Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters took the ice Monday for practice, quickly breaking into a smile.
On that ice was center Jordan Staal, dressed for practice. It was the first time Staal, sidelined since Nov. 28 with a concussion, had been able to skate with the team, and Peters later said Staal – if medically cleared – could play Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks at PNC Arena.
“I think the biggest thing is to see how he reacts to (practice),” Peters said. “I thought he was very good today.”
Staal was upbeat after the practice session at Raleigh Center Ice and appeared more than ready to get back into it. He has missed the past seven games after being clipped in the head by the stick of Florida defenseman Jason Demers in the Nov. 27 game at PNC Arena.
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“It’s good to get out there with the guys and get a sweat on and get a good skate in,” Staal said. “I feel good and we’ll see how it goes.”
Peters said Staal would go through Tuesday’s morning skate before a final decision is made.
Staal said the concussion was his first, and it was the result of an unusual play. He collided with Demers, whose stick rose up as he was falling and hit Staal in the back of the neck and head with the blade.
“It wasn’t crazy hard but it definitely knocked my head into a little different spot that I like for it to be, and it didn’t really come back,” Staal said.
Staal, 28, was taken to the “quiet room” as part of the NHL concussion protocol, and said he was “told what I really didn’t want to hear.”
Placed on NHL injured reserve the next day, Staal said he spent the first few days at home feeling like a “zombie” at times, quickly drained of any energy. In the fall of 2014, he suffered a broken tibia that kept him out of the lineup the first 35 games, but this was different and more frustrating, he said.
With a broken bone, there’s a healing time line and an expected return date. With a concussion, the recovery time is indefinite.
Jordan said he talked with brothers Eric and Marc Staal about the concussion symptoms and the feelings that are experienced during recovery.
“I learned a lot, understanding it’s a different injury that’s very difficult to read,” he said. “They said to take your time, so I feel like I’ve done a god job of trying to do that. It’s been hard but I wanted to be 100 percent when I get back.”
Peters responded to Staal’s absence – the Canes were 2-3-2 in the seven games – by making some line changes. Teuvo Teravainen was moved from wing to center and has been effective with wingers Sebastian Aho and Lee Stempniak in the past few games.
Derek Ryan also centered a line, although Peters moved him to a wing during Saturday’s game against the San Jose Sharks. He had him on the right wing Monday with center Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner.
Forward Elias Lindholm, out the past five games with a lower-body injury, was at practice Monday and on Staal’s right wing opposite Joakim Nordstrom.
Forward Phil Di Giuseppe was reassigned Monday to the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate. Ryan and forward Brock McGinn were called up from the Checkers on Nov. 11.
Staal, the Canes’ best checking center, is among the NHL leaders in faceoffs (60 percent) and gives the Canes the big body at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds on the penalty kill and power play.
At one point Monday, Peters playfully put a slight hip-check into Staal.
“He’s a load, too, boy oh boy,” Peters said, smiling. “That was my guy on that play. I was boxing him out, seeing if he could handle it. He can more than handle it.”
The question now: Can Staal get back this week and start handling 18 or 19 minutes of ice time a night?
CANUCKS AT HURRICANES
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh