Nearly 8 years since last appearing in an NHL game, D J-P Cote returned to the big leagues Thursday night, one day after signing a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Cote was originally selected by Toronto in the ninth round of the 2000 draft and made his NHL debut with Montreal during the 2005-06 season, appearing in eight games. Since then, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound defenseman has played primarily in the American Hockey League, though he spent 2 years playing in Germany. He signed with the Tampa Bay organization on a minor-league-only contract in 2010-11, helping Norfolk win a Calder Cup championship.
Now, the 31-year-old feels like a rookie getting back to the NHL, even with all of his experience.
“Definitely, have the butterflies in my stomach for sure,’’ said Cote, who last played an NHL game Feb. 4, 2006, against Boston. “I’ve obviously been here before, but it’s been a long road in between the last time I was up in the NHL. So, it feels, not unreal, but it’s nice to be here.’’
Cote brings a physical style of play and a stay-at-home mentality. He’s a solid shot blocker, according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper, and will make opposing players think twice about coming near the Tampa Bay crease.
“I think we are looking for a little bit more size back there, a little bit defense-minded, a little bit more bite, and he’s kind of got that. ... He plays a man’s game back there,’’ Cooper said. “I think he’s going to be somebody who could potentially make it harder on opposing forwards, and we want to see if he can do it at the NHL level. ... He has been a true soldier for this organization for almost three years, and he deserves a shot.’’
On his first shift, Cote registered a hit on Nashville RW Matt Hendricks and picked up his first career point with a secondary assist on Alex Killorn’s goal 2:25 into the game.
Hedman back: The Lightning welcomed the return of D Victor Hedman to the lineup after he missed six games with a lower-body injury.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating to be on the sidelines, but I’m back in and I’m very excited about that,” Hedman said. “These are three big games before the Christmas break, and it’s good to get back before that.’’
Hedman said his conditioning is good, but the biggest thing to get back will be his timing. Thursday’s morning skate was just his second full practice with the team since being cleared for contact.
“I’ll go out there to play simple the first period to get into it and go from there,’’ said Hedman, who got an assist on his second shift.
Pyatt cleared: C Tom Pyatt was on the ice Thursday morning in a regular jersey after receiving clearance for full contact more than two months after breaking his collarbone. Expected to be out eight to 10 weeks, he was pushed back another two weeks when a bone scan revealed the break had not fully healed.
Pyatt did not play Thursday, but he is expected to be in the lineup Saturday against Carolina.
“It tends to drag on and on, especially when you think there is a time you are going to get back on,’’ Pyatt said of the lengthy rehabilitation process. “To finally get that (red injured) jersey off ... I can get back to practicing full with the team, get going and get into the lineup.’’
Rare comeback: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Tuesday’s late rally against the Islanders from down two goals marked the first time in franchise history Tampa Bay won a game when trailing by two with three minutes to play. The Lightning picked up a point in similar situations on four occasions, most recently in a 4-3 shootout loss to Montreal on Feb. 12, 2013.
Valtteri Filppula’s goal with 3.8 seconds left in regulation was the first time Tampa Bay tied a game with a goal in the final five seconds since Alexander Selivanov scored at 19:57 against Vancouver on Nov. 18, 1995.
Nuts and Bolts: D Mark Barberio and LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie were scratched. ... LW Ryan Malone skated with C Steven Stamkos before Thursday’s morning skate. ... The holiday roster freeze went into effect at midnight Friday and remains in place until Dec. 27. Teams may not make trades or send players to the minors, though players may be called up. ... D Eric Brewer picked up his 250th career point.