TRAVERSE CITY – Stephen Weiss learned a valuable lesson last season.
The veteran center attempted to play through a sports hernia while trying to live up to the pressure of signing a lofty five-year contract and impressing new teammates.
Now fully recovered from two surgeries – the last in late-April – Weiss doesn’t plan on a repeat of last season’s horrendous start to his Red Wings’ career.
“What I went through last year, I’m honestly just happy to be back on the ice,” said Weiss, who was Florida’s first-round pick, No. 4 overall, in 2001. “Could have went the other way and could have really taken a toll on the rest my career.
“So to go through the summer and rehab really hard and be able to get back on the ice in the summer and skate without any pain and have that continue through camp has been wonderful for me and I feel like I’m just going to get better and better.”
Just like last season, the Wings expected Weiss to be the No. 2 center once the season begins. He began training camp centering a line with forwards Justin Abdelkader and Gustav Nyquist for Team Lindsay. However, that trio isn’t expected to play together once the preseason games start next week.
Weiss said he felt good during the team’s intra-squad scrimmage Friday at Centre ICE Arena.
“It was great. It was nice to be back. It’s obviously been a while and it felt pretty good for the first controlled game/scrimmage in about nine months,” he said. “I feel healthy, got no pain and I feel like I’m just going to keep getting better and better as long as I can stay healthy.”
Health will definitely be a key for Weiss, who has proven to be a contributing factor when he’s not battled injuries. He averaged 19 goals and 53 points over a six-season stretch with the Panthers from 2006-07 to 2011-12.
Last season, he had two goals and four points in 26 games.
The extra time off has also helped Weiss gain a better understanding of the systems that coach Mike Babcock and his staff run.
“I feel much more comfortable, where to go. I’m not thinking about it so much,” Weiss said. “Practice was easier today in terms of that stuff. Way better, more comfortable than last year already. For my first scrimmage in nine months I feel it’s going to continue to get better.”
Weiss skated throughout the summer and rejoined other Wings players early last week for the voluntary practices down at Joe Louis Arena. Pain hasn’t been an issue, but the pressure will offer a new set of challenges for the 31-year-old Toronto native.
The Red Wings open the exhibition season in Pittsburgh on Monday.
“I haven’t played a game since December of last year so I’m looking forward to playing in those exhibition games and getting my legs under me and those games ramp up even more than those scrimmages,” Weiss said. “It’s going to be a wakeup call but like I said I’m just looking forward to being back on the ice and playing hockey again.”