Faced with a direct question about whether Ryan Callahan would return to the Rangers lineup Monday night barring a setback in his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery, head coach Alain Vigneault did not mince his words.
"Yes, that's right on," Vigneault responded with a smile following practice in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon.
"If it would have been up to him he would've played (Thursday), but this gives him almost an extra four days, including two days of contact in practice," explained Vigneault. "He's ready to go, he's cleared to play."
Callahan skated on a line with Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt during practice Friday, raising speculation that his return was imminent. Rookie Jesper Fast moved from that line and took turns with the fourth line to make room for the Rangers captain, who had off-season surgery to repair the labrum in his shoulder.
"When I am coming back I am going to be 100 percent," Callahan told reporters after practice, without divulging whether or not he thought he'd play in Monday night's game against the Kings. "Right now I feel good. The contact the last couple of days has gone good. I'm sure I have to be cleared one more time (by doctors) so that they give me the A-OK, but as long as everything continues to go good we'll keep our fingers crossed."
Vigneault stated that his preference is to bring Callahan back slowly, not forcing him into a top six role up front until he is more in game shape---unlike Derek Stepan who played 19 minutes in his first game action on Thursday against the Coyotes.
"We're going to have to play these guys in to game shape," explained the head coach. "If I could've been more fair to Step I probably would have started him a little bit like I am doing with Cally, not in as much of an offensive role."
The top two lines remained intact Friday at practice, with Stepan centering Rick Nash and Brad Richards, and Derick Brassard between Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello. Stepan, who agreed to terms with the team on a new contract eight days ago, earned a secondary assist on Marc Staal's goal in the second period in Phoenix.