BRANDON — D Paul Ranger said he isn't worried about taking a hit on his surgically repaired right shoulder. He said he tested it Tuesday at the Ice Sports Forum with some hits in the corners.
"It feels comfortable," said Ranger, who has been cleared to play Thursday against the Islanders. "I feel ready to go."
That is good news for a Lightning blue line that has been inconsistent generally and sluggish in the transition game.
Ranger's return should help on both counts. Coach Barry Melrose called Ranger the team's best defenseman. And Ranger always has had one of the league's best first passes out of the defensive zone.
"He's a big body that can skate," Melrose said. "He has a great shot from the point and he's a great passer."
Ranger, 24, has not played since an April arthroscopic procedure to repair a torn labrum. He flew to Birmingham, Ala., Monday to get clearance from noted orthopedist James Andrews, who did the operation.
Melrose said he ultimately wants to play Ranger about 25 minutes a game but likely will limit him to 15-20 minutes against New York.
"He's not going to be 100 percent, but he's going to be in great shape," Melrose said. "He's worked very hard, but no matter how much you practice, the game happens so fast, that will be the difference for him."
Ranger, who last season had career highs of 10 goals and 31 points in 72 games, said he is not worried.
"I felt I battled really hard in practice, and it feels pretty good," Ranger said, and added, "I can't wait to get back in there."
ROSTER WATCH: Adding Ranger will bring Tampa Bay to the 23-player limit.
The team will have some decisions to make when C Ryan Craig (groin) is ready to come off injured reserve and if, as expected, D Marek Malik is signed.
SPEAKING OF MALIK: The defenseman is expected in Tampa on Thursday night, and if he passes a physical he will begin working out with the team.
Malik, a 12-year veteran, could play as quickly as Tuesday against the Thrashers, though a more likely target is Oct. 25 against the Sharks.
Adding Malik will give the Lightning eight defensemen. It is unclear if the team will trim that to seven or stick with eight and make reductions at forward.
ODDS AND ENDS: G Mike Smith entered Tuesday sixth in the league with a .931 save percentage. … Melrose will be featured on Inside the Lightning at 10:30 p.m. Thursday on Sun Sports.