VANCOUVER – Injured centre Manny Malhotra skated briefly with the Vancouver Canucks during practice Thursday, but team officials quickly dismissed speculation he could return to play during the NHL playoffs.
Malhotra, who has been sidelined with a serious eye injury since March 16, skated by himself for about 20 minutes. He remained when the rest of the Canucks came on the ice and participated in a few drills.
The 30-year-old, who wore a face mask on his helmet, watched the rest of the practice from the bench. He occasionally shouted encouragement to his mates and banged his stick against the boards.
“It was nice to see him on the ice,” said goaltender Roberto Luongo.
“We’re all putting for him. He’s a great guy, a great teammate. It’s not easy what has happened to him. He has been around the team. The boys are happy to have him around and have him part of the group.”
Malhotra skated briefly by himself on Wednesday.
Rick Bowness, Vancouver’s associate coach, said it was good to see Malhotra skating again.
“He did partake in some of the drills,” said Bowness. “I had to give him heck right away because he went offside on one of the simple little warm-up drills.
“Other than that, it was good to see him.”
The Canucks open the NHL Western Conference final on Sunday against either the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks.
Bowness said there is little chance Malhotra will appear in any of the remaining playoff games.
“There is no change in Manny’s status,” said Bowness. “He’s getting a light workout with the guys.
“Nothing has changed. Unless there is a complete miracle there is no chance.”
Malhotra has undergone several surgeries since being hit in the left eye by a puck March 16. The Mississauga, Ont., native was hurt when a pass deflected off the stick of Colorado Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson into his eye.
The Canucks announced March 21 he was lost for the season.
Malhotra had 11 goals and 19 assists in 72 games this season. The defensive specialist centred Vancouver’s third line, took key faceoffs and killed penalties.
He was second in the NHL with a 61.7 per cent faceoff percentage when he was injured.
Malhotra, a former first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers, signed a US$7.5-million, three-year contract as a free agent last summer with the Canucks.
Malhotra has been seen around the team for the last few weeks, usually wearing dark sunglasses. He has travelled with the Canucks, sat in on meetings, and offered advice to players.
“He’s a leader,” said Luongo. “He sees the game from a different perspective than we do.
“It’s key to have that, especially in the playoffs.”
Raffi Torres, who played on a line with Malhotra, said his presence has been welcomed in the dressing room.
“Just having him back in the room is special,” said Torres. “He’s one of those guys you feel better (with) and you want to be around.
“Having him on the ice today was a real treat. It put a lot of smiles on guy’s faces. Having Manny with a smile on his face is good to see again.”