The Winnipeg Jets welcomed a familiar face back to the fold Monday, with Blake Wheeler hitting the ice for the first time in more than a month.
The Jets captain has been recovering from a suspected knee injury suffered on Dec. 10, partway through a 4-3 road loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Wheeler had been skating on his own for a while, and for Monday’s workout he was wearing a yellow jersey, a colour reserved for players not yet ready for contact.
Jets head coach Dave Lowry noted he hadn’t seen Wheeler for a month but added he would be on the Jets upcoming four-game road trip, which begins Tuesday in Washington against the Capitals.
"It’s a positive that he’s on the ice and it’s a positive he’s with the group," Lowry said. "Whether or not he’s an option, we’ll see how the week progresses. That will be up to Blake and the medical staff."
The Jets struggled early on without their leader, losing back-to-back games against Buffalo and Washington – the end result being the resignation of former head coach Paul Maurice. Since then, they have won four of their last five games, including a 3-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in their most recent affair Thursday night.
The last month has also seen Winnipeg postpone nine games – six at home and three on the road – with those games to be made up in February over what was supposed to be a three-week Olympic break.
"Blake being out for an extended period of time obviously is a huge blow. But he was around the group for a while," Lowry said. "He’s been very supportive of what we’re doing. You’re never going to replace your captain. But what you do is you challenge your other leaders. They have to pick up the slack that’s missing. I think our guys have done a real good job, and obviously they’ve been in contact with Blake, as I have. But it’s leadership by committee and I really have liked the way that our guys have handled it."
Paul Stastny wasn’t on the ice Monday. The Jets veteran forward remained in a five-day quarantine after contracting COVID-19 last week but will travel with the team and is considered a game-time decision.
"Whether or not he’s a player (Tuesday), we’ll see in the morning," Lowry said of Stastny.
Forward Jansen Harkins was back at practice after some issues over the weekend getting across the U.S. border following a positive COVID-19 test in Detroit. Defenceman Brenden Dillon, who also tested positive for the coronavirus, requires another day of isolation and is expected to join the team later this week.
Evgeny Svechnikov remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury but has travelled with the team, making him a likely option to return some time over the road trip. It’s unclear whether Eric Comrie, who also entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols last Thursday, will be an option to backup Connor Hellebuyck in net. If not, the Jets will look to Mikhail Berdin to be their No. 2 goaltender.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.