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Justin Schultz returns to the ice

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The news is nothing but good these days for the Pittsburgh Penguins

NHL: Preseason-Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had to navigate basically the entire season without one of their best and most important defensemen when Justin Schultz was dropped with a broken leg in the beginning of the fourth game of the season back on October 13. He’s obviously been out for the 37 games to follow.

But some progress has been made, and his course of recovery has been charted a bit by coach Mike Sullivan at a post-practice press conference on Friday. When asked if Schultz had returned to skate on his own at all, Sullivan was tepid, but hopeful in his response.

“It has not happened to this point, but we do anticipate it happening soon and certainly that’s a big step for him.”

“He’s a real good player for us. We’ve got him sitting in all our meetings to try and keep him in the loop as much as we can. We’re all anxious to get him back on the ice. We’re certainly a better team with him in the lineup.”

It’s always a positive when an injured player is involved with power play and defensive meetings, as NHL teams usually keep rehabbing players separate from the team’s focus on the players that they do have available at the time.

The initial timeline was a four-month injury, and Schultz was almost immediately taken to surgery to repair his leg, which left him wheelchair bound for a short amount of time. It was suffered coming up on three months ago, so for him to advance to the point of being ready to get back out on the ice in some capacity is a great sign that he should be getting closer to a return.

It stands to reason Schultz will need a bit of time to work back into ice readiness conditioning wise and receive a final medical clearance to rejoin the lineup, but the quicker he’s able to get back on the ice, the quicker he will likely be back for games to offer Pittsburgh a second right-hand defenseman option, and probably their best skater and puck mover on the blue line other than Kris Letang.

For a team that loves to add to the lineup this time of year via a trade, the addition of Schultz from the injured reserve is the best of all worlds. It should improve the team, and it won’t cost any asset to do so. It remains to be seen if the Penguins decide to use any of their trading capital to improve in other areas, but one would think the impending return by Schultz ought to take care of any and all needs defensively on what already is a crowded blue line. It lacks right-handed options and can always use a puck mover, so it will be a happy return when Schultz is able to get all the way back. The Penguins sound excited that he is continuing to make progress.

UPDATE: Schultz skated on his own before practice on Saturday.