EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers are sure happy to see Andrej Sekera's smiling face on the ice.
"It's a good thing. When you're injured, you're kind of on an island," said Oilers defenceman Matt Benning. "You're coming in before everyone shows up and you leave when guys are coming on the ice. You don't really get to see much of him so it's nice to see him back around and see he's doing well."
No player is happier to see Sekera doing well than the blueliner himself.
"It feels good to be out there with the guys and getting used to the rhythm again, passing, shooting wise," said Sekera. "It's better with someone on the ice other than just the trainers."
At Rogers Place on Friday, the veteran defenceman stepped onto the ice for his first skate with the team since tearing his ACL in Game 5 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The hit that resulted in the injury was like one many the defender has taken over the course of his 600-plus-game career.
"You dump the puck in, you get hit 100 times but I guess my body was in position that it couldn't take the impact," said Sekera.
"I just played the puck, got hit and then I felt a snap. It wasn't anything painful or anything. I didn't have a lot of feeling in my left leg, and then it got better. I tried to go on the ice again but my knee was just unstable. I knew something was wrong."
Sekera stayed in Edmonton for about six weeks after the injury, working out and healing until he could walk and bike. Then he went back home to Slovakia to continue his rehab. He's been skating recently on his own and with trainers, but Friday was the next step toward a return.
The initial diagnosis was the blueliner would be out for six to nine months. Well, it's right around the six-month mark and Sekera is participating in practice.
"I think I'm right where I should be," he said. "I still don't have a timetable, but I feel better and better each week. The leg is getting stronger, so I just take it day by day."
Sekera says, with this injury, the body will decide when it's ready and he doesn't know when that will be, but he's doing everything he can to shorten that time.
The next step for Sekera will be getting cleared for contact, something he eagerly anticipates.
"This is my first time on the ice with the guys," he said. "I haven't been cleared yet to do any battles. I have to wait a couple more weeks for that, at least."
In the meantime, it's good for the room to have the jovial Sekera back in the fold. He seems quiet and serious to outsiders, but he's a bright and fun teammate to have.
"I think part of him is serious then you'll get the odd funny remark out of him that makes it that much funnier because he's so serious all the time," said Benning. "But he does like to have a good time and joke around with us. He's quiet in and around the room but when he says something it's usually pretty funny."