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Zajac could return Thursday for Devils

Center has not played while recovering from offseason surgery to repair torn pectoral muscle

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Center Travis Zajac could return to the lineup when the New Jersey Devils play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TSN4, MSG, NHL.TV).

Zajac, who missed training camp and the first 17 games for the Devils after having surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle on Aug. 17, was cleared to practice Saturday. He centered the top line with left wing Taylor Hall and right wing Kyle Palmieri on Tuesday and will travel to Toronto on Wednesday.

"I felt fine," Zajac said after practice. "It's nice to get into a practice, get some drills, and feel the pace. You have some guys out there who aren't messing around this year; we've got some speed. I just need to get back that puck control, getting it in tight spaces with not having much time to make a play. You have to think and react quickly, and I haven't been able to do until [Tuesday]."

Zajac was told in August that his recovery would take 4-6 months.

"I think at some point, you can only get so much out of skating and practice; you need to get thrown into the fire a little bit," Zajac said.

With Zajac centering the first line, coach John Hynes had rookie Nico Hischier between Jesper Bratt and Drew Stafford; Brian Boyle between Adam Henrique and Miles Wood; and Blake Coleman between Brian Gibbons and Stefan Noesen.

"Zajac can play the hard minutes up front and brings a lot of stability to the forward group," Hynes said. "With Boyle and Travis down the middle, I think it brings more experience, moxie and leadership to the team."

Defenseman Mirco Mueller will have surgery Thursday after fracturing his left clavicle in a 7-5 win at the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday and is out indefinitely. He had two assists in 13 games.

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