VANCOUVER – Alex Edler wasted little time getting physically involved in his return to the Vancouver Canucks lineup after back surgery forced a long, frustrating layoff.
The rangy Canuck defenceman dealt out a solid hit on his first shift Thursday night in Vancouver’s 5-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
“It was good to get the answer that I can take hits and give some hits,” said Edler, who missed 31 games. “That’s things you only know when you play a game, but it felt good.
“You always want to get involved physically and if I get the opportunity to get a hit, I’ll try to take it.”
He was credited with a game-high four hits against the Wild.
Edler’s physical game blossomed in last year’s playoffs and he stood out in the Canucks’six-game, second-round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Not only does Edler bring his six-foot-three, 215-pound frame to the Canuck blue-line just in time for this post-season, his heavy, hard shot will return to an already potent power play.
Now in his fifth campaign with the Canucks, the boyish-looking Edler, who turns 24 on April 21, averages more than 24 minutes a game.
He hit a season-high 29 minutes 44 seconds on Jan. 20 against the San Jose Sharks, just before his surgery.
On Thursday, he played 19 minutes with time on both the power play and penalty kill but didn’t add to his season totals of eight goals and 32 points in 50 games.
“Before he was injured he was our best defenceman,” said coach Alain Vigneault.
“He was on our first power-play unit, killed a lot of penalties, blocked a lot of shots, plays tons of minutes … a pretty important player that we were without for over a couple of months and we’re real happy to have him back.”
Kevin Bieksa, another of Vancouver’s defence corps returning for the playoffs after recovering from a broken foot, said he liked Edler’s physical game.
“It looked like he felt strong on his feet,” said Bieksa, second among the NHL’s plus-minus leaders. “He was back to his old self, shooting the puck and it was nice to see.”
The Canucks have a chance to dress their top-six defencemen for the first time when they close out their regular season Saturday in Calgary against the Flames.
Dan Hamhuis missed his fifth game with a concussion Thursday night but skated with the team earlier in the day.
Vigneault all but pencilled him in the lineup against Calgary by saying after Thursday’s win that he intended to dress seven defencemen against the Flames.
Edler said he found the layoff frustrating, as the Canucks captured division and conference titles then claimed the regular-season points championship.
“But when I started skating (three weeks ago) that’s when I really started wanting to get back,”Edler said. “The last little while’s been the hardest, especially not practising with the team.”
Even with his lengthy absence, Edler won’t lead the Canucks in missed games this season. That title goes to Sami Salo, who sat out the first 55 with a torn Achilles tendon suffered in off-season conditioning.
Keith Ballard was out seven games with a knee injury after missing 11 other games earlier in the season. A concussion kept Christian Ehrhoff out three games.
Meanwhile Andrew Alberts, who was added for depth at last season’s trade deadline, missed his 24th game with a wrist injury and is unlikely to return before the playoffs.
Even Aaron Rome, who has seen yeoman service playing 55 games as a fill-in, missed eight games with a knee sprain.