Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault admitted Sunday afternoon that if team captain Ryan Callahan had his way he would be in the lineup when the Rangers face off with the Coyotes Thursday to open up the 2013-14 regular season. However it does not appear that Callahan will play on Thursday, despite the fact that he is clearly getting very close to being able to return to game action for the first time since undergoing off-season shoulder surgery.
"I don't think Ryan Callahan is far away," Vigneault said after an intense hour-and-a-quarter practice at the MSG Training Center on Sunday. "He's cleared for contact. He's taken contact. He's in incredible shape. Basically, really what we are doing is holding him back because he wants to play and he thinks he can play, but our doctors when they cleared him for contact said he needed seven to 14 days before he could play, which would put him right somewhere in our road trip."
Callahan participated in all aspects of Sunday's practice, skating on a line with Derek Stepan and Brad Richards. He was clearly happy afterwards to be practicing in full with his teammates, especially pleased with one blast of his that beat Henrik Lundqvist cleanly during a drill.
"Any time you can beat Hanky it's always a plus," said a smiling Callahan.
"I started taking contact a couple of days ago and so far everything through that process has felt good," Callahan offered. "The shoulder feels good, and it feels good be battling again. I don't think I'll be playing Thursday, but other than that I just go day by day and see hot it reacts to contact. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later."
While Callahan did participate in practice Sunday, another important Rangers forward did not. Rick Nash was the given the day off due to a sore foot, suffered when he was struck by a shot in Friday's pre-season loss to the Kings. The Rangers, who do not practice on Monday, do not believe the injury is serious at all, and Vigneeault noted that he expected Nash to take Callahan's spot alongside Stepan and Richards at practice on Tuesday.
As for Stepan,he took part in his first workout since agreeing to terms with the team last Thursday. Vigneault was pleased with what he saw from the 23 year-old center.
"That was my first opportunity to see him in a practice and I thought he looked real good," stated Vigneault, who added that Stepan looked more fresh than his teammates since he did not take part in the long trip out west or the four-games-five-nights that finished the Blueshirts' pre-season schedule.
"For a first practice with his teammates, I thought he looked real sharp."
Vigneault added that with Stepan back with the club, and five NHL centermen---six including J.T. Miller, who played on the wing at practice on Sunday---on the roster, he would continue to take a look at Richards on the wing, a spot Richards had played earlier in his career. Should Richards remain there, that would leave Stepan, Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, and Dominic Moore to center the Rangers' four lines.