EDMONTON, AB - In the eyes of defenceman Andrej Sekera, his return to the Oilers blueline after missing the previous 58 games of the season with an Achilles injury went better than expected despite the final scoreline reading 3-2 in favour of the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
"I actually felt pretty good," Sekera, 32, said following Wednesday's practice. "It's good to be back on the ice with the boys and play games. The speed of the game was good, we played a pretty decent game, and it's too bad we didn't get the points we wanted."
The Slovakian defenceman logged 17:33 of ice time and was minus-one for the Blue and Orange following a five-game conditioning stint with the Bakersfield Condors that yielded two assists at plus-six.
"After the first period I got my legs out of the way and it was a good effort," he added. "The conditioning stint down [in Bakersfield] helped me a lot, so I know what kind of situation is expected of me. I felt pretty good and it'll only get better."
Video: RAW | Andrej Sekera 02.20.19
The speed of play continues to be a work in progress readjusting for Sekera after 323 days passed between Tuesday's game and April 8, 2018, the last time he suited up for a regular-season game as an Oiler. Reading Arizona's forecheck presented a challenge for him in comparison to what he saw during a brief Bakersfield stint.
"I won't say hard forecheck, but it's a smart forecheck," he said. "Guys are a little bit smarter here and they'll bluff you sometimes. You look one way and he's not there, you think he's on your back, and in one second he's already on the wall.
"It was a good challenge for me. I like it. I like to be challenged and it's what you play hockey for. The hockey matters for wins, and we're in the hunt for wins now. I like this kind of tempo, intensity, and everything about it."
Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock noticed the defender's poise on the puck immediately, but echoed Sekera's sentiments about getting back up to speed. The next step after a successful return to action is fine-tuning his game to the faster, quicker elements of the game present in the NHL.
"I thought on transition he was excellent. I thought where he needs growth is down low," Hitchcock said. "The quickness down low is a whole different speed in the American Hockey League than here, and I think he's going to have an adjustment on that 1-on-1 play down low against quickness. That's quite frankly going to take probably two weeks before he's up to speed there.
"We're working with him hard at practice on that stuff and putting in drills specifically for him, but you can see on the quick movement he's a little bit behind now."