SUNRISE — All signs point toward Anthony Duclair making his return to the Florida Panthers lineup on Friday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice initially said on Sunday that the 30-goal scorer’s return from an offseason Achilles tear was dependent on how he felt after the practices leading up to the game.
On Wednesday, the path for Duclair became a lot clearer as the team made all the necessary moves to facilitate his return.
Duclair has also been telling those around him that Friday will be his first game back after missing the entirety of this season.
On Wednesday, he posted on Instagram ‘I’ve missed you’ with two photos: One of him watching from the sidelines and another in action.
“He’s been going hard for a while and he has been out of the gold (non-contact) jersey for a while, so he looks like he is ready to go,” Maurice said.
”We won’t take him off LTIR until after the morning skate of the next game (Friday), but our expectation is that he will be ready to play.”
The Panthers already began making the roster moves necessary to bring Duclair back, waiving Chris Tierney to alleviate $750,000 of the $1.6 million the team has to move out to activate him from LTIR.
Grigori Denisenko was absent from Wednesday’s practice and did not have a stall in the locker room.
On Wednesday evening, the Panthers made Denisenko’s move official, sending him to Charlotte freeing up the additional cap space needed.
The Panthers also sent Spencer Knight to the Checkers so he could get some playing time in a move that has nothing to do with Duclair.
Alex Lyon will back up Sergei Bobrovsky for the time being.
Florida did not have a full practice Wednesday as Givani Smith was out after getting hit in the face from a shot on Monday afternoon.
Sasha Barkov, Eric Staal and Marc Staal also did not practice.
Sam Bennett was practicing after missing the past three games. Bennett was back running the second line on Wednesday morning at the arena.
”We’re going to have to do injuries first and then roster moves next,” Maurice said.
”We’ll push this back another day and see how healthy we are because we need to have enough bodies to go.”
Duclair is expected to play on the third line alongside Eetu Luostarinen in his return to the lineup.
The left winger on that line was a rotation between Nick Cousins, Colin White and Ryan Lomberg with Florida only having 10 forwards on the ice on Wednesday morning.
If he hits his stride quickly Maurice will get him some more minutes down the line.
But that has nothing to do with the injury.
”I won’t be overly worried about minutes and conditioning because he’s been skating hard for a long time,” Maurice said.
”He is going to be the fittest guy we have because he has not been worn down over the course of the year. We will put him in the three-hole role and let him go. If he’s going, especially with where we’re at in the season, I won’t wait a long time to get his minutes up.”
Duclair’s return would have seemingly been the perfect time to break up Florida’s struggling top line to place him back with Barkov — who he has built great chemistry over his time as a Panther — but Maurice is adamant about running them for the time being.
The line of Barkov, Anton Lundell and Sam Reinhart caught fire early in its lifetime, scoring two even strength goals in its first three games, but has only scored three goals in 16 games since and has been outscored 12-5 overall.
Barkov did sustain a hand injury on Feb. 6 that caused him to miss a game and Maurice believes that it was still lingering over his last six games.
”Barkov had 17 points in 10 games and then he had an injury,” Maurice said. “When he steps on the ice against Buffalo, I think he is going to be 100 percent.”
Of those 17 points, however, six of them were on the power play and another six of the 10 even strength points he had came with different wingers on his line — most notably five goals with Matthew Tkachuk on his line when Maurice chooses to be aggressive late in games.
Duclair has a track record of playing well next to Barkov — especially during the stretch run of the team’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning campaign — so he could end up making the move to the top line if his return goes well.
PANTHERS ON DECK
BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15); Panthers 4, Sabres 1 (Jan. 16)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-44-8, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Feb. 28 at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.