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Bjugstad has spinal surgery for Penguins

Forward expected to be out minimum eight weeks; GM optimistic Guentzel will return

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent

Nick Bjugstad had spinal surgery for a herniated disk on Tuesday, and the Pittsburgh Penguins forward will need at least eight weeks to recover.

Bjugstad did not play in Pittsburgh's final game before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus because of a lower-body injury. That came after he missed 46 games from Nov. 16-March 3 following core muscle surgery.

In 13 games this season, Bjugstad had one goal and one assist.

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Wednesday that Bjugstad won't be available for the rest of the season. The NHL announced its Return to Play Plan, which will include the Penguins among its 24 teams, on Tuesday, but did not reveal a start date.

Rutherford said forward Jake Guentzel, who has been out since Dec. 30 because of shoulder surgery, should be available to return against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Qualifying Round. Guentzel was expected to be need 4-6 months to recover.

"Jake is going through his rehab," Rutherford said. "Things are progressing fine. We still have a ways to go before we start playing. We are optimistic that he will be ready to play." 

Guentzel, who usually plays left wing with center Sidney Crosby on the top line, scored 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games after he scored an NHL career-high 76 points (40 goals, 36 assists) in 82 games last season. 

Jason Zucker could be moved from left wing on the first line to the second line with center Evgeni Malkin if Guentzel returns. Zucker scored 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 15 games with the Penguins after a trade from the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 10. 

It's uncertain if Guentzel will train at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, once it becomes open to the players. The facility is expected to be available within the next two weeks, Rutherford said. 

"The first 3-4 weeks that are coming up are voluntary for the players. So we have made our players aware of that," Rutherford said. "We've told the players that the building will be available by the end of next week or the start of the following week. They have to make their own decisions on whether they're coming back. We do have a group of players that are pretty eager to come back and are excited about our team. I would suspect that at some point in time in the next couple of weeks that the majority of our players would be back in Pittsburgh." 

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