Boston Bruins star defenseman Charlie McAvoy is hopeful to return to their lineup soon as he works back from a complex shoulder injury that required offseason surgery.
McAvoy returned to practice last week and was on the ice for a lengthy skating session at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, ahead of Boston's game with the New York Rangers.
"This is his first week getting back into a rhythm with us," Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said. "We're just hopeful with him. No updated timeline. We have an internal process with him. He's ahead of that Dec. 1 date, but we don't know exactly. There are boxes to be checked."
McAvoy, 24, is considered one of the NHL's top defensemen. He had 56 points in 70 games last season, leading the Bruins with 24:38 average ice time per game.
McAvoy said he has reached the point of full contact in practice, as he and team doctors check the boxes for his eventual return to the lineup.
"Now we're in the phase of strengthening. That's the biggest thing. It's about supporting those muscles around [the shoulder] and getting to a spot where you feel like you can give and take contact for long periods of times," he said.
McAvoy underwent a left shoulder arthroscopic stabilization on June 3. The expected recovery time was approximately six months.
McAvoy suffered the injury in Game 6 of the first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was checked against the boards and his arm went numb. He played in Game 7, but it lingered after the Bruins' loss. McAvoy underwent an MRI, was advised to get the surgery done and said he "wasn't thrilled" to hear the shoulder injury was a complex one.
"I played, you know? We kind of threw the kitchen sink at it to get it to feel good. So you play, get through it, and I was like, 'Oh, you know what? Must be fine.' Like, I felt strong and I did everything," he said. "Then you get the imaging done, and I really didn't have much of a choice, [considering] longevity and quality of life with an injury. I had to just get it fixed."
McAvoy said he reached out to other players who underwent the surgery.
"[They told me] it freaking sucks," he said. "The overall theme that everyone's told me is to be patient. It's a weird injury. Mine was pretty complex and it's not a one-size-fits all, like some injuries. This one really is different for everybody. So sometimes you need extra time. Not fun to deal with, but I'm lucky about the people that I work with."
Both McAvoy and star winger Brad Marchand missed the first few weeks of the regular season with injury, but Boston didn't suffer without them. The Bruins' 9-1-0 record is the best start in franchise history through 10 games.
Besides sharing in those victories, McAvoy said he has missed the chance to bond with Montgomery, the new coach. The two spoke during the offseason and attended a Red Sox game with their families. But McAvoy has been away from the Bruins' main group at practice until recently.
"A lot of people are like, 'Hey, how's Coach?' Like, he's doing a hell of a job, so he must be great," said McAvoy, laughing. "But, you know, it stinks. I've just been on my own for a while. But all the coaches, him included, do a really good job of keeping you involved, checking up on you."