Friday saw another significant step in the progress of newly-acquired Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh and the upper-body injury that has prevented him from making his Lightning debut.
McDonagh wore a regular jersey during a full practice session for the first time Friday at AMALIE Arena, shedding the red no-contact jersey he wore previously during full skates. McDonagh wore a regular jersey during Thursday's optional morning skate, but Friday was the first time he wore one for a full practice, meaning he's near a return to action.
"Yeah, just did one final x-ray last night just to check it out one more time," McDonagh said from his locker room stall Friday when asked if he had been cleared for contact. "Today was the first day (without) a non-contact jersey, so very exciting."
McDonagh has missed 14 games total between the Lightning and the New York Rangers with his current upper-body injury. But he could return to action as soon as Saturday when the Lightning host the Montreal Canadiens at AMALIE Arena. If not Saturday, McDonagh will almost certainly make his Tampa Bay debut next week.
"I haven't had a lot of practice time too with the team," McDonagh said. "To get some reps is going to be important here. Haven't talked to the trainers or anybody yet to see what's the option for tomorrow."
Video: McDonagh | Post-Practice
McDonagh was acquired by the Lightning along with J.T. Miller from the New York Rangers on trade deadline day February 26 in exchange for F Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects F Brett Howden and D Libor Hajek and a pair of high draft picks in upcoming drafts.
Miller has immediately made an impact in the Lightning lineup, tallying two goals and three assists in five games while quickly developing chemistry with linemates Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point.
McDonagh has patiently waited for his turn to join his new team on the ice for a game but admits it's been frustrating not being able to show what he can do.
"Changing to a new team, you're excited," McDonagh said. "You want to get comfortable around the guys and up to speed with the way things are done here and the way they play. It's been a bit challenging there mentally, but at the same time, I'm just trying to control what I can, getting healthy so I can go out there and play when the time's ready."
McDonagh has tallied two goals and 24 assists in 49 games with the Rangers this season.
Another injured Lightning player, forward Ondrej Palat, is also getting closer to returning but will likely need more time than McDonagh.
Palat participated in Friday's practice session but was in a red no-contact jersey, meaning he still hasn't been cleared for contact. Palat has been getting some extra work of late prior to practices with Lightning assistant coach Brad Lauer before joining his teammates for training sessions.
"It's been a tough time not playing," Palat said. "But I'm happy now I can be out there with the guys and get involved in the drills and stuff like that. It's nice."
Palat has missed 22 games since suffering a lower-body injury in a loss at Minnesota on January 20. Palat was scheduled to be out six to eight weeks; Saturday will be week seven since he was injured.
"I feel better every (day), but I don't want to rush anything, make sure I'm 100 percent and when I'm ready, I'm sure I'll want to play a couple games before playoffs."
Palat is one of Tampa Bay's best two-way forwards and has recorded eight goals and 22 assists in 46 games this season.
"It's been frustrating, but the guys have been playing really well," Palat said. "We're in a good position, and there's no rush to get back."