Struggling to keep their defensive core intact through multiple injuries this season, the Chicago Blackhawks could see the return of Nikita Zaitsev rather soon, as the veteran defenseman returned to practice today (X Link). Unfortunately, as highlighted in the same report, Chicago will have to wait for the return of Connor Murphy, who has recovered slower than expected from his lower-body injury.
Although keeping the likes of Zaitsev and Murphy in the lineup each night would ultimately make the Blackhawks a more competitive team this season, they are still in the middle of their rebuild, without having any intention of competing in the Western Conference anytime soon. Being that it is never positive when a player gets injured, it becomes a touch more bittersweet in Chicago as the team can call up prospects to test their mettle at the top level without much pressure on their shoulders.
This season alone, the Blackhawks have been able to graduate defensemen Kevin Korchinski and Louis Crevier to the NHL level, and both have shown flashes of being regular parts of the lineup moving forward. Nevertheless, especially in the early years of their rebuild, Chicago will have to balance calling prospects up too early and giving them meaningful minutes at the professional level, meaning veterans such as Murphy and Zaitsev still hold a valuable spot on the active roster.
Other Central notes:
- Staying in Chicago, Mario Tirabassi of CHGO Blackhawks reports that although forward Andreas Athanasiou has recently been a full participant in practice, there is still no timetable for his return. Signed to a two-year, $8.5MM contract extension at the end of last season, Athanasiou has only mustered 11 games for the Blackhawks this season after suffering a lower-body injury in early November. With one more year on his contract after this season, Athanasiou still has plenty of time to recover from his lost season to recoup some value potentially.
- Moving southwest, Craig Morgan of PHNX Sports is reporting that the Arizona Coyotes will see the return of defenseman Troy Stecher tonight in their game against the Montreal Canadiens. Stecher has missed the last 13 games for the Coyotes after suffering a lower-body injury on January 20th. Choosing to return to Arizona after a trade deadline deal with the Calgary Flames last year, Stecher has suited up in 42 games for the Coyotes this season, scoring one goal and five points while averaging 18:41 minutes a night.