David Pastrnak is making his season debut for the Boston Bruins against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, NBCSWA, NESN, NHL.TV).
"I feel great," the forward said Friday. "It's been a long road, a lot of practices behind me. I feel ready. I feel 100 percent. It's been awesome. We'll see what's going to happen, but I'm pretty sure I'm ready to go."
Pastrnak had a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair Sept. 16, which came with an expected five-month recovery time that would have sidelined him until mid-February. He has been practicing with contact since Monday.
"I imagine there will be some rust to shake off," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the morning skate. "He's no different than anybody else, but we'll try to get him through it. As for his usage, that's probably the next question, we're just going to play that by ear. He's in great shape, looks good out there, but we're going to have to monitor that, see how he recovers. Some time and score, or game situation, will dictate the other part of it."
Cassidy said that he anticipates Pastrnak will return to his spot on the top line with forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand for the first of two consecutive games against the Capitals.
"I'm sure he'll bring offense," Cassidy said of Pastrnak. "He'll find pucks and get some looks. It's, can he recover from a shift or a long shift, if he gets stuck in his end? Probably not really used to the physical play, even though we tried to get him up to speed in practice. It's just not the same.
"Washington, more of a physical, big team, so that'll be a challenge for him, to make sure he plays with his head up, understand that it's live now. That's always the biggest challenge, I think, for anybody coming off a long layoff is the extended puck battles, the physical play, the traffic. Everyone's skated, everyone's handled pucks. It's the other stuff that they've got to be ready for."
The Bruins (5-1-1) struggled without Pastrnak, scoring three goals in their first three games, none at 5-on-5. But since then they've scored 17 goals, including 10 at 5-on-5, during a four-game winning streak.
Pastrnak, who tied Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead with 48 goals last season, said he's thrilled to be returning, especially now that his body is cooperating.
"Obviously, every injury brings you down a little bit," Pastrnak said. "This thing was going on for so long that I got kind of used to that, to be honest. It's been going on for like a year, almost.
"That's why I'm having way more fun skating right now, because it's pain-free and it's been a while since I was pain-free skating."