The Pittsburgh Penguins do not return to action for more than a week, when they square off with the rival Philadelphia Flyers on January 31st. However, fans now have even more to look forward to than just the return of their team. Joining them back on the ice will be defenseman Justin Schultz, who CapFriendly reports has been activated from the injured reserve.
This news comes just days after Schultz made his return to practice for the first time since his injury occurred back on December 17. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Seth Rorabaugh wrote on Tuesday that Schultz was all but ready to return than night – also against the Flyers – after participating fully in practice, but the team had opted to exercise caution with the long break ahead. While Shultz has reportedly been activated today, it is nothing more than a paper move with the team disbanded for the All-Star Game and bye week. He will get extra rest during this time, with the hope being that he can hit the ground running in his return.
Schultz suffered his lower-body injury in mid-December as part of a rash of injuries for the Penguins. Captain Sidney Crosby has recently returned from the injury he suffered in November, but Pittsburgh still awaits the returns of Schultz, fellow defenseman Brian Dumoulin, and forward Nick Bjugstad, who has been out the longest with a core muscle injury. Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust have also missed substantial time due to injury this season, while Jake Guentzel saw his season ended by a shoulder injury not long after Schultz went down.
It has been a difficult season health-wise for the Penguins, but their absences have not been all that apparent. The team has had miraculous success given their numerous injuries, not only keeping pace in the competitive Metropolitan Division, but in fact making a play for the division lead. Pittsburgh sits just four point back of the Washington Capitals with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. If they are able to accomplish that with so many big names out the lineup, who knows how they might perform once everyone is healthy. There is hope that Dumoulin and Bjugstad will soon be healthy, but in the meantime the return of Schultz should make an immediate impact. The 29-year-old defenseman, who is in the final year of his contract, struggled with injuries last season as well, but when healthy has recorded 109 points in 215 games since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2015. Capable of playing big minutes and putting up big points, with a history of playing his best in the postseason, plus the additional motivation of a free agency payday, Schultz could be a game-changing asset for the Penguins in his return.