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Staal practices with Hurricanes for first time since December

Center 'feeling a lot better,' has missed past 23 games because of concussion @NHLdotcom

Jordan Staal practiced with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday for the first time since December and could return to the lineup soon.

"Seeing him out there for the first time in a long time was great," coach Rod Brind'Amour told the Hurricanes website. "We've missed him, but we've managed to hang around. Hopefully we get him back soon because we need him."

The 30-year-old center sustained a concussion against the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 5 and missed the next three games. He returned to the lineup against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 20 and played against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 22 but has been out of the lineup since.

"In the end, it's obviously about feeling good and feeling back to yourself. I feel like I've hit that point," said Staal, who wore a yellow non-contact jersey during practice. "In the last two weeks, I've been feeling a lot better, having energy throughout the day and building off that. As of late, I've been able to push with no setbacks."

The Hurricanes (29-22-6) have gone 15-7-1 without Staal, the second-best record in the NHL in that span. Staal has 11 points (five goals, six assists) and is averaging 19:40 of ice time in 29 games. 

Carolina enters its game against the Edmonton Oilers at PNC Arena on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-CR, SNW, NHL.TV) three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

"It's been awesome to see," Staal said. "The guys have battled so hard to push to get back into it. It's been fun watching. We've been playing great. Even the games we don't win, we've been playing really solid. It's exactly the way we want to play, and hopefully I can make a small contribution to it soon."

With the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET, getting back Staal, who has 493 points (211 goals, 282 assists) in 872 games over 13 NHL seasons, could be seen as adding a player without having to give away any assets.

"That's one way to look at it, for sure, because he's been out for so long," Brind'Amour said. "We still don't know when he's going to get back in there, but just being out there is a step in the right direction."

Staal is excited to get back on the ice and help the Hurricanes.

"Every day is a new battle," he said. "You wake up, and you're not really sure what's going to happen. That can weigh on you a little bit. It took a toll on me for a while, but in the end, you have to believe you're going to get better at some point, and I did."

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