ST. PAUL -- If Nino Niederreiter isn't returning from a sprained ankle against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, he didn't do a very good job of hiding it.
Following another productive day of practice, a step in his recovery that has lasted nearly a week, Niederreiter is expected to play versus the Jets as Minnesota continues its six-game homestand tomorrow night.
"Could be," Niederreiter said with a grin on Monday when asked if he's back in the lineup.
Niederreiter first sustained the injury in the third period of a game against the Chicago Blackhawks more than two weeks ago. The initial prognosis had him missing three weeks, but he was back on the ice last week, first skating alone before eventually joining his teammates for practice.
Conditioning shouldn't be an issue, as strength coach Sean Skahan and certified athletic trainer John Worley have kept him busy while he's been away.
"The doctor told me it's going to be awhile before you don't feel anything," Niederreiter said. "But it feels a lot better and every day I step on the ice and get more comfortable. It's a good step in the right direction."
There aren't any additional steps needed in Niederreiter's recovery from the injury, other than gaining the doctor's clearance and then establishing confidence in his ankle during a game.
Niederreiter admitted there's only so much confidence in it he can get while skating in practice.
"Practice, you still think about it," Niederreiter said. "You play a game, you don't have time to think about it. That's going to be the big test for me."
Video: Niederreiter eager to return
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said the injury is likely one that Niederreiter and the team will have to slowly manage as the season goes on.
"He's trending in the right direction. He's looking better," Boudreau said. "It wouldn't surprise me [if he] would have to tape that thing until February. Any time I've seen that injury, that's what has happened.
"[But] he looks ready. He's in shape. You never know what happens in a game, you don't know if you're going to have a different movement because you're playing guys that really don't like you, and try to get you off your game. But we'll see. Hopefully, if he's ready to play tomorrow [then] we've waited long enough and he's ready to play."
The Wild and Jets will play for the second time this month on Tuesday; the Jets escaped with a 4-3 win at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 20.
Each team blew a lead in the game, with Minnesota digging out of an early 2-0 hole by scoring the next three, only to see the Jets rally for the final two goals of the contest.
With Niederreiter hopefully back and Mikael Granlund available this time (he didn't play in the first game), the Wild certainly has more weapons at its disposal.
"We have to manage the puck better," Boudreau said. "I don't think we managed the puck very good in that Winnipeg game. To know they're coming in with a load of confidence I think would be assured because they did a pretty good job [Sunday in a 7-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins]."
Confidence is king
Boudreau lauded the play of Wild defenseman Mike Reilly, who has been outstanding early on this season.
Reilly has four assists in seven games and is tied for the team lead with fellow defenseman Ryan Suter with three power-play points.
"I think it's just gaining confidence," Boudreau said. "He's skating with the puck better because I think he's there, he's not [thinking], 'Oh, if I make a mistake, bad things are going to happen.' The play he made to [Mikko Koivu on Saturday] was great, but it was the buildup of that play that I thought was really special."
The play he's referring to was the game-winning goal in the third period in which Reilly first generated a quality scoring chance off the rush, the receded to the blue line and waited for the puck to come back around before firing the puck toward the goal, seeking a deflected shot. Koivu got a piece, redirecting it past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray.
"Getting older and gaining experience really helps you," Boudreau said. "I think the confidence of having a one-way contract is something that started earlier the gaining of confidence and now he's just playing with a lot more confidence."