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With Benn sidelined, other injured Stars still a few days away from returning

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

As stunning as Sunday’s news was that leading scorer Jamie Benn will miss the next 10 days to three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy earlier in the day, at least there is some hope on the horizon that the Dallas Stars will likely get two of their injured regulars back in the next week or so.

Unfortunately, with Benn out now, the other relevant bit of information to be revealed Sunday stings even more - that center Mike Ribeiro will probably miss the next couple of weeks with the lower body injury he sustained in a knee-on-knee collision with Edmonton’s Theo Peckham on Jan. 7.

“He’s a little bit better today, that’s all I’ve heard,” Gulutzan said. “A little bit better, but I don’t think we’ll see Ribby until after the All-Star Break.”

If Gulutzan is correct, that would mean Ribeiro, who was seen limping around the club’s practice facility at Frisco’s Dr Pepper Arena, would return to the lineup on Feb. 1 at Anaheim and will have missed eight games, including five with Benn also missing.

Ribeiro, who skated in all 82 games last season, heroically returned from a puck in the mouth to score two goals in Dallas’ 4-1 win over Nashville on Jan. 5 and then returned from his encounter with Peckham to contribute two more goals in the win over the Oilers.

The 31-year-old Montreal native had been rolling of late, registering 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) over the last 16 games he played following a relatively slow start to the season. His absence will be felt, no question, and will likely be compounded by the hole Benn leaves on the top line.

Having their two top centers, and two of their four highest point-producers, out at the same time will be a challenge for the Stars, but the squad feels that Swedish forward Tom Wandell’s ability to step into Ribeiro’s spot on the second line will help mitigate the impact. After pitching in some valuable offense from the fourth line, recording five points (one goal and four assists) over a span of four games, Wandell saw his ice time increase dramatically upon moving up to the second line alongside captain Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson.

“I thought he’s played hard,” said Gulutzan of Wandell’s recent increase in responsibility. “It’s a big adjustment, you get bigger matchups and I thought he’s played well. Hopefully he can have some offensive success too, but he’s worked hard and I thought he’s done a good job for us. It’s a good opportunity for him, for sure.”

To help fill the void, the Stars recalled winger Francis Wathier from AHL Texas, giving the club 12 healthy forwards for Monday’s game in St. Louis.  This will be the 27-year-old Wathier’s second recall of the season, although he didn’t dress the previous time, although he has skated in eight career NHL games with Dallas over the last three seasons.

Meanwhile, rookies Tomas Vincour and Philip Larsen each practiced with their teammates for the first time Sunday and are both hoping to be back in the lineup within the next week.

“They should be about another three or four days,” said Gulutzan, noting that neither would accompany the team to St. Louis for Monday’s showdown with the Blues (6:30 pm start, NBCSN - formerly Versus). “They’re staying behind to skate again.”

Both players remarked how great it felt to rejoin their teammates on the ice, but noted that the toughest part of battling their way back was regaining their prior game-action fitness level.

“I’ve skated before, but it always feels way better when you skate with a few guys, so you’re not alone there,” noted Vincour, 21, who has missed the last 13 games with an MCL injury in his knee. “You don’t have to chase the puck, you can actually take some shots on the goalies, so it was good. Everything’s getting better. It’s still not 100 percent, but we’re on the right track, I’m sure, and I think now it’s day-by-day and it’s all up to me how I can get into shape.”

“It was my third time today on the ice overall, and of course, it’s a little hard on the conditioning when you’ve been out for two weeks, but I feel good,” said the 22-year-old Larsen, who has been out since New Year’s Eve, a span of six games, when he suffered an upper body injury that is believed to be concussion-related. “It’s really fun to be on the ice again, so I hope I can get a couple of good practices and feel like the way I did before I got injured. I definitely feel like I’m on the right way, but it’s still hard, because I haven’t done much.”

Both players indicated that they were in uncharted territory, as far as recovering from their injuries - Vincour has never missed so many games due to injury before while Larsen hasn’t ever had to deal with a head injury.

“Obviously, you want to play, you don’t want to sit,” said Vincour, who had registered three points (one goal, two assists) in 14 NHL games this season, primarily on the fourth line alongside Wandell. “It’s been a long time for me, I’ve never been out that long before, so I’m really happy to be back on the ice.”

“This is the very first time (for a head-related issue), and hopefully the last time too,” added Larsen, who contributed two assists and a stellar +7 plus/minus rating in 16 contests since his recall from AHL Texas on Nov. 12. “It’s frustrating, especially one like this, because you can’t do anything, when you used to do stuff every day and you used to be active and all of a sudden, you’re walking around for two weeks and can barely do anything. That’s the most frustrating thing, because you feel like you’re not a hockey player at that time, but I feel I’m on the right way.”

While the club waits for their injured guys to receive medical clearance to return to the lineup, Gulutzan points out that the players who do take the ice this week have an opportunity to step up and shine against two of the Western Conference’s top four teams back-to-back, Monday in St. Louis and Tuesday at home against Detroit.

The task becomes even more important with the Stars sitting 10th in the West, two points back of Minnesota for the eighth and final playoff spot.

“This will be a real good test and a challenge and our players are going to have to rise up to the occasion,” said Gulutzan.

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