The Winnipeg Jets might be getting their lone all-star back soon, maybe even this week.
Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien hasn't played since Dec. 27 because of a knee injury and he has missed 16 games. Byfuglien was named to this year's all-star game but he didn't attend the event in Ottawa because of the injury. He started practising with the team Monday and he joined the Jets for their four game road trip. He skated with the team in Philadelphia, the first stop, but didn't play Tuesday in the Jets 2-1 shootout victory.
"I feel ready to go," Byfuglien said Wednesday after practising with the Jets in Tampa Bay in preparation for Thursday's match against the Lightning. "I'm 100 per cent."
Byfuglien has been skating with a leg brace which took getting used to.
"It's feeling good. I really don't notice it anymore. I'm pretty comfortable with it now," he said.
He joked about spending so much time watching games from the press box instead of playing. "I just sit there and laugh at them pretty much," he said smiling. "I'll come down here [to the locker room]and make fun of their play or something or laugh at them."
Coach Claude Noel did not commit to playing Byfuglien Thursday, in part because he is still on the injured reserve list. But he agreed that the big defenceman is close. "He looks pretty good," Noel said Wednesday.
Noel added that bringing Byfuglien back would help the team's offence, which has generated less than two goals a game on average in the last month. Byfuglien has been among the league's top defencemen in terms of shots on goal and he has six goals and 18 assists this season.
"He thinks offensively and adds that from the blue line. And more shots," Noel said. But Noel said the key will be monitoring Byfuglien's time on the ice when he does return, for fear he is reinjured. "You've got to watch and see how he's doing," he said.
One other injured Jet could also be back in the lineup Thursday. Forward Alexander Burmistrov has been out for three games with a mild concussion. On Wednesday he said he had passed all medical tests.
"I'm ready to play, ready to go," he said.
Noel agreed. "It looks like he's a player [Thursday].
Noel also said that he won't be juggling goaltenders too much, meaning he will be sticking largely with starter Ondrej Pavelec. He made 27 saves on Tuesday and has been handling most of the workload all season, playing in 42 of 51 games.
"At this point, points are too valuable for us," the coach said. "Will Pavelec play three of four? He possibly can. It's going to depend on the activity, the amount of shots, how busy he is and how he feels ... We need to win. So I'm not concerned so much right now about wearing guys out."