TAMPA — Steven Stamkos said he expected to have some trouble sleeping Wednesday night.
"I'm excited, a little anxious, a little nervous all in one," he said.
That is because the Lightning's star center, after missing 45 games with a broken right tibia, has been cleared to play and will be in the lineup tonight against the Sabres at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"There's going to be some anxiousness and some nerves for sure," Stamkos said. "I'm not going to come in here and expect to be where I was before the injury. That's not realistic."
Stamkos, who was injured Nov. 11 at Boston when he slid into a goalpost and later had a titanium rod inserted into the bone to facilitate healing, said all the tests show the right leg is as stable and as strong as the left.
That's not to say he won't wonder how it will react.
"It's going to be by getting hit, taking a hit, giving a hit. Those are the things that will be going through my mind for sure," Stamkos said. "But after the first couple of shifts, I think it will be fine."
The Lightning, which has lost seven of its past 10 games and is 9-10-1 since Jan. 5, can certainly use Stamkos, a former 60-goal scorer who had 14 goals in 17 games before he was injured.
In those 17 games, Tampa Bay averaged 3.1 goals. In the 45 he missed, it averaged 2.6.
"We feel we made the best acquisition of this trade deadline," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Getting Stammer back in the lineup is going to help us tremendously."
And with Lightning captain Marty St. Louis traded to the Rangers, the locker room will benefit from another strong, confident voice.
Stamkos, an alternate captain, said Wednesday afternoon that no one had approached him about being captain and that "it doesn't really matter right now."
But Stamkos also said he is ready to assume a bigger leadership role.
"I'm going to utilize all the skills Marty has taught me over the years," Stamkos, 24, said. "He's taught me a lot of things, and he's taught a lot of guys a lot of things. We learn from that and get stronger as a team. That's the only way we can get through this."
MINOR MOVES: The Lightning traded minor-league forward Dana Tyrell and defenseman Matt Taormina to the Blue Jackets for minor-league left wings Dalton Smith, 21, and Jonathan Marchessault, 23, who had 14 goals, 41 points in 56 games for AHL Springfield.
Tampa Bay also recalled right wing Richard Panik from AHL Syracuse and reassigned Vlad Namestnikov to the Crunch.