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Cedric Paquette nears return, hoping bad luck behind him

By Joe Smith

Lightning center Cedric Paquette said he's thought about it a lot lately.

Just when will luck finally be on his side, the 24-year-old having missed a combined 65 games the past three seasons due to injuries. Paquette, sidelined since mid-October, will miss his 10th straight game today in San Jose, but will likely return on this California trip.

"Hopefully it's behind me after this one," Paquette said. "And I can be healthy and be back to myself again."

When Paquette is at his best, he's a relentless, gritty forward, who is a key cog in the bottom-six and on the penalty kill. He gets under opponents' skin, plays with an edge.

But it's been difficult for Paquette to stay in the lineup, as he's seemingly been a magnet for the puck. His latest undisclosed injury, suffered Oct. 9 against Washington, came at a time Paquette was playing some of his best hockey, on a line with Gabriel Dumont and Chris Kunitz.

"I thought, at the beginning of the season, I played pretty much like I did three years ago in my first year," Paquette said. "It's been tougher this year than last year, the year before, tough mentally. But what can you do, right?"

This is a big season for Paquette, who is schedule to be a restricted free agent next summer. With a deep pool of prospects ready to jump into a bottom-six role in the NHL, Paquette is playing for his spot in the lineup, and with the organization, next year.

"It's tough to get injured at this point," Paquette said. "But it's part of the game."

More from morning skate: G Andrei Vasilevskiy will start for the Lightning, with backup Peter Budaj likely getting the nod Thursday against his former team, the Kings… D Slater Koekkoek will be in the lineup, replacing Andrej Sustr as the seventh defenseman. F Gabriel Dumont is scratched, with J.T. Brown still in.. Paquette is not ready to return… The Lightning is preparing to face a red-hot Sharks team that has won three straight and been very stingy in doing so (G Martin Jones was the NHL's third star of the week). "This will be the biggest test of the year for us," coach Jon Cooper said. "This trip."