SUNRISE — Anthony Duclair was back on the ice with the Florida Panthers for Saturday’s morning skate prior to their game against the Canucks.
It was the first time that Duclair had joined a full practice-type workout since having Achilles surgery in June.
Although Duclair is not close to rejoining the Florida lineup — he is getting there.
Saturday was a big step forward in his progression.
“First time with the big group and we’re excited ,’’ coach Paul Maurice said. “I am hopeful we can get him into a full practice here prior to the (All-Star) break where he’s banging around and knows it’s on. He needed to know how to train before the break. There’s a chance it could be before but realistically we’re thinking after the break.”
The Panthers do not have a concrete timeline for Duclair but it does appear he is on track for a return sometime following the All-Star break as has been reported here since training camp.
On Saturday, Duclair was spotted doing much more on the ice than previously seen: Instead of just slowly skating and taking shots, Duclair was skating hard; he was pushing off into a sprint, making hard stops.
If you did not know Duclair was hurt before, you would not have known from watching him on Saturday morning.
“Big change in his program over the last week,’’ Maurice said. “Instead of being careful, he can go out and push himself. … It was a big day. No contact, but changing directions a lot. We’ll push him more when we get back because he is building each day. It is a long, very difficult injury to rehab. But I think we’re getting to the place where we are happy where it is at.”
As for what is next in Duclair’s rehabilitation, Maurice said that he would not be making this next trip.
Although Duclair did travel with the Panthers on their recent four-game roadtrip, he was able to get plenty of icetime as the team had numerous practice days scheduled.
On this trip, however, the Panthers will not skate in Buffalo on Monday (it’s a 1 p.m. start) and will not practice before Tuesday’s game in Toronto.
By staying behind, Duclair can get all the time on ice he wants — either at the arena or the IceDen.
Maurice said he hoped to get Duclair into a real practice before the All-Star break but that is only if cleared by the team’s medical personnel.
It is expected that Duclair would go to Charlotte to get a taste of game speed before joining the Panthers, Maurice said when Duclair is healthy enough to go, he will be brought back into the fold.
The Panthers are not necessarily going wait for him to get 100 percent up to game speed as long as his Achilles is at 100 percent.
“We have hired some new people (in team performance) and some of them have a tremendous amount of experience with Achilles injuries,’’ Maurice said. “We get to push him really hard in a very controlled environment. I don’t know how much time he is going to need. But if he is 100 percent healthy, we won’t be waiting for him to be at the top of his game to get back in. … I won’t wait until his hands are perfect. I have a spot for him.”
Patric Hornqist has been skating with Duclair and appears to be a very beneficial workout partner.
And, the only way Florida would be able to activate Duclair and his $3 million cap hit, is if Hornqvist stays on long-term injured reserve.
At least how things stand right now.
“One of the advantages to having him injured while Patric Hornqvist is out is that is who he trains with right now,’’ Maurice said. “(Duclair) thinks he is going to come back in the best shape of his career based on working with Patric.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT BUFFALO SABRES
- When: Monday, 1 p.m.
- Where: KeyBank Arena, Buffalo
- 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 1-0): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Buffalo leads 52-47-5, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at Toronto, 7 p.m.