Penguins right winger James Neal returned to full-team practice for the first time in over a month on Thursday afternoon at Southpointe.
Neal, 26, has been out of the lineup since leaving the season opener Oct. 3 vs. New Jersey with an upper-body injury.
“It feels good to be back with the team,” Neal said. “It’s always exciting to get back into the swing of things and get out there with the guys when you haven’t been around for a long time.”
|James Neal has been out of the lineup since Oct. 3 (Getty Images) |
There is no timetable on his return to the lineup. Though due to the nature of his injury and the fact that he couldn’t maintain his conditioning throughout the healing process, it will take some time for him to regain his game shape.
“He’s got a ways of work he’s doing now to get back in that shape,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “To have physicality, five-on-five play in traffic, that’s another level for James. Today was Day 1 of that. It’s a little bit different if you have an injury where you can skate for three weeks and then get back to practice for one or two days. He’s on a little bit longer of a progression than that.”
Neal was cleared for full practice and participated in every drill, rush and puck battle. Other than regaining his conditioning, Neal needs to test the injury in contact sessions.
“There wasn’t much physicality in today’s practice. That’s normal. I did some stuff after practice, a little more bumping,” he said. “That’s something I’m going to have to do a little bit more of to get a real good feel of how hard I can go. Today is my best day so far. I’m excited.”
It hasn’t been an easy month for Neal having to sit around and let his injury heal.
“Anytime you’re hurt it sucks, but especially when you come off a long summer and injure yourself in the first game,” he said. “It feels like you finished doing all those things to get back and ready, now I’m doing it again.”
And while he prepares himself for returning, Neal must remain patient with the process. It is something of which he is fully aware.
“I was a full month off and didn’t skate. It’s going to take a couple weeks to get back and feeling good,” Neal said. “I’ll get back as quick as I can. I’m not going to rush anything.”
Paul Martin and Pascal Dupuis missed Thursday’s practice with maintenance days.
Dupuis didn’t play in the third period of the team’s Wednesday game in New York. Bylsma didn’t label Dupuis as having an injury.
“It’s maintenance at this point in time,” Bylsma said. “We’ll see how he continues to do tomorrow and the weekend for Saturday’s game. At this point in time it’s not more than that. “
Beau Bennett also skated again for his fourth straight practice and continues to progress.
The Pens IR players were also missing: Chuck Kobasew; Rob Scuderi; and Tomas Vokoun. Scuderi and Vokoun have lengthy injuries.
The Pens used the followed lineup at Thursday’s practice: