WHEN they declared Eric Fehr close -- finally -- to NHL action this season, the Jets brought out the yellow flags of caution for reporters and fans on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old Winkler product, acquired from the Washington Capitals over the summer, has been sidelined since off-season shoulder surgery
"He's close," coach Claude Noel said Wednesday. "I'd like to get him another practice or two."
Noel, who said Fehr's ice time will be limited in his first two or three appearances, didn't rule the right-winger over for Saturday's home game versus Philadelphia, though it's more likely his return comes next week.
But GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said that whenever Fehr returns, it's still a process of baby steps.
"Once we get Eric Fehr into the lineup, we'll begin to truly understand where we're at with the players within our organization," Cheveldayoff said. "You don't know what he's going to bring to the table yet.
"Also I should caution everybody here now that this is a player that has not had training camp. This is a player that has started to skate, is cleared for contact and is ready to ramp it up.
"It's still going to take time for him to get acclimated to the rigours and speed of where we're at, almost a quarter of the season in."
Fehr had 31 goals for the Capitals in the previous two seasons.
Along with Fehr, the Jets still have five defencemen on the injured list; Ron Hainsey (lower body), Tobias Enstrom (collarbone), Randy Jones (lower body), Derek Meech (knee), and Brett Festerling (upper body).
Hainsey is skating, but his progress is slow, Noel said Wednesday. Festerling, out with a suspected concussion after running into a teammate last Friday, is getting closer but isn't likely to play tonight.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Wednesday that the first quarter of the season has revealed organizational strength.
"I'm very happy with the depth of our organization with respect to guys coming up on defence," he said. "We've played 12 different defencemen now in 18 games. My hat goes off to the players who have stepped in and taken the minutes from those injuries."
Noel gave his charges the day off Wednesday, hoping they'll come back fresh for tonight's home game against the 10-5-1 Capitals.
"You have to balance the need for practice and sense and sense overtook this one," he said.
The Jets have so far played 12 of their 18 games on the road, most in the NHL.
Another crisp team game is what Noel said he's looking for tonight.
"With five being excellent and one being poor, we (rated) a lot of fours in (Monday's) game, which we have not seen all year," he said. "That's what we'd like to get again. That pretty much gives you another A-game."