'He knows what he can handle': Toews set to return to action Saturday against Devils

Forget about waiting until next week's road trip for Jonathan Toews' return to game action.

It is coming Saturday when the Blackhawks host the New Jersey Devils in a 7 p.m. start.

"Said he felt good today and he's like, 'Well, it's not gonna be perfect. It's gonna be ugly,' " coach Luke Richardson said after Toews went through a full practice at Fifth Third Arena on Friday. "I said, 'We're a little bit ugly right now, so you'll fit right in.' "

Indeed, the Hawks - while they've looked decent defensively - have managed just 10 goals during their current seven-game losing streak.

No matter how much ice time Toews sees, he ought to provide a boost to an inexperienced squad.

"Just having the captain around will be a good lift for the team," Richardson said. "And I hope for him too. He says he feels a lot better - not perfect - but better. So we'll just go from there."

Toews returned to individual on-ice workouts about 10 days ago and joined the team during Tuesday's morning skate. When he addressed the media in the Fifth Third dressing room Friday he gave no indication that this was a possibility.

But 15 minutes later, Richardson said it's go time.

The first-year head coach was not shocked by how quickly Toews progressed.

"He's such a veteran," Richardson said. "He knows what he can handle and I don't think he would touch it if it was something that he couldn't handle. You trust that about him."

Toews last played during a loss at Edmonton on Jan. 28. He was having a solid season to that point, with 14 goals and 14 assists in 46 games. He's also won a career- and NHL-best 63.3% of his faceoffs.

Toews looked like his old self during parts of practice.

The highlight came when he first scored during a 2-on-1 drill, then proceeded to intercepted a pass when he switched to defense.

A few minutes later, Tyler Johnson scored to give Team Red the victory. As Johnson's mates celebrated along the glass, Toews was waving off the goal, claiming Johnson kicked the puck into the net.

A good-natured mini fracas then broke out, with Mackenzie Entwistle and Andreas Athanasiou engaging in a fake fight for 10 seconds.

"It was fun to be out there for a full practice with the guys," Toews said. "You forget that a little bit when you're on your own page and slugging through every day on your own. It definitely makes it a lot easier when you're with a group again."

Richardson wasn't sure where Toews would slot into the lineup, but knows his captain isn't about to see 20-25 minutes of ice time.

"He knows he's not 25 anymore," Richardson said. "He has to listen to his body, and he does that. Actually, that's why he's had the year that he's had - because it wasn't in a good place and he listened to it and reluctantly shut himself down.

"That kills him to do that. This is probably a good feeling for him to say that he's ready to go."

Said Toews: "There's no doubt, when you've had some time off, you're always excited to get back in there. "I'm going to enjoy being part of this team. And regardless of what game it is, where we are in the standings, what the situation is, it would be nice to be out there with the guys, wearing that sweater.

"I'm just going to enjoy it no matter what."

Assuming all goes well, Toews will play in six more games after Saturday - three on an upcoming road trip to Calgary, Vancouver and Seattle; at home against Minnesota on April 10; at Pittsburgh on April 11; and at home against Philadelphia on April 13.

Along the way, he'll be able to add to his career goal (371), assist (509) and point (880) totals.

Then he'll have to mull over the big question: Is it time to retire? Toews said that - unlike some athletes who have alerted fans and media that the end is coming - he will take some time before making any announcements.

"I don't feel like with what I've been through this year and this past season that I have enough clarity on what that decision will be," Toews said. "I'm just kind of doing my best every day to get healthy and get back into a good place mentally and physically.

"Either that decision will be clear for me this summer, or it'll be a situation where I'm really feeling good and really excited and just really ready to train and prepare to get myself to a place where I can play high-level hockey again and just enjoy the game. ...

"All those things are part of what makes the game really enjoyable for me. It's kind of my own conditions for myself and then we'll see.

"I'm not putting any pressure on myself one way or another."

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