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Hornqvist Practices, Could Return to Penguins Soon

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For Pittsburgh Penguins fans who were hoping winger Patric Hornqvist would be held out of games until after the NHL All-Star game, giving him lots of extra time to make sure he’s sufficiently recovered from his latest concussion, it doesn’t look as if that might not happen.

There is a chance he could return this weekend.

Hornqvist, who has been out three games since taking a puck to the face Jan. 8 during a game against Florida, flew to Arizona and joined the team mid-road-trip. He began practice there Thursday in a red, no-contact jersey but later switched to a standard black jersey, indicating full participation.

That included time with the second power-play unit.

“I feel better. It’s nice to be practicing again and be in contact,” Hornqvist said. “This is the right step, I think.”

The Penguins have missed Hornqvist, with his feistiness and net-front play. They are 1-2 on their Western Conference road trip, including two losses in a row. They finish the trip with games Friday at Arizona and Saturday at Vegas.

The team then goes into its bye week, followed by the All-Star weekend. Center Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang are the club’s two participants.

After Saturday, the Penguins’ next game isn’t until Jan. 28.

Hornqvist would not rule out playing Friday and/or Saturday.

“It depends on how it goes,” he said. “I’m thinking I can be a game-time decision.”

Coach Mike Sullivan is looking forward to Hornqvist’s return.

“It’s great to get him back in the fold. He’s such a big part of this team,” Sullivan said. “He brings great energy to the rink. We’re thrilled to get him back with the team. We’ll see how he responds, but he feels really good. We’ll take each day as it comes.”

Hornqvist downplayed any concerns over the fact that he has had multiple concussions in recent seasons. He doesn’t seem concerned about long-term effects or the brain injuries cutting short his career.

“It is what it is,” he said. “Every time when you come back you want to take a hit and give a hit and make sure you’re ready. That’s why I’m in practice, to take the next step.”

Hornqvist had been skating on his own back in Pittsburgh.

Sullivan gave his standard answer in terms of putting a player with a history of concussions back in the lineup – that while concussions raise concerns, he is relying on the medical professionals.

“We’re always concerned when any of our players get a concussion,” he said. “The nature of those injuries is that they’re all very different. They’re all unique. Different people respond in different ways to them.

“So, quite honestly, I certainly don’t know enough about them to make any sort of assumptions or draw any conclusions moving forward. What I do hope for is Patric’s wellbeing, and that’s important. He’s a good player. He’s a terrific person. That’s always our priority concern.”

Also at practice Thursday was Joseph Blandisi, who was acquired late Wednesday night from Anaheim in a trade for Derek Grant. Blandisi skated on the fourth line in his first time on the ice with the Penguins.

Defenseman Justin Schultz, recovering from a broken leg, again joined practice late, wearing a red no-contact jersey.

The defensive pairings would indicate that Juuso Riikola would draw back into the lineup Friday against the Arizona Coyotes, with Jamie Oleksiak sitting out.

The lines and pairings at practice (thanks, Josh Getzoff):

Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust

Riley Sheahan-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel

Tanner Pearson-Derick Brassard-Dominik Simon

Joseph Blandisi-Matt Cullen-Garrett Wilson

Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang

Olli Maatta-Juuso Riikola

Marcus Pettersson-Jack Johnson

Chad Ruhwedel-Jamie Oleksiak

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Shelly is the newest columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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