As much as Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz has enjoyed watching the team play, he’s ready to trade in being a spectator for playing again. That could happen as soon as Tuesday.
Schultz, who has missed the past 15 games because of a lower-body injury, practiced with the Penguins at Monday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. Not only was it his first time joining his teammates since he got hurt, but he also was allowed full contact with no restrictions.
“I felt good,” Schultz said. “Now it’s just a matter of making sure I’m ready to step back in. It’s still at a point in the year where there’s no need to rush things if you’re not ready. Hopefully, that’s sooner rather than later.”
The Penguins’ next two games are against Philadelphia, but they are 10 days apart – Tuesday on the road and Jan. 31 at home before the All-Star break and the team’s bye week.
Schultz is pretty much assured of returning in one of those games.
“Obviously hoping for the sooner one, but you’ve got to make sure you’re 100 percent,” he said.
“I was full-out (in practice). We’ll see. Obviously, I want to play, but it’s about being smart, too.”
The Penguins did not do drills that involved line combinations or defense pairs, so it’s not clear how Schultz’s return might change things, but he did get in some power-play time with the second unit.
When he returns, he will step in as one of the team’s better two-way defensemen.
“It would be a huge boost,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
Schultz had been skating separately from the team for a couple weeks. Initially, he seemed tentative and limited.
“The last couple weeks it definitely ramped up,” he said. “It was definitely a little slower than I wanted at the start. Once I got on the ice, every day it felt better. It’s feeling pretty good right now.”
While he was out, Schultz spent time like so many of the team’s fans – enjoying the show.
“It’s so fun to watch them,” he said of his teammates. “They work so hard. They’re so hard to play against. Playing with speed. So tough for teams to defend us, and our guys do a great job defending as well.”