For the first time since undergoing surgery on April 4 to treat a type of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome near his right collarbone, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos trained with the rest of the Bolts as they prepared for Game 1 of their Second Round matchup against the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena.
Stamkos wore a red no-contact jersey and only participated in a limited number of drills at the beginning of practice before working off to the side on his shooting and skating.
Still, seeing the Bolts’ leading goal scorer back on the ice after missing the final five games of the regular season and entire First Round series against Detroit was “uplifting” for the Lightning according to defenseman Victor Hedman.
“It was good to see him out there skating around and shooting pucks,” Hedman said. “We’re obviously very excited to see him out there again as I’m sure it is for everyone in this city to see him out there. He’s been in a good mood and good spirits through the whole process, and to see him out there again might be a bit of a confidence builder (for the team) as well.”
Stamkos said his timetable to return – one to three months following surgery – still hasn’t changed. His first month of rehab won’t be complete until May 4, well into the Bolts’ Second Round series against the Islanders.
“I’m feeling really good,” Stamkos said during his first press conference with reporters since his diagnoses. “I’ve been working out. I’ve been skating, doing all that kind of stuff. Obviously, today was the first time being out there with all the guys. That was fun, but it’s really just a waiting game now. Obviously, you can’t rush back into things of this magnitude. I’d say nothing’s changed in that regard. I feel great. That’s kind of the tough part for me is feeling physically ready to play almost but not obviously with this type of injury and the blood thinners and stuff like that, you have to take your time.”
Stamkos is on blood thinners currently and will have to come off those before he can suit up again. He didn’t have a timeline for when he might be able to stop taking them.
“That’s the million dollar question is how long do you have to be on those before you’re ready, and that’s obviously a decision that has to be made with the doctors,” Stamkos said. “…Once you’re off those, you pretty much can come back and play. So that’s the question.”
It was after a regular season game March 31 against Montreal when Stamkos started to feel something off with his right arm. Having watched backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy go through similar symptoms in preseason and eventually undergoing vascular surgery to remove a blood clot, Stamkos knew he needed to seek medical attention.
“After the Montreal game, no problems in the game, felt great,” Stamkos said. “Went and did the workout and after the workout had some symptoms where your arm feels a little heavy. There was a little swelling and that’s when I kind of remembered from Vasy’s injury that those were his symptoms. Obviously, talked to the doctors, and we made sure we got on it right away. Pretty crazy to have two of those on the same team in one year.”
Stamkos ranked tied for seventh in the NHL and led the Lightning for goals after scoring 36 during the 2015-16 regular season, including seven goals and five assists in the nine games before the diagnosis.
“I think that’s the frustrating part of it all is obviously for me the timing of it,” Stamkos said. “It was just so out of the blue coming down the stretch. I felt I was playing my best hockey, felt the best and then this pops up.”
Despite his surprise presence at Tuesday’s practice, Stamkos isn’t expected to return for the Second Round series versus the Islanders.
“We all know the situation in here,” Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said. “We know he’s just kind of getting his feet wet again. We’re not sitting here waiting for him to jump back in. We’ve got to worry about ourselves here and the Islanders, but at the same time, it’s nice to have him back in out there. He’s a big part of this team, and seeing him back out there is just another step forward in a long road back.”
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper reiterated Stamkos’ appearance at practice today doesn’t necessarily mean he’s close to returning.
“We have to prepare without him, and if he gets to play with us, that’s just icing on the cake for us to be able to add somebody of his stature and talent back in the lineup,” Cooper said. “But until we’re given any notification that this could happen, there’s no point in speculating.”