CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Panthers have their captain back.
Ed Jovanovski, who underwent surgery to resurface his hip in late March, came off injured reserve Friday, while Dylan Olsen was placed on IR retroactive to Dec. 31 with a lower-body injury, the team announced.
Jovanovski is expected to be in the Panthers lineup when Florida takes on the Nashville Predators at home Saturday.
"I’m especially proud of Jovo for the effort he has put in," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "No one has worked harder. It’s been a tough road and not many guys have come back from this. We’re really proud of him, the way he’s handled himself and the way he has dedicated himself to coming back. It doesn’t surprise me because of the make-up of the man and the character he has."
It has been a long road to recovery for the 37-year-old, who first started noticing soreness during the 2011-12 season, his first season back with the Panthers.
During the lockout-shortened season, Jovanovski appeared in just six games. He appeared in Florida’s first five games before aggravating the injury on Jan. 29. He explored numerous theraputic treatments during the season.
He attempted to return on March 16, logging a little less than 11 minutes before coming out of the game.
Doctors finally determined the only way to ease the pain was to resurface Jovanovski’s hip. It is believed the defenseman may be the first ice hockey player to successfully come back following such a procedure.
"There’s not much data behind this," Jovanovski said. "But I have the full support of my doctor. He’s very confident my hip, my bone is stronger than it ever was. I’m going to go on that. I don’t have a crystal ball saying what’s going to happen. I know I’ve been positive throughout this and if I keep being positive, that’s all I can ask."
The first-overall pick in 1994, Jovanovski said he never contemplated retirement. Returning to the NHL was always his plan.
"I enjoy coming to the rink. I enjoy the competitive side of it. I enjoy the guys," Jovanovski said. "I think when you get to the latter part of your career, you start thinking of those moments. I’m not ready [to retire]. I love those moments.
"I’m going to have a lot of people questioning what’s going on, what I’m doing. But this is a decision only I can make. This is a decision I made from the get-go that I’m going to do my best to get myself in the best position to succeed and go from there."
Even with the possibility a comeback attempt might not happen due to medical complications, Tallon indicated Jovanovski had the team’s full support in his efforts. Even in rough times when it seemed the Panthers could use a "C" on the ice, there was never a discussion about shifting the captaincy.
"No way," Tallon said. "That’s why we brought him here. He’s a true captain."
Panthers coach Peter Horachek said Jovanovski will be eased back into the lineup. The defenseman might end up with 5-6 minutes per game to start as they see how his body reacts to the pounding of an NHL game.
Jovanovski is fine with that kind of workload. Although he has upped his physical game in practice, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound defenseman admitted there will still be a little hesitation. He doesn’t expect to deliver the punishing checks he became known for in his career right away.
"The hip check is a lost art in this game, you rarely see it," Jovanovski said. "But getting bumped against boards, for sure, I’ll be hesitant a little bit. I’ve shared that with the coach."
Horachek also has yet to decide whether he’ll include Jovanovski as one of the Panthers top six defenseman or use him in lieu of a checking-line forward. Horacheck said he is just happy to have the captain’s presence on the back on the bench, another voice to guide the team’s younger players.
"He’s not going to come in there and be Bobby Orr," Horachek said. "He’s going to come in and his presence is what I am looking for right now. His minutes are going to have to be limited.
"The presence of him, the captain, leader of a team, there’s definitely a certain urgency that’s put in when he’s out there. He passes the puck hard. He does things with more of a purpose and resolve. He does things harder. I think that’s necessary for our team. I think that’s needed for our team."