The Vegas Golden Knights have two games remaining in their season and, despite the Edmonton Oilers’ incredible recent run, still hold first place in the Pacific Division. As they try to lock up the division, they received a significant emotional boost as captain Mark Stone returned to practice in a non-contact jersey.
Stone, 30, has been out since mid-January with a back injury that continues to limit his playing time. The veteran winger has managed 200 games over the past four seasons combined, including just 43 this season. That said, he was exceptional in those games, scoring 17 goals and 38 points while continuing to provide his elite defensive ability.
His season was cut short when he underwent another back surgery at the end of January. At the time, the team listed him out “indefinitely,” but has given positive reports in recent weeks.
The timing of his return will certainly raise some eyebrows, even if Stone’s injury is legitimate. The Golden Knights used most of the salary cap relief from moving Stone (and Robin Lehner and Nolan Patrick) to long-term injured reserve, adding players like Jonathan Quick, Ivan Barbashev, and Teddy Blueger at the deadline.
Vegas currently has a cap hit of over $96MM, using nearly $14MM in LTIR relief. When the playoffs start, they could activate Stone without any repercussions.
That’s not to say they’re without injuries now, though. Jack Eichel, Shea Theodore, and Zach Whitecloud were all absent from practice today. That’s why Korczak, one of the team’s top prospects, is up to help them with the last few games. The 22-year-old defenseman has 14 points in 50 games with the Henderson Silver Knights this season, and has appeared in 11 career games with Vegas.