Mike Richards will play in his first NHL game in over nine months tonight when the Washington Capitals visit the Buffalo Sabres.
During the Capitals’ morning skate at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, Richards centered the team’s fourth line with Zach Sill and Michael Latta.
In addition to his fourth line duties, Richards said he expects to see some time on the Capitals penalty kill.
"You've got to earn your spot, earn your position," he said. "That's how it should be. That's how it is on every team. Doesn't matter who is coming in, you have to earn your position and earn your ice time and that's pretty much it."
With Richards in the lineup, Brooks Laich is expected to be a healthy scratch for just the third time in his career.
Laich has just one goal and four assists in 43 games this season while averaging 10:51 in ice time a night.
Richards, who signed a pro-rated $1 million contract with Washington on Jan. 6, last appeared in an NHL game with the L.A. Kings on April 9, 2015.
"Probably the toughest thing was just watching," said Richards. "You're used to playing. You've got that competitive nature in you that comes out and you want to be out there. That was probably the toughest part."
The 30-year-old had a difficult 2015.
Last January the Kings placed him on waivers after he recorded just five goals and 10 assists in 47 games. Richards finished the 2014-15 season with a career-low 16 points in 53 games.
Then in June he was stopped at a Canadian border, and eventually charged with possession of a controlled substance. The charges led the Kings to terminate Richards’ contract, which had five years and $22 million remaining.
In October, the Kings and Richards reached a settlement over the terminated contract, which keeps the forward on the books in L.A. until the 2031-32 season.
During his four seasons in L.A., Richards appeared in 257 games regular season games scoring 46 goals and 133 points. He won Stanley Cups with the Kings in 2012 and 2014.
"Just taking being in the NHL for granted," Richards said of what he's learned during his time away. "You go through the grind of 10 years, injuries and what not - probably lots of hockey in there too with the amount of games that we've played in the past with the playoffs and stuff so I think you take that for granted.
"That's the biggest thing that is a surprise - it's almost like 'yeah it'd be nice to have maybe a little bit of a break', but when the break comes, that's a forced one and not one that you just take off, it's a little bit different."
Tonight marks the third and final meeting this season between the Capitals and Sabres. Washington, who enters the game riding a five-game win streak, has won both previous meetings.