The Penguins had a very nice surprise waiting for them on Wednesday morning when they hit the ice at Mellon Arena. Defenseman Jordan Leopold, who has been out of the lineup since absorbing a hit from the Senators Andy Sutton late in the first period of Game 2 of the quarterfinals on April 16, participated in his first practice with the team in a non-contact role.
Leopold had spent the past two days skating on his own with Tyler Kennedy
, who was also injured in the Senators series, and strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. The veteran defenseman said it felt good to be back on the ice with his teammates, while at the same time cautioning that despite his presence at practice, it’s still going to be a couple days before he gets back to game action.
“It’s a good feeling but I still have some progress to be made,” Leopold said. “Hopefully in a few days but I’m just taking it one day at a time right now. I have to be sure everything is a go before I see any game-time action.”
Neither Leopold nor head coach Dan Bylsma was willing to put a time table on when that return could possibly be.
“I am not even going to put a time line on it,” Leopold said. “There is no reason to. Right now I am just happy to be back with my teammates. That’s therapy in its own right.”
“He has been progressing and doing well,” Bylsma said. “This was the next step – seeing him out on the ice with his teammates in a non-contact situation. We do not have a time table at this point in time. Every day we have been waiting to hear how he progresses, and he has been doing well and gone to the next step each time. We’ll see how he is going forward, but there is no time table at this point.”
Leopold said that he feels good mentally and physically. He said the biggest key is getting his conditioning back on par with the rest of his teammates following 11 days of not skating with them.
“Obviously when you take a hit like that there is some progress that needs to be made,” Leopold said. “It’s just about being sharp and ready. That will come as time moves on.”
Byslma said that Leopold will not have to go through any more mental tests before getting back into game action. Instead, his next test will be how he handles physical activity.
“The only test now that he is going through is physical and his response to ramped up physical activity, whether it’s in the gym or on the ice with his teammates,” Bylsma said. “On the ice with his teammates is a little bit different. There is a lot of emotion going on. That’s what he’s going through right now, and we’re waiting to see how he responds to it.”
Unfortunately head injuries are not uncommon for Leopold. He has suffered more than his share of them throughout his career, including one in 2002 which saw him miss four games and another in March of 2008 when he sat out five games as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
However, on the plus side – if there is one in this kind of situation – having gone through similar experiences in the past allows Leopold a better chance to know when he will be well enough to return.
“It’s not fun watching but I have been through this before,” Leopold said. “It’s just a day-by-day progression. You know as a person when you feel right and when you don’t. We are just taking it one day at a time.
“It’s my call on how I feel. You have to make sure you are 100 percent healthy before you get back out there taking contact and getting into a game situation.”
One thing Leopold did add was that he thought the Sutton hit looked worse than it actually was.
“This one was relatively mild, I will say that,” Leopold said. “Of course, when you look back at the hit, it wasn’t pretty. I had a lot of friends and family members back home worried for me, but everything is fine. I think the hit looked worse than the recovery has been.”