Justin Williams practiced with the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time this season Thursday and said he expects his return to lineup to be "seamless and very easy," even if it may take some time.
The 38-year-old forward, who said Sept. 2 he was taking time away from the NHL, signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with Carolina on Tuesday.
"I'm a realist," Williams said after practice. "I need time, and fortunately for us we have that. And whenever that time is, I'm sure [coach Rod Brind'Amour] will let us know."
Brind'Amour said after practice he doesn't envision that return anytime soon and that he hasn't considered how the lineup will look when Williams is ready.
"There's no point in bringing it up because he's not an option," Brind'Amour said. "Whether it's a week, two weeks, when we get to the point where I feel like he can play then I'll have to make some decisions, if that's the case, but … it's not around the corner for us.
"We're taking it really slow here, to make sure it's the right time."
When Williams does return, it will begin his 19th NHL season. He has 786 points (312 goals, 474 assists) in 1,244 NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings and Washington Capitals.
Video: NHL Tonight on Williams' impact on the Hurricanes
He played for the Hurricanes from 2017-19 and 2003-09, helping them win their only Stanley Cup championship in 2006. He also won the Cup twice with the Kings (2012, 2014).
He was named Carolina captain before last season and had 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 82 regular-season games. He had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games, helping the Hurricanes reach the Eastern Conference Final, where they were swept by the Boston Bruins.
"He's going to be a great teammate, he's a great leader, he's going to help," Brind'Amour said. "I don't think anything is changing. Today was a nice boost for our group, and when he gets in there, it will be the same."
Williams said it may take him some time to get back into playing, but he will be ready to go once he does.
"You ever not driven a car for a long time and then get behind the wheel and it feels a little foreign?" he said. "I know how to play the game, it's just getting back into it and feel a little more comfortable. As the practices go and the days go on, I'll be able to drive the speed limit."