Four months and three days after undergoing corrective hip surgery, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was back on the ice practicing with his teammates on Wednesday, participating in non-contact drills.
“It’s nice to get back with the guys and do normal drills,” Backstrom said after staying on the ice long after practice. “It’s my first practice with the guys and I want to feel comfortable out there. It’s going in the right direction, so that’s good.”
Backstrom, 27, underwent surgery on May 27 and said team doctors will determine when he can be cleared for full contact and, ultimately, when he can return to the lineup.
“I wish I could tell you more specific, but right now we’ll take it day by day,” he said.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said the team will not rush Backstrom back into action, hinting that the team should prepare for him to miss the start of the regular season on Oct. 10.
“There’s no timetable,” Trotz said. “Whenever he’s ready, he’s ready. I consider Nick a franchise player and you never put a franchise player at risk. When he’s ready, he’ll be ready. That will be determined by our medical staff, his doctor and more importantly, Nick himself.”
Backstrom led the NHL last season with 60 assists and was sixth in the league with 78 points in 82 games. It marked the sixth time in his eight-year career with the Caps that he played in every regular season game.
Trotz said he is trying to build forward lines that can withstand the loss of Backstrom if his absence extends into the regular season. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Derek Roy, Jay Beagle, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich and Chandler Stephenson all have played center.
“We’re trying to build a line that, for whatever time frame Nicky may be out, that we can get through that part,” he said.
Teammates said they were happy to see Backstrom on the ice but stressed the need for him to heal properly.
“He’s been a very dependable, very durable guy in his career and very well-liked and well-respected in the locker room and hopefully he’s getting closer,” Laich said. “He’s really put in the work to get back and we can’t wait to have our buddy back.”
“It’s early in the year and we don’t want him to rush anything and miss more time than he has to,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We want to make sure he’s back when he’s fully recovered.”
Jason Chimera agreed.
“He’s kind of a backbone for our team for a lot of years. I’m not going to lie to you. If he’s out of the lineup he’s a huge piece missed so it’s nice to have him out there.”