Injured Winnipeg Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba took a big step on Saturday towards returning to the Jets lineup.
The Jets rookie has missed 13 games and counting since he fell awkwardly against the end boards and injured his neck on Oct. 18 during a 4-3 Jets overtime win over the St. Louis Blues at the MTS Centre.
What was initially pegged as a recovery expected to take "a couple weeks" has proven to be a longer rehabilitation now approaching a month, but the rookie took a big step on Saturday when he returned to full practice with his teammates at the MTS Centre for the first time since the injury.
"I feel good. It's good to get back out there and skate with everyone," Trouba said after practice. "It feels good with the pain and that kind of stuff. But we have to strengthen it up because if the same thing happens again, you've got a bigger problem.
"So it's kind of a waiting game, making sure I get strong, doing neck exercises every day. I'm waiting until it gets strong enough and I can play confidently."
While Troub has made the occasional cameo appearance on the ice, Saturday was the first time he skated with his teammates from beginning to end. And while he still wore a no-contact orange practice jersey, his impending return couldn't come at a better time for a club that is particularly banged up on defence.
With fellow defencemen Paul Postma and Mark Stuart also nursing injuries, the Jets got more bad news on the blue-line on Saturday when it emerged a lower-body injury sustained by Zach Bogosian in a win over Philadelphia Friday night will also keep yet another Winnipeg defenceman off the ice -- and for more than just a day or two.
Put it together and a looming return by Trouba, who logged some big minutes before his injury and did not look out of place in the early stages of his rookie campaign, would be welcome news, sooner than later.
But Jets management has also pledged repeatedly in recent weeks to protect their investment and not rush Trouba back before he's ready, something the player says he understands.
"I don't really know what the whole return thing is -- it's kind of out of my hands," said Trouba. "I'm just kind of doing what they tell me to do and co-operating with the trainers as much as I can. I want to be out there and play but at the same time you have to be smart and do what's best for myself and the team...
"There's not much you can do -- it's a tough thing to strengthen. But we've kind of been doing (resistance excercises) and it seems to be getting better every day... skating is fine. I don't really feel it too much out there on the ice. It's more if I get hit or not -- that's what's going to test it."
Trouba says it's been frustrating to have been a spectator in his rookie season, but says the watching has been made easier by his club's recent run of four straight wins.
"It's definitely easier when we win games," said Trouba. "I always want to be out there and do what I can to help, but it's good to see us win some games."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @PaulWiecek