Exactly 136 days ago, it looked like Patrik Nemeth's season was over.
The Dallas Stars rookie defenseman was making a routine play in the October 18 game against the Philadelphia Flyers on an early home stand when he and R.J. Umberger got tangled up near the Flyers bench.
They fell awkwardly, and in the process, Umberger's skate came up and sliced the soft side of Nemeth's wrist deep enough to expose bone and sever muscle and tendon. It started bleeding so much, so quickly that it didn't even occur to Nemeth that he couldn't move his fingers until later.
The original prognosis was that after surgery, he might be ready to return in late April if the Stars got into the playoffs. But here he is, just about four and a half months after the injury and six weeks ahead of schedule, ready to play again in the NHL.
"Obviously it feels really good," Nemeth said after Tuesday's morning skate, the first where he's eligible for an NHL game since that day in October. "I never even thought I was going to be able to play here (this season). But to be able to play five games down (in Cedar Park) was good to start playing hockey again, and it’s just great to be out there."
Stars coach Lindy Ruff seems to quite enjoy making his lineup decisions as vague as possible many days, and the return of Nemeth is no exception. But after his five tune-up games in the AHL with the Texas Stars, it seems to make sense that he'd make his return at the NHL level tonight.
"There’s a good chance," Ruff said when asked if Nemeth will play tonight against the New York Islanders. "We’re going to make that game-time. We got a good report on him, a little bit up and down, but we know what Patrik can bring. We’re going to bring him in there and get him going."
Nemeth was a little bit of a mixed bag in his five game rehab stint. By most reports, he looked like a guy who hadn't played hockey in four months to start with, especially early in that stretch. That's to be expected for a guy whose spent so much time off the ice. And what he did was enough to earn a recall late Monday afternoon.
"It’s been hard," Nemeth said of the four-plus months of recovery. "To get an injury like that, you first receive the message that the season is over, then after that feeling pretty good and just try to push that date forward a little bit. I think it’s a lot of hard work. You have to do your rehab but not cross the line really. It’s kind of a fine line there. It’s been tough, but it’s also been good times when you find that things are getting better."
While Nemeth's status means the defensemen for tonight's game against the New York Islanders are still up in the air, the forward corps looks pretty familiar, with a little bouncing around on the bottom two lines.
Stars lines this morning: Benn-Spezza-Hemsky; Roussel-Eakin-Garbutt; McKenzie-Fiddler-Eaves; Sceviour-Horcoff-Ritchie— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) March 3, 2015
Ruff also mentioned the team worked on some special teams set plays this morning as they held morning skate in Frisco rather than at the American Airlines Center. We'll see if that pays off tonight.
Kari Lehtonen was the first goalie off the ice, so it looks like he's up in the "which Stars goalie will break out of his personal slide first" lottery.
You can watch the full morning skate interview with Nemeth below: