Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets' D getting healthier, happier

Trouba, Stuart close to returning to lineup

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Is there a longer-term positive in the fact there hasn't been a woe-is-us theme from the Winnipeg Jets regarding the crisis of health among the team's regular defencemen?

The Jets are currently missing Zach Bogosian, Paul Postma, Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba. Waiver pickup Keaton Ellerby has been thrust into the top two pairings and Adam Pardy and Zach Redmond have become the third pair.

And there may be more shuffling ahead, though in a good way. Both Stuart and Trouba took another step forward on Wednesday in a return to full practice mode, though Jets coach Claude Noel wasn't yet declaring them in for tonight's home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Stuart has been out with hip issues since Oct. 29 and has missed nine games.

Trouba's been missing for 15 games since crashing head-first into the boards and injuring his neck on Oct. 18.

"When they're ready to go I'll be ready to go with them," Noel said Wednesday. "It's a good sign that they're able to come back. To me, what it does is create competition, which is good. It keeps everybody a little bit on edge and it's healthy.

"Plus they're good players. But until they're ready to go... they're close. I know Stuart practised today. I'm not sure if he's a player tomorrow against Chicago.

"Trouba, I haven't checked today but I think the signs are pointing pretty good to him. He's close. He's around a week; I don't know if that's a little far out but it's around there. Those are really good signs but I think we've done a really decent job of replacing those players for the term they've been out."

Part of Wednesday's practice for those two in particular included getting in the corners and battling with teammates for pucks. The contact and the jostling was welcome, both said.

"It was fun being out there," Stuart said with a big grin later. "It was a good practice. I got some good battles in and it felt great. I'm not really thinking about it, which is a great."

He said he's feeling like himself once again, and that's being physical.

"It's feeling good and I'm not really thinking about it out there," he declared.

While Trouba might be a game or two farther away -- possibly putting his return into the first game or two of the upcoming six-game road trip -- he's clearly champing at the bit.

Wednesday marked his first practice without the no-contact orange jersey.

"It's nice to be back and be part of things," the 19-year-old rookie said. "It's good to get hit around a little bit. It felt good. So I'll keep trying to get better every day and hopefully we're back sooner than later."

He wouldn't speculate on his return date.

"I don't know," he said again. "It's up to the trainers. They're controlling it. I just listen to them and do what I'm told."

And he said his neck is just fine now, nearly five weeks after the force of his fall sprained ligaments.

"It doesn't feel how it used to," he said, smiling. "It's a good step forward."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2013 0

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