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Rangers' Stepan to make season debut Saturday

NHL.com @NHL

New York Rangers center Derek Stepan will make his season debut Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, coach Alain Vigneault told the Rangers website Friday.

"I think he's probably the happiest person around our surroundings today," Vigneault said. "He's been waiting for this for a long time. He's worked extremely hard. He's good to go. He's going to play [Saturday]."

Stepan has not played since sustaining a broken left fibula during a training camp conditioning drill Sept. 24. The initial diagnosis was Stepan would miss 4-6 weeks; Saturday will be six weeks and three days.

"I feel good, I feel strong," Stepan said, according to The (Bergen) Record. "It was good to get back in the mix."

Vigneault said Stepan will skate between Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello against the Maple Leafs.

"[Stepan and Kreider] have got some real good chemistry," Vigneault said. "He understands Chris well, he reads him well, he uses his speed well. [Zuccarello] I feel should fit in real nicely with that line."

Stepan was second on the Rangers in scoring last season with 57 points in 82 games. The 12 games he's missed this season are the first of his five-season NHL career.

The Rangers also got positive news on defenseman Dan Boyle, who was a full participant in practice Friday. He's been out since sustaining a broken hand in the season opener Oct. 9.

"For the first time he had a normal sweater which means he's been cleared for contact," Vigneault said. "My understanding is the hand is healing according to plan. It's been four weeks. [Friday] was his first real practice with the group. It would be a safe bet to say sometime next week he should be back in the lineup."

Boyle said he's still feeling pain in his hand.

"The last little part has been the most frustrating," Boyle said, according to The Record. "Every day it's gotten a lot better but now it's the final part of it and I'm just doing a little bit more and more every day so I can go out and play, basically. … I guess I'd be day-to-day at this point. I would say next week, hopefully, is realistic. Definitely not today. If had I had to do it today, definitely not today."

Also at practice Friday was free agent defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

Kaberle, 36, last played in the NHL during the 2012-13 season with the Montreal Canadiens. In 14 NHL seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and Canadiens, he had 87 goals and 563 points in 984 games. He won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011.

Last season he had four goals and 24 points in 48 games with Kladno in the top league in his native Czech Republic. He has not played a game anywhere this season.

"It would be unfair for me to give you a precise evaluation," Vigneault said. "It's the first time he skated with our team. From what I saw I liked a lot of things I saw. But it's one skate. Our schedule here moving forward, with the back-to-backs (Saturday against the Maple Leafs, Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers), and Monday being a mandatory day off, we're not going to have a lot of team skates. We'll take this a day at a time here and see what happens.

"He played last year back home, played around 50 games. Last couple years in the NHL he was an in-and-out player. But he's an experienced player; from reputation he can move the puck well, can help out on the power play. At his age does he still have those capabilities? Tough for me to answer right now given one practice. We'll have to sort that out."

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