Zajac on the mend, visits practice
|Zajac has resumed skating. (Getty/NHL Images)|
Though the Devils' top center is still recovering from offseason surgery to repair his left Achilles tendon, he's finally back on the ice and skated last week for the first time.
"I’m feeling pretty good," Zajac said. "I’m progressing well. I’m just kind of taking it in stride and going from there."
Zajac has been training back home in his native Winnipeg, but is visiting New Jersey through Wednesday. He underwent surgery back on Aug. 18, when it was announced he'd be sidelined for 8-10 weeks.
He hurt the tendon during an off-ice workout.
"It was good to see him," captain Zach Parise said. "Looks like he's walking around pretty well. I don't know what his schedule is, but hopefully he'll be skating on a regular basis pretty soon."
Zajac surpassed Ken Daneyko to become the Devils' all-time ironman last season and extended his consecutive games-played streak to 401.
That run ended on opening night, but Zajac is taking strides toward hopefully starting a new one soon.
"[I'm] just kind of twirling around, getting used to being on skates again," said Zajac, who skated last Thursday. "It’s all baby steps, you can’t just go right into it and start doing power skating."
For a player with Zajac's track record of durability, long-term injury is uncharted territory. Watching games from home hasn't been easy considering he hadn't missed one since Oct. 26, 2006.
"It definitely puts into perspective how much I enjoy the game, not being able to play right now," he said.
In one sense, Zajac still hasn't missed a game – he's caught every Devils broadcast.
"I’ve watched all the games so far, keeping tabs on everyone, still talking to a few guys," he said. "I want to be a part of this team, still. Any way I can get involved."
The Devils visit Winnipeg on Dec. 3. Zajac wasn't prepared to pinpoint any single game for a possible return.
"Too early to tell," he said. "Right now the plan is to go back to Winnipeg, finish with rehab, start skating a little more, and we’ll kind of take it on a week-by-week, day-by-day basis until I think I’m closer to be ready to be skating with the team."
One significant positive is that he's nearly pain-free and feels just about ready to skate more than once or twice a week.
"There’s not much pain, it’s more restricting than anything," he said. "It’s more tightness, still, that you have to work on. That’s the biggest concern, obviously, is to get the mobility back. But there’s no pain in the Achilles or anything like that, which is positive."
Peter DeBoer has had to get creative without Zajac or Jacob Josefson (collarbone), including trying Parise at center on the top line with Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson.
So maybe the coach was happier than most to have Zajac back in and around the dressing room.
"It was nice to see him," DeBoer said. "My last conversation with him was at the World Championships last May with Team Canada. I actually talked to him over the summer prior to his injury after I took the job. It’s nice to see him here, I think it’s nice that the guys see him here. He’s walking around, he’s been on the ice once already, so it’s a good sign and it shows that he’s getting closer."