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Williams eyes return for Hurricanes before All-Star Game

Forward signed with Carolina last week, could play ahead of Jan. 25 event in St. Louis

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Justin Williams hopes to make his season debut for the Carolina Hurricanes before the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game.

Williams, who signed a one-year contract with the Hurricanes on Jan. 7, won't play against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, NBCSWA, FS-CR, NHL.TV), but Carolina has four games before the All-Star Game, which is in St. Louis on Jan. 25.

The Hurricanes, who will take their five-day, League-mandated break after the All-Star Game, play at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday before returning home to host the Anaheim Ducks on Friday, the New York Islanders on Sunday and the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 21.

"I think so, but we'll see what happens," Williams said about playing in one of those games after the Hurricanes' morning skate on Monday. "I've learned never to make plans in this game because you never know what's going to happen. It's pretty unpredictable. Guys are healthy right now, guys are winning, and that's good."

Video: Justin Williams talks about returning to Carolina.

Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup champion who helped Carolina advance the Eastern Conference Final last season, sat out the first three months this season while contemplating whether he wanted to retire or return for a 19th NHL season. The 38-year-old forward has 786 points (312 goals, 474 assists) in 1,244 NHL games.

On Monday, Williams remained on the ice for about 30 minutes after the skate, working with coach Rod Brind'Amour and defenseman Haydn Fleury, with equipment manager Jorge Alves in net.

"I think it's getting close now," Brind'Amour said. "There's only so much you can do in practice and once his conditioning gets to where it needs to be, it still needs to be game shape. So once we get to that point where we throw him in, that's going to take some time too for him to get going. No rush right now because we have healthy bodies. So it's a nice luxury to have."

Brind'Amour wouldn't commit to Williams playing before the All-Star Game, though.

"I'm not putting any parameters," Brind'Amour said. "It could be next game. But for now, the longer we can wait I think there's benefits to him and everyone."

Williams, who was Carolina's captain last season but was replaced while he contemplated retirement by center Jordan Staal, said his transition back into the locker room has been seamless.

"It doesn't really feel like I left, to be honest," he said. "I'm coming in here and getting the same crap from the same guys and the same routine. Not much has changed and that's a good thing."

He's been feeling pretty good on the ice, too, but knows jumping into a game will be another challenge.

"I've been skating three, four times a week for three months now, so I feel pretty good speed-wise," Williams said. "It will be timing. That's the thing that will just need a little bit more time and comes with getting some good practice in and eventually getting into the games."

Would Williams be able to play Thursday if the Hurricanes had an injury and needed a healthy forward?

"I'm sure I could," he said. "I think if you ask anyone, you could."

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