CALGARY -- Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan returned to practice Sunday for the first time since sustaining a back strain while training last month, and he is optimistic teammate and restricted free agent left wing Johnny Gaudreau will join the Flames soon.
"I've talked to Johnny a little bit," Monahan said. "I'm sure something's going to get done here soon. We're excited to get him back here and we're going to need him here to start the season."
Gaudreau, who led the Flames and was tied for sixth in the NHL with 78 points (30 goals, 48 assists) in 79 games last season, remains unsigned. He had two goals and four points in three games while playing for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
Monahan was a restricted free agent before signing a seven-year contract with the Flames reportedly worth $44.625 million on Aug. 19. He was wearing a non-contact jersey during Calgary's morning skate in advance of its preseason game against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday (9 p.m. ET; TSN3).
Video: CGY@EDM: Gaudreau slips the puck between the posts
"I think it's huge," Monahan said of returning. "It's my first skate with the guys. Mentally, it feels good to be out there with them and moving the puck around. I've been doing some skates here with (assistant coach Martin Gelinas) and doing a lot of work in the gym and doing a lot of rehab. This is moving along quickly. I feel strong and I'm confident right now.
"The back is a big part of your body and controls a lot of things. When we talked to our doctors, we were progressing it and making sure it's 100 percent when the first day of the season comes."
Monahan had an NHL career-high 63 points (27 goals, 36 assists) in 81 games last season. He had been named to Team North America for the World Cup but was forced to withdraw because of the injury.
"You want to be out there," Monahan said. "It's pretty painful. I've never really had an injury where I've sat out or took time off. This is pretty frustrating, but at the same time it's something you deal with. It's going to make you stronger. I've been doing a lot of little things to make sure nothing like this happens again.
"I don't want to be wearing the yellow (non-contact) jersey. I was happy to get out there with the boys today. I felt good. I'm confident. I feel strong."
Monahan said he'd be available to play if it were the regular season.
"There haven't been any setbacks. It's more precautionary," he said of wearing the non-contact jersey. "If it was the season and something like this was going on I'd probably be playing. Right now there's no timeline. We're just trying to make sure I don't think about it mentally or have it nagging throughout the season. We're trying to get rid of it and we're almost there."
In 237 career NHL games, Monahan has 80 goals and 159 points. He was a welcome addition to the group for Flames first-year coach Glen Gulutzan.
"I'm just glad he's out there," said Gulutzan, who was hired in June to replace Bob Hartley. "It's a good morning skate for him where there's no contact and let him get a sweat in. I know he was quite excited about it, getting out with the boys and being out there. It was a light little go-round. It's good for him. It's encouraging to see him on the ice. We'll see how he is on the ice and we'll just keep him progression."
Video: CGY@EDM: Gaudreau nets goal off Talbot's blunder
Gulutzan was unsure if Monahan will play in one of Calgary's final two preseason games. The Flames host the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday before concluding their preseason schedule at the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
"I think it's better for him, but then again none of that is going to get rushed by us," Gulutzan said. "Health overrides everything else. We've got a few good days of practice after that Thursday game in Vancouver. The way we practice we can modify game pretty close and get him up to speed pretty close. We'd ideally like to see him in a game but we're not rushing him."
Monahan, who has missed nine games in his first three NHL seasons, isn't in a hurry to rush back either.
"That's not up to me right now," he said. "As a group here and with the physio guys and the team, we don't have a timeline right now. We're taking it day-by-day. As of right now I feel good. I was out there with the guys today skating around. I feel strong on the ice. That's a good sign."