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Williams has no timetable for Hurricanes season debut

'Whenever it happens, it happens,' says forward, who signed one-year contract

by Kurt Dusterberg / Independent Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Justin Williams is back with the Carolina Hurricanes but there is no timetable for his return to the lineup.

"[Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour] and I will talk through it," the 38-year-old forward said Wednesday. "It's in our hands now. I'm just going to work my way back to where I feel comfortable and [Rod] feels I'm comfortable to play. You can't put a time on it. Whenever it happens, it happens."

Williams signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Hurricanes on Tuesday, renewing his playing career after he announced Sept. 2 he was taking some time away from the NHL.

"I'm thrilled with the opportunity," he said. "My adrenaline gets more and more upbeat every day. I'll be excited to get back in the dressing room and see the guys and compete. You only have a thin window to have the opportunity to play against the world's best. That's not something I take for granted."

Video: Justin Williams will return to the Hurricanes

Prior to his decision to return, the three-time Stanley Cup winner (Carolina, 2006; Los Angeles Kings, 2012 and 2014) said he was comfortable focused entirely on a life away from hockey.

"Yeah, absolutely," Williams said. "Being home and helping with homework every day, coaching my son's hockey team, being there for my daughter and taking up other interests. I'm always trying to keep my mind occupied. I wasn't bored one bit. I missed hockey, but I certainly wasn't bored."

As the season progressed, however, he said he felt the lure of the game.

"Throughout these last few months, I just knew that maybe perhaps I wanted to come back," he said. "I still wasn't sure. If I was going to come back, I knew I had to do something. I couldn't just come right off the couch and hop into an NHL dressing room and think that I could do that."

Williams, who was captain of the Hurricanes last season, figures to have a voice in the room when he does return. He is widely regarded as the catalyst for Carolina ending a nine-season playoff absence last season before reaching the Eastern Conference Final, where it was swept by the Boston Bruins.

"That room knows me, and I know myself," he said. "It goes without saying that I'm going to have a leadership role on this team. We will figure all that other stuff out."

The Hurricanes (25-16-2) hold the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. 

"There's so much he brings to this dressing room," Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele said after a 5-4 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. "He works so hard on the ice, and it would be great to add more depth to our lineup."

Williams, who will begin his 19th NHL season, had 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games last season and seven points (four goals, three assists) in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games in the Hurricanes' first postseason appearance since 2009.

Williams and Brind'Amour, who played on Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup championship team, acknowledged they have been in close contact this season.

"There's no adjustment because we know what he is," Brind'Amour said Tuesday. "He's been here, he's a Hurricane. It would be an adjustment for him to just get back up to speed. He's been out a long time. We would obviously welcome him back. This will be a huge addition for us."

Selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round (No. 28) of the 2000 NHL Draft, Williams has 786 points (312 goals, 474 assists) in 1,244 games with the Flyers, Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings and Washington Capitals. He has 101 points (40 goals, 61 assists) in 155 playoff games.

"You miss the locker room," Williams said. "You miss the little nuances that only we know about, and the brothership and the camaraderie that comes with becoming a team. A lot of guys texted me last night, and that makes you feel wanted, and that's great. But I feel this time I want them more, and I'm happy to be coming back."

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