WASHINGTON — Jakub Vrana’s return to the Detroit Red Wings’ lineup could happen before Christmas.
The Wings have just two games left before the shutdown from Saturday to Dec. 26 shutdown, and not many practices. That’s why Vrana’s availability is a regular topic between coach Derek Lalonde and general manager Steve Yzerman.
Vrana spent two months in the players assistance program, a program designed to assist players dealing with a range of issues relating to anything from mental health to substance abuse. He went through his first practice with the Wings on Friday, and his second one on Sunday. He did not make the trip to Washington, where the Wings played Monday.
“He’s coming closer and closer,” Lalonde said. “It’s just it’s hard to judge him. He hasn’t been on the ice for two full months. Steve and I we literally talk about it every day.”
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The Wings play at home Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Friday at the Ottawa Senators, before a three-day holiday break. The next practice after that is Dec. 27, and then come back-to-back games on the road.
That doesn’t leave much time for a guy who has been off for so long to get his game legs back. But getting a player with Vrana’s offensive skills into the lineup is incredibly appealing to a team struggling to score.
“It makes it very intriguing because we do have offense injured and out of our lineup,” Lalonde said. “But you also don’t want to put him in a situation to fail. Guys go through entire training camps to get ready. You saw Andrew Copp miss an entire training camp, and what we asked of him from day one. I think we want to be fair to him and not put him in a bad situation. We want to give him the best opportunity to succeed when he does come back.”
Vrana missed the first 56 games last season recovering from shoulder surgery, and when he made his season debut March 8, he had been skating since January and had been practicing for several weeks.
Now he may be coming back within a week, or shortly after the Christmas break.
“When we feel we give him the best opportunity to be successful, and if that’s sooner than later, of if it’s after the holiday — that’s something Steve and I, as the coaching staff, talk about at the end of each day,” Lalonde said.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.