EDMONTON, AB - With much of the roster's Thursday schedule centred around the team's 30-game evaluation and work in the gym, forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian were part of a smaller group of Oilers players participating in today's optional skate at Rogers Place.
Both forwards' full involvement signalled progress in their respective recoveries from hand and back injuries despite their status as 'game ready' ahead of a visit from the Los Angeles Kings on Friday still yet to be determined.
"Kass looked like he was moving well out there," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "Nuge wasn't in all the drills, but the ones he was he looked alright in."
"They're players who've played in our top-six all year, so you miss both of them."
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Kassian tallied a goal and recorded 17:05 of ice time in a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks last Saturday, but a hit from defenceman Alexander Edler in the opening two minutes was felt long after the buzzer sounded before the lingering effects kept the 28-year-old out of the Oilers last two games.
"I got hit pretty good in the first period in the Vancouver game," Kassian said. "I Got hit pretty good, folded back, and got a little spasm there. It happens, but thankfully it's nothing serious and I'll be back soon."
"With the way I play, sometimes I'm going to be vulnerable throwing hits and stuff like that. I know it's only been two games, but it feels like a month. Things are progressing."
If not Friday, Kassian is hopeful for a Sunday return from injury against the Buffalo Sabres.
While Nugent-Hopkins was able to practice on Thursday, the capacity to which the Burnaby, B.C. product could participate was still limited.
"It's starting to feel better," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I've done a lot of treatment on it and it's getting there. More passing and stickhandling today as opposed to shooting, but I'm definitely starting to feel improvements."
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After skating on his own without a twig, a return to full practice was a welcomed change.
"The first few days I was skating by myself with no stick. It's a little different," Nugent-Hopkins said. "You obviously want to get that stick back and feel the puck again, so the past few days have been a lot more fun. I've been able to stickhandle and do pretty much the majority of things out there."
The announcement back on November 24 of Nugent-Hopkins being expected to miss a minimum of at least two games quickly turned into a stint on Injury Reserve that has extended his time missed due to his hand ailment to a total of five games.
"It was something I was playing through for a little while and got to a point where I really couldn't do it anymore," he said. "Needed to take some time and get it taken care of, but we're on the right track right now."
"Honestly it's tough to say a timeline, but I'm just happy that I am feeling better and there is improvement. I'm just going to take it day-by-day right now."