Forward Jesper Fast is expected back in the lineup Friday when the Rangers host the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden.
Coach Alain Vigneault said Fast told him he was "good to go" after skating Wednesday. He liked what he saw out of the Swedish winger in practice Thursday, and said barring an unforeseen turn of events between Thursday and Friday's game, Fast would return after missing seven games with an upper-body injury.
"It always takes a little time to come back from injuries, but I feel good," Fast said Thursday. "I can shoot the puck. Hopefully I'm in the lineup tomorrow."
Captain Ryan McDonagh said Fast embodies the style of play the Rangers as a team want to deploy, especially at this stage in the season when physicality is ratcheting up and games are getting tighter and tighter.
"I think he's starting to realize - I hope he's starting to realize - he's a pretty good example of how we want to play," McDonagh said. "Guys really love the way he battles and competes. He creates a lot of energy and definitely comes up with the puck for us, whether it's in the D zone or the O zone."
Vigneault has used Fast on just about every line in every situation this season. Fast has spent the most time this year with Oscar Lindberg. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, 300:32 of Fast's 703:02 of five-on-five ice time has been with Lindberg.
Fast has skated with five other forwards for at least 100 minutes, with Pavel Buchnevich coming in at 93:28.
The 25-year-old is also second among Rangers forwards this season in shorthanded ice time per game at 1:33, behind just Michael Grabner.
"He's just a real dependable player," Vigneault said of Fast. "He knows where to be when he doesn't have the puck. He's a real good penalty killer and probably one of the best shot blockers on the team. He competes. He just goes out and works hard and gives everything he has all the time."
While Fast may fly under the radar to some because of his lack of offensive production, that isn't the case inside the Rangers' dressing room.
"Not for our group," McDonagh said when asked if Fast was more of an unsung hero type of player. "Maybe to the outside looking in. I think our forwards - he sets a pretty good example for us. When we go back and watch tape of games, he's standing out a lot. Very consistent in his game. Very versatile guy who can play a lot of different positions for us, whether we're up or down in a game,. I think our group will be pretty energized to have him back."
Defenseman Dan Girardi practiced with the team for the first time since being shutdown to deal with an ankle injury he suffered blocking a shot last month.
While he practiced, he will not play Friday or Saturday in Minnesota after being off the ice for several weeks.
"It felt pretty good. Obviously a couple weeks without skating, it's going to be a little harder out there," Girardi said. "Straight lines were OK, but turning felt a little slow. It's something I'll get better at, but I've been lucky to work hard in the gym and I'll be ready for the on ice stuff. We'll see where it goes from here."
Girardi initially tried to play through the injury, which was a wound on his right ankle that was not healing. Eventually the team shut him down and Girardi needed a vacuum-like apparatus placed on the ankle to help the healing process.
"If I let that get any worse, it could be surgery or something worse than that," Girardi said. "We had to be smart about the whole ankle there. IT was good that it healed pretty quickly and I was able to get back on the ice as soon as I could."
Henrik Lundqvist skated Wednesday and again on Thursday before practice. Vigneault said Lundqvist would be skating all weekend and into Monday, including Friday at Madison Square Garden before the team's morning skate.
"He's feeling a lot better," Vigneault said. "He's going through the on ice process right now."
Lundqvist has missed the last three games with a hip strain.
Like Lundqvist, defenseman Kevin Klein skated yesterday and today joined his teammates at the end of practice in a non-contact jersey, though he mostly skated in his own end of the ice.
He's missed 11 games with back spasms, though Vigneault said he "felt better again today."
Though Vigneault said he was undecided on his lines for tomorrow's game with the Panthers, these were the forward and defensive pairs Thursday.
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello
J.T. Miller - Mika Zibanejad - Rick Nash
Michael Grabner - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast
Tanner Glass - Oscar Lindberg - Jimmy Vesey
Matt Puempel - Brandon Pirri - Pavel Buchnevich
Marc Staal - Ryan McDonagh
Brendan Smith - Nick Holden
Brady Skjei - Steve Kampfer