The Jets' battered blue-line took one big step closer to full strength on Sunday, as Jacob Trouba got the green light to play.
With the rookie defender now fully healed from a frightening crash last month, coach Claude Noel said the Jets will decide today if Trouba will play in tonight's tilt against the New Jersey Devils. With Trouba's return the Jets reassigned Julian Melchiori, 21, to the St. John's IceCaps.
'It's tough to see some losses when you want to do whatever you can to help the team win'
For Trouba, that green light shone awful bright.
"I'm excited to start playing again, that's for sure," Trouba said after practice at MTS Iceplex on Sunday morning, before boarding a plane to New Jersey with his teammates. "It's been a rough month... however long it's been for me. I'm not used to not playing."
Seventeen games he was out, and 17 games is a long time to be away, especially for a 19-year-old kid whose NHL career was only eight games old on Oct. 18, when he flew face-first into the MTS Centre boards. Flew headfirst, and then lay still on the ice, as 15,000 fans held a stunned and silent vigil. Nobody wants to see a new career sidelined like that.
The next day, fans learned Trouba would indeed be back, although his bad neck sprain would need time to heal. In the month between then and when he started skating again, Trouba kept it light in the public eye: On Twitter, he quipped the rink boards "are not edible." He asked Winnipeggers to suggest Halloween costumes that could accommodate a neck brace.
Still, the injury frustrated him. With fully half the Jets' regular defenders wounded through much of November, and the team stuck in a skid, Trouba watched games from the press box and ached to be back on the ice.
"It's tough seeing us lose these last couple of games for sure," he said. "It's tough to see some losses when you want to do whatever you can to help the team win."
Well, at least he wasn't alone. Mark Stuart was out with a hip injury before returning to the lineup on Saturday, and Trouba said he learned a lot from how his rugged colleague handled the rehab. Now, he's just looking forward to making his own return.
"It'll probably be similar to the first shift of the year," he said. "Just gotta get through it and it'll calm down after that."
If and when Trouba does figure in, Noel had not decided Sunday who would sit. The Jets are still missing two regular blue-liners: Zach Bogosian hasn't played since suffering a groin injury in a Nov. 15 game against Philadelphia, and Paul Postma is expected to be out through to 2014, due to a blood clot in his leg.