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Amazingly, Manny Malhotra skated with the Canucks today

May 12, 2011, 4:37 PM EDT

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malhotraap AP

While I highly doubt* that he has any chance to return for the playoffs, Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra skated with the team and on his own today. (This link contains brief video footage of Malhotra skating.)

In case you’re wondering, the Canucks lost Malhotra for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs when he was struck in the eye by a puck. The fact that he was skating today doesn’t change that, but it could be a heartening (yet small) step forward in his recovery process.

The Canucks found a way to get to the Western Conference finals without their excellent penalty-killing depth center, but his presence might be missed the most in Round 3. Whether Vancouver’s opponent is the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks, the team’s penalty kill will be pushed to the limit in either situation. The Red Wings and Sharks are also strong squads in the faceoff circle, another area of dominance for Malhotra. (That being said, Ryan Kesler isn’t far behind Malhotra in faceoff winning skills, so they probably won’t get killed in that category either.)

Here are Canucks GM Mike Gillis’ comments on Malhotra’s comeback prospects and the team’s expectations, via Ben Kuzuma of the Vancouver Province.

“I have no answer for that question,” said Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. “Today was about taking the next step in his recovery and he wanted to do some light skating,” said Gillis. “This is just a small step in his recovery. There is no timetable and there’s no schedule with an injury like this. He’s at this point because everything seems to be stable and it’s just another step. We’ve never asked and we’ve never been given a timeline.

“It’s about how he’s recovering. It’s basically day-by-day, week-by-week and month-by-month. We’re optimistic and just holding our breath about his ability to continue to recover. His recovery is the paramount thing and we’ll make decisions along the way and it never entered into our minds about playing, this is about his health. We’re just going to let the process take whatever time it requires.”

No doubt about it, Malhotra is far from ready to return and might not ever have the necessary range of vision to return to NHL competition.

The two most prominent examples of somewhat similar eye injuries happened to Detroit Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman and journeyman offensive defenseman Bryan Berard. Yzerman retired after suffering an eye injury while Berard’s promising young career was greatly altered when Marian Hossa‘s stick accidentally caught him in the eye. Berard improbably played parts of six seasons after that injury, but he never regained the form that made him the first overall pick of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft and the 1996-97 Calder Trophy winner.

It’s possible Malhotra’s career hasn’t turned out the way some expected when he was the No. 7 overall pick of the ’98 draft, but he found a way to make himself an extremely useful NHL player. It would be a real shame to see his career cut short at age 31, but we’ll have to wait and see if he can make a comeback.

Today’s practice was the heartening first step.

* Make that “highly, highly, highly” doubt it.

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