Pittsburgh Penguins first-line left winger Jake Guentzel was back in black Tuesday. It was the first day since offseason ankle surgery that he joined his teammates at practice in full capacity — as in, wearing a black jersey instead of a non-contact jersey.
“I feel great. It’s obviously nice to be out with the full team, out with the guys again,” Guentzel said after the session at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “Just to see the faces and be out with the new guys, it’s always fun.
“Exciting day for sure. Just the first step.”
Well, it’s a big step anyway. Guentzel had been skating throughout training camp and last week joined the main practices in a non-contact capacity.
Guentzel, who turns 29 Friday, had surgery Aug. 2. At the time, the team projected that he might miss the first five or so games. But with the return to permitted contact a week before the Penguins season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks, might he be ready a little sooner that initial projections?
“It’s too early to tell,” Guentzel said. “It’s kind of, have to wait and see what happens.”
Guentzel confirmed that he injured his right ankle during last season but offered no other details.
It was hoped that time off during the offseason would be enough, but when Guentzel began to play in summer Da Beauty League, getting three goals, six points in five games, he realized things had not progressed as much as hoped.
“It just didn’t heal properly the way we thought it was going to,” he said. “Just kind of decided last minute to go this route, and now we’re here.”
Getting Guentzel back will represent a boon for the Penguins.
He is center and captain Sidney Crosby’s definitive linemate, and has a 40-goal season on his resume along with a Stanley Cup. He had 36 goals, 73 points in 78 games last season. The Penguins did not do line rushes in practice Tuesday, so the configurations weren’t shown.
“Jake is a vitally important player for our team,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s quietly emerged as, in my mind, one of the superstars in the league. He’s a really good goal scorer. He’s a competitive guy. But he’s got a two-way game also.”
Guentzel is entering the final season of his five-year contract and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
P.O Joseph injured
Penguins defenseman P.O Joseph has a lower-body injury and is out day-to-day, Sullivan said.
Joseph did not practice Tuesday. He played in the team’s preseason loss Monday in Halifax.
He took a hit from his brother, Mathieu, of the Ottawa Senators in that game, but it is not known if that had anything to do with the injury.