Published Monday, April 10, 2023 | 11:22 a.m.
Updated 9 hours, 5 minutes ago
Mark Stone is back.
The Golden Knights’ captain was a noncontact participant at practice on Monday, just two months removed from his second back surgery in less than a year.
“Good sign,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He looked good. We’ll see how he responds to it tomorrow, but it’s good to have him around.”
Stone started light skating last week as part of his rehab process.
Cassidy did not have a timetable for Stone’s return to play but said he didn’t expect him to be in the lineup Tuesday against the Seattle Kraken (7 p.m., ATTSN-RM).
“I’ve always said once he’s with the group, at least you have hope,” Cassidy said. “To be around the guys again has to be good for him mentally.”
The timing comes at a good, if complicated, time for the Golden Knights.
Stone had his procedure on Jan. 31, eight months after having a lumbar discectomy in May. He returned in time for training camp and was in the midst of the best season of his career with 38 points in 42 games.
Vegas placed Stone on long-term injured reserve on Feb. 20, freeing up $7.25 million in salary cap relief. That allowed the Golden Knights to acquire forwards Teddy Blueger and Ivan Barbashev and goalie Jonathan Quick prior to the March 3 trade deadline.
There are no salary cap implications once the postseason begins, meaning Stone could be activated before Game 1 of the Golden Knights’ first-round series.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin one week from today. Vegas can clinch its third Pacific Division title in six years Tuesday if it beats Seattle and the Edmonton Oilers lose to the Colorado Avalanche.
“Great to see him,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said of Stone. “I’m sure he’s probably pretty happy just to be back with the group.”
Stone’s presumptive return would be a boost to the Golden Knights in a wide-open Western Conference. The top six teams in the conference are each over 100 points, and Seattle can become the seventh should it win in Arizona tonight.
While Stone’s offensive numbers were approaching a career best, he was also on pace to have one of the best defensive seasons of his career. The two-time Selke Trophy finalist — the award given to the best defensive forward in the league — had 47 takeaways before he went to the injured list, which was tops for the team.
His 47 takeaways remain third most on the team.
It’s still undecided whom Vegas will play in the first round. If the season ended today, it would be a rematch of the 2018 Western Conference Final against the Winnipeg Jets.
Not that it would matter who the Golden Knights’ opponent is, but the chances of getting the Winnipeg native Stone back before the playoffs just got greater.
“It’s great to have him on the ice in whatever capacity. He’s a key contributor to this team. He’s helped us gain so much success,” forward Reilly Smith said. “If he’s able to come back and help us out, that would be huge.”
Eichel, Whitecloud out
The Golden Knights will be without center Jack Eichel and defenseman Zach Whitecloud for their home finale Tuesday, Cassidy said.
Eichel didn’t play in the 2-1 shootout loss to Dallas on Saturday due to a minor lower-body injury.
Cassidy was optimistic that Whitecloud’s injury isn’t as serious as expected. Stars forward Roope Hintz fell on Whitecloud’s leg in the third period Saturday, and Whitecloud had to be helped off the ice.
Vegas recalled defenseman Kaedan Korczak from Henderson prior to practice. He or Brayden Pachal will replace Whitecloud in the lineup.
All four goalies were accounted for with Logan Thompson, Adin Hill, Laurent Brossoit and Jonathan Quick practicing in some capacity.
Hill returned after a quick conditioning stint with the Silver Knights. He played two periods in Henderson’s 4-3 win over Bakersfield on Friday, making 18 saves. Hill won five of seven starts as Vegas’ No. 1 goalie before sustaining an injury that’s kept him out since March 7.
Thompson split reps with Hill as the backup Monday, as the All-Star goalie continues to work his way back from a nagging lower-body injury that’s kept him out for almost the entirety of the second half of the season.
Quick worked separately with goalie coach Sean Burke prior to practice.
Brossoit, who has won his last three starts and has seemingly taken the No. 1 spot for the time being, will start against the Kraken.