Martin Hanzal is back and the rest of his body are ready to return to NHL action, but there’s a catch.
Throughout the Stars’ practice at Frisco on Thursday, he centered a second line that featured Devin Shore and Jason Spezza (who bumped over from his normal position).
And Hanzal will anchor those two again on Friday night when Dallas hosts the San Jose Sharks at the American Airlines Center.
But head coach Jim Montgomery said that the 31-year old will be limited to under 15 shifts.
Spezza clearly doesn’t have any issues with bumping over to the wing, and Shore seemed excited at the prospect of skating alongside two experienced playmakers.
“He’s worked really hard to get where he is now in rehab and he really wants to be back out here,” Stars forward Devin Shore said. “A lot of things can happen, so you have to be ready for in-game adjustments. But if we play hard and reach off of each other well then maybe we can get a good thing going here.”
From a physical standpoint, the fact that Hanzal has worked his way back to this point is remarkable in and of itself.
During the summer of 2017, the then- signed a three-year deal to stay in Dallas. with an average annual cap hit of $4.75 million (per spotrac.com).
Last season, he didn’t come close to earning it. In 38 games played, he posted just 10 points (five goals, five assists).
The reason for that lack of production and availability was due to a variety of injuries, the most detrimental of which was that ailing back.
In order to try and remedy the back situation, he underwent his third career operation this past April.
“It’s been a long, long process and finally at the point where I can be a game player,” Hanzal said. “I’m really excited to be here and get ready for tomorrow.”
For the most part, Montgomery sounded excited to have another experienced center in his lineup, even if it is in a limited capacity.
“It’s going to be about watching his body language,” Montgomery said. “We’ve talked and and (I’ve said) ‘if you need an extra blow, let me know.’”
As for what’s he going to bring to the table in his 2018 regular-season debut, the prevailing notion seems to be his size.
Center Radek Faksa is the tallest player on the roster, with the exception of Hanzal. The former is 6-foot-4, the latter stands six-foot-six and also weighs 230 pounds.
The girth will should give the team’s front lines a boost in the face-off circle. It should also provide that coveted net-front presence to a power play that, by the players’ and coaches’ own admission, has been ineffective for large chunks of this season.
When players return from a series of similar injuries, the mental fortitude often gets overlooked. But Hanzal readily admitted that he’s aware of his limitations.
“It’s going to be different,” Hanzal said. “I can get roughed from behind. I can get cross-checked in my back. I can fall awkwardly, it can change so I don’t know. But now, I feel pretty good.”
Montgomery didn’t have any issue admitting Hanzal would be on a shift count. Considering his team’s injury issues this season, the first-year coach also clearly has a strong ability to juggle lines at a moment’s notice.
“That’s the value of having Jason Spezza there on right wing, (because) he just moves into center,” Montgomery said. “It’s a lot easier to put on a wing up double-shifting. And Rads is always willing to go.”