Exactly 10 weeks after he underwent surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, Erik Karlsson will return to the Ottawa Senators lineup against the Washington Capitals.
“I’m in tonight,” Karlsson confirmed to reporters Thursday afternoon. “Been feeling good lately and I think it’s time to start playing hockey again.”
Karlsson’s return to the lineup is shocking, as most experts assumed he would miss at least four months after suffering a 70 per cent cut to his Achilles tendon on Feb. 13. While some are suggesting that he is putting himself at risk by returning so quickly, the reigning Norris Trophy winner says he cannot do any further damage to his leg.
“I don’t think I’m rushing it. The last couple of weeks have been really good and it’s been progressing a lot,” added Karlsson. “The scar has been healing as well as we hoped. Right now, it’s good enough to skate as well as almost everyone else.”
In the past few days, Karlsson has admitted that his leg feels awkward when he skates — a thought he reiterated on Thursday.
“I think I’m good enough to play. I don’t know exactly what percentage it is. It’s not the way it was before, but it’s still good enough to play hockey and hopefully I’ll show that tonight,” said Karlsson. “For me, it’s all about trying to find the feeling that I had before and get the pace in me. Just try to be focused and play well.”
His teammates admitted to being stunned that Karlsson is ready to return with three games left in the regular season.
“He said the day after it happened, he would be back in two months. We knew that was not possible and we never thought he would be able to come back unless we went really far in the playoffs,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Karlsson will be paired with Marc Methot to start Thursday’s game with the Capitals. The duo was together for the first 14 games of the season before Karlsson’s injury.
“It’s a refreshing sight to see. As you could tell, it brings a lot of energy out of all the guys,” Methot said about being reunited with his partner. “It’s new life in our dressing room. Even with Alfie, you could tell he had a little hop in his step because he’s got his Swedish buddy back.”
Paul MacLean said that he will be mindful to manage Karlsson’s ice time tonight, making sure he’s not overworked in his return. When asked what his expectations were for Karlsson’s first game, he head coach cracked a joke.
“Play 35 minutes and be the first star of the game. Is that too much to ask?,” said MacLean. “Erik has worked hard to be back to be in the lineup. We just want him to come in and be him.”