The Stars held an optional skate Wednesday morning, and among the players out there was center Cody Eakin, who is working hard to return from a knee injury that has sidelined him since early in training camp.
Eakin is expected to return this week, possibly as early as Thursday's game against Colorado at American Airlines Center. Right now, he is a game day decision.
"I think we will still go with possible for Thursday and, if not, then Saturday," Eakin said. "I am just trying to get back to where I want to be skating-wise, wind-wise and aerobically. I've waited seven-and-a-half weeks through the rehab, and there is no sense of rushing back in before you are ready. Had a pretty good skate today, evaluate in the morning and go from there."
Eakin suffered the injury on Sept. 23, the first day of Stars training camp in Cedar Park.
"It was tough," Eakin said. "I had a strong summer and was looking forward to getting back and looking forward to picking up where we left off as a team. That's the game. You've got 25 other guys in the room that help you along the way, text you, bring you stuff when you need it when you are injured. It was a little disappointing, but the road to recovery is always exciting because you have a taste for it watching the games.
It's been a long road to recovery, but it's gone as expected. The timeframe for the injury was at least six weeks and possibly as long as eight. Eakin is on schedule for getting back in just under eight weeks.
"It's been right on time," he said. "They said six to eight weeks. We are creeping up on eight weeks next Monday. Everything went fairly smooth from the surgery to the rehab to the strength and now onto the final stages of conditioning."
Eakin's return will be a big boost for the Stars, who have lost 84 man-games to injury or illness among the forward group this season. At times, the Stars have had as many as six forwards out at a time. Eakin can play up and down the lineup and brings a strong two-way game. He recorded 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 82 games last season.
"Typically, he's the guy that goes head-to-head with the other team's top player," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "He's probably our best centerman down low, so he brings strength to our own end and an ability to get out of our zone a little bit quicker. He's heavily involved in the penalty killing, which we need. And he brings some speed to the game; he brings some speed down the middle which is important to our game."
Although Eakin hasn't been playing, he said the time off was productive. He was able to watch games from above, where it is easier to see things than on the ice where the game moves so quickly. Information he hopes to put to good use when he finally gets back on the ice in a game.
"I was able to step back a little bit, watch it from up there and dissect it," he said. "I am looking forward to getting back, doing the little things to start. When I do come back, I want to play sound and get the feel for it again."
Stars forward Patrick Sharp, who has missed the past 13 games with a concussion, went through a good skate during Wednesday's optional practice. It doesn't appear he'll be ready to return Thursday, but he is close.
"We look at him further down the week, maybe Saturday," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said.
Ruff looks to boost team's energy
After the Stars' 2-1 overtime loss to New Jersey on Tuesday, Stars coach Lindy Ruff noted the team's lack of energy. He's going to try to address that as the Stars continue with their tough scheduling in November that saw the Stars play nine games in the first 15 days of the month. Thursday begins a stretch of seven games in 13 days.
The Stars held an optional practice Wednesday, and they won't hold the usual morning skate prior to Thursday's game against Colorado, instead giving players the option of taking the morning off.
"Just the number of games we've got. This is a physical grind, a mental grind," Ruff said. "We made today optional. To me, we were a team that lacked energy last night [against New Jersey]. Although it was a day off before, it was [five games] in eight [days] and we just finished four in six. Sometimes it is just the mental grind.
"I am going to try to switch things up maybe from game to game. Maybe we'll come out here and practice and maybe we won't practice, and maybe we won't have anybody come at all some days. I think it mentally freshens up our personnel."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.