Less than five weeks removed from surgery for a broken right tibia, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos was back on skates Saturday morning toiling around the ice.
Before the team’s morning skate at the practice facility inside Prudential Center, Stamkos stepped on the ice wearing a track suit and a baseball cap for a light on-ice workout. He mainly did some stickhandling work, dangling the puck around and over a stick and in between pucks set up on the ice. Stamkos finished by taking shots, including some one-timers with feeds from D Victor Hedman.
Though no target date has been established — Stamkos has a goal of being ready by the beginning of February — the recovery feels as if he’s ahead of schedule after breaking the leg on Nov. 11.
“Medical advances I guess,” Stamkos joked. “But I’m feeling good, everything is on track, our four-week X-ray looks good. So just starting to progress and make sure that there are obviously no setbacks but I’m feeling really good.”
He rejoined his teammates for the road trip, but that doesn’t mean he’s any closer to rejoining his teammates for a practice.
“There is healing taking place in the bone but by no means is it close to being fully healed, only time will tell,” Stamkos said. “But we’ve definitely ramped up the rehab. Now on the ice, and this stuff is really not so much for my leg, it’s more so for keeping my hands loose, shooting some pucks in that regard.
“Obviously I’m not going out there skating around and doing stuff like that, but we’ll see. Everything has been great so far. I couldn’t be more pleased with the treatment that I’ve been getting from the medical staff and the progression that I’m seeing. So everything is pointing in the right direction.”
But again, any excitement about seeing Stamkos continue to show improvement must be tempered.
“I guess the hope of him coming back has turned into, ‘We know he’s coming back, now it is just a matter of time,’ ” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Just the fact that we know he is going to come back is really exciting for us, but he still has time. He still needs to heal. But it’s just great to see him out there.”
Hedman also spent time on the ice before Saturday’s skate, his first time since suffering an undisclosed lower-body injury on Nov. 27 against Philadelphia. He also stayed on with his teammates for the morning skate, but he did not take part in all of the drills.
“It’s just one step forward and I’m really excited about that,” Hedman said. “So hopefully I will keep making progress and keep taking steps going forward and we’ll see.’’
Cooper said Hedman is “very, very doubtful” to return on the road trip, but he could be ready when Tampa Bay returns home on Thursday against Nashville.
D Matt Taormina returned to Prudential Center on Saturday for the first time since leaving the Devils’ organization, where he spent three seasons and appeared in 47 games with New Jersey before signing as a free agent with Tampa Bay last season.
“They gave me my first shot. It was my first initial contract, so I owe a lot to them and the organization,’’ said Taormina, who had four goals and eight points with New Jersey.
Nuts and Bolts
LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie was activated off injured reserve after missing seven games with an arm injury. ... D Mark Barberio was a healthy scratch. ... RW Richard Panik is eligible to return to the lineup today after serving a two-game suspension for a boarding call on Tuesday.