Panthers’ Sean Bergenheim practices for first time in 2013

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are closer to seeing Sean Bergenheim in action again.
How much closer, though? No one is quite sure.
Bergenheim took part in his first full practice Monday since returning from Toronto, where he rehabbed a pair of core injuries.
“It was crucial,” Bergenheim said of his week-long trip to Canada. “We really did some stuff there that seemed to get me very closer to playing.”
The winger initially skated as one of Florida’s roster extras, donning a light blue jersey. By the end of practice, he was taking part in line drills skating alongside second-line players Scott Gomez and Brad Boyes.
Despite seeing progress, Bergenheim is reluctant to set a timetable for his return. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said the winger has not yet been medically cleared.
“I’m definitely much closer now than I was before Toronto,” Bergenheim said. “We keep on working with the trainers here, who have been unbelievable, the time they have given me. We’re going to continue on that, and I think it’s sooner rather than later.”
Signed as a free agent in 2011, Bergenheim notched a career-high 17 goals in 62 games in his first season with the Panthers. He was crucial in the team’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the New Jersey Devils that postseason, with three goals and three assists in seven games.
During the lockout, Bergenheim appeared in two games with HIFK Helsinki, but was plagued by nagging injuries suffered the previous season. He required separate surgeries to repair a hip ailment and sports hernia. The Finn missed the entire lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
“I’ve been a hockey player the whole time here doing rehab, working far more hours than I would normally be playing,” Bergenheim said. “It’s been extremely tough, the whole road. For a hockey player not to be playing, it’s a pretty bad feeling.”
But despite the occasional setback or hesitation to return, the 29-year-old feels his extended absence will translate into better on-ice results.
“I have no doubt the surgeries that were done, they’re going to make me feel so, so much better,” Bergenheim said. “I can be a far better player than what I was.”
The Panthers, who rank among the bottom third in goals through nine games, could use the offensive boost Bergenheim can provide. But even so, Dineen is not looking too far ahead at having the goal scorer at his disposal.
“We’ll see where is he is [Tuesday],” Dineen said.
Erin Brown can be contacted at @rinkside.