The Carolina Hurricanes have been without Jeff Skinner for 14 games.
They have missed Skinner’s goals, his offensive creativity. They’ve missed him on the power play, missed having him in crunch situations in games.
The Hurricanes would like to get Skinner back for Thursday night's game against Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m., FSCR), but his first game back is more likely to come after a few more contact practices, possibly Sunday on the road against the Washington Capitals
Skinner, sidelined more than a month with a concussion, has been given medical clearance for contact and was no longer wearing the yellow, no-contact jersey Wednesday at practice.
“Obviously it’s not up to me,” Skinner said Wednesday. “The doctors, the trainers, the coaching staff will make the decision for me, so I guess the pressure is off me in that way. I’m ready to get back on the bench.”
Skinner was the Hurricanes’ top scorer when he took a big hit from Andy Sutton of the Edmonton Oilers in a Dec. 7 road game. That was Kirk Muller’s fifth game as Canes coach, and Carolina is 5-6-3 – and often has struggled to score – since Skinner went out.
“I’d love to see him in (tonight) but obviously we have to be cautious,” Muller said Wednesday. “It has a lot to do with how he feels. Once he talks to the doctor and gets the feedback … I just said let me know when he gets the green light.”
Skinner, 19, is ready to go to green. He did not miss a game last season, when he was the NHL’s Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year.
Skinner was off to another strong start, with 12 goals and 12 assists in 30 games before taking the open-ice hit from Sutton.
“Today is a big step for me, to get out there in a normal jersey and then play in all the drills,” Skinner said. “Obviously in practice, the pace, you try to get it as close to a game as you can be there’s not the huge hits you’re going to get in a game.
“There’s sort of not as much chaos as there is in a game. … But it’s a good step to get out there and practice and not be thinking about it and just doing it.”
Skinner’s concussion was his first. He had to deal with the uncertainty of the injury, with the headaches and other symptoms, wondering when he would be well enough to play again.
“Being out, not playing, everybody gets frustrated,” Skinner said. “You have to be patient. But when you don’t know how long it will be, and you don’t know what steps will be taken to get back in game shape, it can be frustrating.”