Stars defenseman Marc Methot was available to talk to the media after Wednesday's practice in Frisco, and that's a sign that his return to the lineup is imminent.
Methot, who has missed the last 26 games with a knee injury, could return as soon as Thursday's game against New Jersey. Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said it would depend on how Methot feels Thursday morning.
"[I feel] pretty good," Methot said. "It's been a lot of stuff going on, and I am just glad to be back with the group and practicing. I am starting to feel like a hockey player again."
Methot last played Nov. 6 and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Nov. 20. It's been a long road back from the surgery -- a little more than six weeks -- and both he and the Stars have been patient with the injury.
"I am still managing it, and it's something I'll have to manage for the rest of the season," Methot said. "I think it's just got to get to a point where I can help out the team and provide support on the back end. Until I reach that point, I am not going to jump in and take somebody else's spot who is 100 percent healthy and capable. I want to be a beneficial addition, and I think I am slowly approaching that good place."
Video: Methot happy to be back with teammates
Methot's had plenty on his plate while out with his injury. Along with the rehab from the surgery, he and his wife celebrated the birth of a son in early December.
"I've been very lucky and fortunate to have a new addition to the family at home that's kept me very preoccupied over the past month," Methot said. "If anything, [the injury has] allowed me to be around my son. In this line of work you are literally gone for half the time when you are playing in the season. You are home for half the time. The fact that I was able to be around him for that first month was a great distraction and blessing at the same time.
"But it's time to get back to work as soon as I can. I am getting a little stir crazy at my house."
Methot's return to the lineup will be a boost to the Stars. He brings a strong defensive game and a veteran presence to the lineup.
"This is a veteran league, and at a certain period of time during the season, you look at teams that are going well in the Central, it's their veteran players that are carrying them," said Hitchcock. "It's going to be tough for Marc. He's missed  games, that's a lot. But his presence in there, he's a competitive guy. He's hard on the puck. He's going to have a tough go getting started, but we've got to get him in the lineup, and we've got to get him playing if we're going to get better."
Notes: Hanzal could return Thursday
Center Martin Hanzal, who has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury, could play Thursday. Like Methot, his status will be based on how he feels in the morning. If he feels fine, he'll play. "Hanzal's been in this stop and go, and we've waited and extended the waiting time until it is as close to 100 percent as we can get it," Hitchcock said. "If he is not going to feel good, he is going to know tomorrow morning based on the way we went at it today. It was a hard practice, so if he comes through then he should be good to go for a little while now."
Forward Remi Elie, who missed Tuesday's game because of illness, did not skate Wednesday. He is out for Thursday, but Hitchcock indicated he could play in the final game before the bye week.
Forward Alexander Radulov and defenseman John Klingberg did not practice Wednesday. It was a maintenance day for both players. "No issue there," Hitchcock said.
Ben Bishop will get the start in goal Thursday against New Jersey.
Here's how the Stars lined up in Wednesday's practice.
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Brett Ritchie
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Devin Shore
Jason Dickinson - Martin Hanzal - Gemel Smith
Esa Lindell - Julius Honka
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Marc Methot - Stephen Johns
Not skating: Alexander Radulov (maintenance), John Klingberg (maintenance), Remi Elie (illness)
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 at @StarsInsideEdge.