The focus, in terms of recovery among the injured Pittsburgh Penguins, has been heavily on Sidney Crosby. No surprise there, and Crosby continues to skate.
But it looks as if another center on the team is starting to get nearer to returning from injury, too.
That would be Nick Bjugstad.
“I think he’s getting closer,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Wednesday, although he quickly added, “I’m reluctant to put time frames on these guys because there’s so many things that influence those time frames.
“What I will say is we’re encouraged by Nick’s progress. We’re encouraged by all the guys’ progress. We feel like they’re all getting closer. They’re visibly stronger on the ice, and so that’s encouraging for all of us. But in Nick’s particular circumstance, it’s encouraging to see the progress that he’s making.”
Bjugstad, Crosby and defenseman Justin Schultz skated Wednesday before a lightly attended optional Penguins practice in Las Vegas, a day after a 4-3 win over the Golden Knights. Crosby then also skated during the optional practice, too.
Bjugstad, who has missed the past 24 games because of core muscle surgery, has not joined the team for any practices. Crosby, the team captain and a vital player, had the same type of surgery as Bjugstad and has missed 26 games. He has participated in a non-contact capacity at practice a few times.
Schultz, who has missed nine games because of a lower-body injury, just started skating earlier this week.
Not yet skating is defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who had ankle surgery and has been out 16 games.
Prolific winger Jake Guentzel is out for at least the rest of the regular season because of shoulder surgery.
The Penguins on Wednesday placed forward Joseph Blandisi on waivers, although he was one of the handful of players who participated in the optional practice. If Blandisi clears waivers by noon Thursday, the Penguins will be able to reassign him to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League without delay if one of the injured players – Crosby seems the most likely – is ready to return soon.
“Right now the decision was made to keep flexibility on the roster,” Sullivan said of the Blandisi move. “And so right now everything’s status quo.”
The Penguins are scheduled to practice Thursday after flying to Denver. They play the Colorado Avalanche there Friday. If Crosby is cleared for contact for that practice and all goes well, it’s conceivable he could play Friday against his good friend and Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon.
The Penguins’ road trip ends Sunday at Arizona. Sullivan said Tuesday that it is possible at least one injured player could return during the trip.