Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ondrej Palat could return to the lineup Thursday against the Ottawa Senators after missing 12 games with an ankle injury.
Palat, who hasn't played since Nov. 7, has two goals and seven points in 16 games this season.
"We are hopeful that he has a chance [Thursday]. That will be a big boost [Thursday] if we can get him," coach Jon Cooper told the Lightning website Wednesday after practice. "If you grab any team in the League and take arguably one of their most important players on your team and take him off ... whatever those coaches would say, I would reiterate that."
Palat skated on a line with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, his linemates last season and earlier this season.
"They have a lot of chemistry together and they are familiar with each other," Cooper said. "I didn't want to throw lines together [Thursday] night without skating. If Palat can't go, we have a backup plan, but he's got to get into practice, he's got to be bumped around and be put in different situations, thrown back on the power play."
The Lightning have had trouble scoring this season but Cooper said that wouldn't influence his decision to get Palat back into the lineup.
"We're not going to put him in a position where he is going to get hurt again, but hopefully he can go," Cooper said. "Our issue is that we've gone from the No. 1 scoring team in the League (last season) to the 20s somewhere (25th) and we're not used to that, and that's where we are trying to find our way, to put the puck in the net."
Cooper also said forwards Cedric Paquette (upper body) and Erik Condra (lower body) are expected to miss another week or two.
"We're definitely erring on the side of caution," Cooper said. "[Condra] is probably in the same boat as Paquette. I don't want to put a time frame on him but he would be at least another week."