working to be more vocal while he rehabs.
"That's something I need to do more of," Stralman said. "It's a good way to kind of reset it and work on it again and do it in practice with the team and just like we did today with a lot of breakouts and stuff, that's usually when you need mostly to talk."
Stralman is progressing in his rehab about as he expected, saying he's "right in line" of where he's supposed to be in regards to his timetable to return.
"Every time you get injured, you think you'll be back quick," he said. "Also, there's a thin line to watch. You don't want to push it too much and be out there too early and re-injure yourself, which is just going to make it worse. You obviously have to take your time."
Time is something Stralman can afford with the injury occurring at the beginning of the season. In 2015-16, Stralman went down with a non-displaced fracture of his left fibula with three weeks remaining in the regular season and rushed to get back on the ice in the playoffs. He returned in a little less than two months but admittedly probably wasn't 100 percent yet.
"Now, I can kind of lick my wounds a little bit and then have a long season still left," he said.