As his skate blades cut through the Consol Energy Center ice and his hair, tucked underneath the bill of his ball cap, whipped backwards Wednesday morning, Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal
could feel himself taking a major step forward in his recovery from a foot infection.
Staal may still be weeks away from suiting up for the Penguins again, but this week he finally laced up the skates and took a few twirls, proving the most difficult time of his young career may finally have an end in sight.
"It was really nice," Staal told reporters Wednesday morning. "It feels good mentally and for the body to get out there, get on the skates and get moving again."
Staal had a tendon in his foot sliced open during the playoffs last season when Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban
accidentally stepped on his boot with his blade. He had a quick procedure the next day and after missing Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Staal returned for Game 4.
It wasn't until June, after the Penguins had been eliminated by the Canadiens, that he had a follow-up procedure. Soon after an infection developed in his foot, and that required more procedures to make sure that all infected tissues were removed, Penguins team physician Dr. Charles Burke said in a statement released by the team on Sept. 16.
"It was really nice. It feels good mentally and for the body to get out there, get on the skates and get moving again."
-- Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal on skating again
"This has required treatment with both antibiotics and several repeat (clean-outs) to remove infected tissue," Burke added. "We are confident the situation has been resolved."
Staal, who first skated Monday, said he has not encountered any problems and is hopeful to make it back to the lineup soon. His impressive streak of 302 consecutive games played (he had missed only one in his first four NHL seasons) came to an end when the Penguins opened the season last Thursday.
"I never really had a timetable," Staal said. "We never decided on a date (to return). It's very hard to tell right now. I'm just trying to get comfortable out there and get the feel back of skating."
Staal said he's skating now to work on his balance and to get some strength back in his right leg.
"My right leg is not as strong as my left," he said.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
would not call what Staal was doing on the ice Wednesday a test for his foot.
"He's just getting on the ice and getting into the skates in addition to his off-ice workouts," Bylsma said. "It's nice for him to get out there and twirl around a bit. We're not to a point yet where he's decided he wants to get into gear and go out for a more serious workout, but it's a sign that he's progressing and he's able to get out there and get some work in.
"There's no rushing Jordan back. This is a sign that he's ahead of schedule. He's healing. He's getting better."
And breathing a sigh of relief, too.
"If you've spent a little bit of time with him throughout this thing at all, there have been some ups and downs and setbacks," Bylsma said. "So it definitely gives him a lift in his mindset here to get back on the ice and feel like he's on the road to recovery. There's been a jump in his step now that he's back on the ice."
Staal called his summer long and added that it included "a lot of ups and downs." Fortunately, he's from a family of hockey players, including brothers Eric (Carolina captain), Marc (Rangers defenseman) and Jared (Carolina prospect), so he had a lot of support on the homefront in Thunder Bay this summer.
"I had a lot of good people around me, family and friends to help me," Staal said. "It was very difficult, but I made it through."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl