SUNRISE, Fla. -- New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias not only is hoping to play again this season, he'd like to return next season.
Elias, the Devils' all-time scoring leader, has been sidelined since Dec. 19 with a knee injury and will miss his 44th game Thursday when they play the Florida Panthers (7:30 p.m. ET; MSG+2, FS-F, NHL.TV), but he took part in his first morning skate in more than three months.
"It'd be great to step in, but I'm not going to do it just for the sake of stepping in," Elias said. "We've talked with (coach John Hynes) and I don't want him to feel like he has to play me no matter what. This team is playing well. Young guys are getting a chance and he's going to put on the ice the best team that can have the best chance to win that particular night. But I would like to obviously step in at least a game."
Elias was asked whether he was concerned a late-season appearance would be viewed as sort of a thank you and farewell to fans, which is when he mentioned his desire to play in the NHL next year.
"(That perception) could happen," Elias said. "Well, that'll be a bigger bang when I come back next year.
"I would love to. There's no practice, there's no game I don't enjoy coming back here. Honestly, if I will have any regrets it would be probably having the injury this year because it didn't allow me to play with this group of guys and under the coaching staff that we have and the style of hockey that we play. I love watching these guys. That's the only regret that I have, that I couldn't be a part of it for the whole year."
Elias, who will turn 40 on April 13, is the second-oldest active player in the NHL behind Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr, who turned 44 in February.
Hynes said just having Elias take part in the morning skate was great for his team.
"I think a lot of the guys have so much respect for him and what he's done and the way he works," Hynes said. "He's had a tough season, but his attitude has been fantastic. His work ethic has been good. So anytime you can have a guy that has the history he has in the organization and the type of person he is, it's always exciting -- I think for everyone, for coaches and players.
"He looks like he's on his way back. I can't guarantee that it's going to (happen), but the fact that he's back on the ice with practice and the last couple of weeks have been very good. It looks as though he's on his way back to getting some games here soon."
Elias has five points in 13 games this season, giving him 1,022 for his NHL career. The second-leading scorer in Devils history is John MacLean with 701 points.
Elias had surgery on his right knee Jan. 12 and began skating about a month ago. He returned to practice for the first time Wednesday. New Jersey has five games remaining, including its season finale April 9 at Prudential Center against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It's been a difficult year with the knee injury," Elias said, "but I don't know, I kind of have a feeling like hopefully this is not it."