NASHVILLE — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman returned to practice Monday with no limitations, a good indication he'll be ready to return to the lineup tonight against the Predators.
Hedman has been sidelined since sustaining a head injury Thursday against Dallas, after his head slammed into the boards on a hit by Jamie Benn. But Hedman skated Sunday and fully participated in Monday's practice. The Lightning is encouraged that it wasn't worse. Hedman has had two previous documented concussions since arriving in the NHL in 2008.
"It's not the first time it's happened," Hedman said. "I've been here for seven years; I've been through it a couple times before. I know how I feel when I'm normal."
Benn's hit was a clean shoulder check with five minutes left in the second period. Hedman shouldered some blame, saying he should have kept his head up on the "bang-bang" play.
"I didn't see him," Hedman said. "I lost track of the puck, tried to get back in position and I had my eyes down on the ice and didn't see him coming. He's not a dirty player; he's a hard-working player, a physical player. I admire the way he plays. He finished the check."
Hedman was attended to by head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan and went through the concussion protocol in the dressing room.
"There was concern," Hedman said. "But at the same time, with the new technology and new helmets, you know you're pretty safe."
Associate coach Rick Bowness knew Hedman would be fine after looking into his eyes Saturday night.
"You look at those guys who are suffering from concussions, it's sometimes a little bit cloudy in there," Bowness said. "But Victor, his eyes were alive and bright, and you figure he'd be back by Tuesday. Fortunately it wasn't that severe."
The Lightning felt confident enough that it reassigned defenseman Slater Koekkoek back to AHL Syracuse on Sunday. Nikita Nesterov still has one game left on his suspension, so Hedman is just one of six active defensemen on Tampa Bay's roster.
Getting Hedman, a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman, back is a big boost before a four-game trip.
"We all know what a big part of our hockey club he is," Bowness said. "We missed him drastically on Saturday (in a 2-1 win over Buffalo). It's nice we can win games without him, but we certainly need him in our lineup."