Justin Schultz isn’t making any promises about when he will return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup, but the veteran defenseman said Thursday the decision is his to make.
“It’s up to me (and) when I feel I’m ready to play, I’ll be in,” Schultz said after taking part in an optional practice at UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex. “It’s good to get these skates in and get as much work as I can.”
Schultz hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when he fractured his left leg in a game at Montreal. The expecation was that Schultz would be out four months, and he reached that mark on Wednesday.
Schultz has left open the possibility of playing this weekend when the Penguins play the Calgary Flames and New York Rangers on back-to-back days at PPG Paints Arena.
“It’s having confidence in my leg and feeling like I can go out and make a difference,” Schultz said. “I’m not going to be hesitant out there. The league is too fast nowadays. If you are slow reacting, you are going to get exposed. I’m just making sure I’m ready.”
The good thing for Schultz and the Penguins is that 25 games remain in the season, so there’s no reason to rush him back into the lieup.
“It’s not the playoffs yet, but I’ve missed I don’t know how many games now,” Schultz said. “I want to get in as quick as I can when I feel ready and try to get into things. It will be a tough first couple of games, so the quicker I get back, the better.”
With Schultz out and Olli Maatta being sidelined indefinitely after taking an upper-body hit Monday in Philadelphia, Chad Ruhwedel was in the lineup Wednesday against Edmonton for the first time since Nov. 19.
Ruhwedel played on a pairing with Marcus Pettersson and logged 19 minutes, 45 seconds of ice time. He had four hits and four blocked shots in his return, which may be short-lived depending on Schultz’s availability.
“He stepped up and played solid for us,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “He’s such a good skating defenseman, he can read the plays. It was good to see him step in, and he played huge for us.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.