Earlier this morning, Penguins’ center Jordan Staal announced to the press that he will make his season debut tonight, in the Winter Classic, at 8 p.m.
"I feel ready and I feel ready to go, which I think is the same thing," said Staal, who has fully recovered from a broken hand. "So it’s kind of funny how it falls (into place), me being ready for this game (the Winter Classic). It’s very exciting and I’m very happy to be back in the lineup."
With his return to the lineup, Staal will apparently spend much of the game skating with the fourth line, while occasionally getting some ice time with Evgeni Malkin on his wing.
Staal is expected to start the game on the fourth line, but Bylsma said that he will see some action with Evgeni Malkin on his wing.
"He will play on a line with Geno for parts of the game," Bylsma said.
Much of the season has been a hard luck affair for Staal, who has yet to suit up for the Penguins due to a myriad of injuries.
In the off-season, Staal had surgery on a tendon in his right foot, injured during the 2010 playoffs. Later on, in the summer, the foot became infected, forcing another surgery for Staal that caused him to miss the start of the season.
Staal had returned to Penguins practices in late October, but soon after he resumed skating with the team, Staal suffered a broken hand due in to an errant shot. The injury to his hand has kept Staal out of the lineup for nearly two months now.
This is the first time that Staal, typically a durable player, has had an extended absence from the rink during his professional career. In his first four seasons, Staal had missed a total of one regular season game for the Penguins, that game taking place during his rookie year. This year, Staal has been relegated to the press box for 39 games.
There are questions, however, as to whether Staal is really ready to join the lineup. Recent episodes of HBO 24/7 made it abundantly clear that the 22-year-old native of Thunder Bay, Ontario desperately hoped to return to the lineup in time for the Winter Classic. With everything seeming to come to a resolution today, fans could be reasonably worried as to whether Staal is physically ready for action. Dan Bylsma quickly dismissed such worries.
"Jordan is healed and every doctor will tell you his hand is good to go," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "It’s just a confidence issue getting back in the lineup for his first time out there. We’re all going to see that tonight."
After all that has happened during a brutal 2010, things may be starting to look up for Staal in 2011.
"Now that it’s finally here, it doesn’t even really seem real yet," Staal said. "I know as soon as I get out on that ice and play a couple shifts, it’ll really sink in. It gives me chills now, and I’m really excited for it."