While he was ruled out for the year before the regular season got underway, Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov has resumed skating and is on pace to return for the start of the playoffs, notes Joe Smith of the Athletic (Twitter link). The 27-year-old actually did some light work with Tampa Bay in practice although he’s still long way away from being ready to return.
The big question will be when he is indeed ready to play. The Lightning can’t afford to activate him off LTIR at all this season due to their salary cap situation but if he has started light skating drills already, it may also be difficult to argue that he’ll need two full months to recover and then immediately be ready for game one of the playoffs just days later. It’s certainly going to be something to keep an eye on although Tampa Bay is certainly thrilled that their top-scoring forward is doing well in his recovery from offseason surgery.
Elsewhere in the Central:
- The Hurricanes have a few areas that they’d like to improve between now and the trade deadline, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports in the latest 31 Thoughts podcast (audio link). In particular, a stay-at-home defenseman to offset some of their more offensive-minded options, a depth forward, and goaltending depth are the areas that Friedman highlighted although they may be hard-pressed to try to address all three of those.
- The Blue Jackets’ acquisition of Gregory Hofmann from Carolina last month came as a surprise considering the 28-year-old had two years left on his deal in Switzerland. However, EV Zug GM Reto Klay told Zentralplus’ Andreas Ineichen that Hofmann is expected to sign with Columbus as soon as later this season once the NLA playoffs are over. The winger has 17 goals and 21 assists in just 33 games this season and will not be subject to entry-level restrictions on his first NHL contract due to his age and could be an intriguing addition for the stretch run.
- The Panthers will have winger Anthony Duclair and defenseman Anton Stralman back in their lineup tonight against Chicago, relays George Richards of Florida Hockey Now (Twitter link). Duclair has done relatively well in his first season with Florida, picking up two goals and eight assists in 19 games and had missed the last six games with a lower-body injury. Meanwhile, Stralman, who had missed four straight with a lower-body issue of his own, sits third among Florida blueliners in ATOI at 20:09 per contest.