ARIZONA COYOTES

Tocchet: Derek Stepan’s return for Coyotes is ‘very close’

Mar 20, 2019, 5:11 PM

Arizona Coyotes' Derek Stepan celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL ho...

Arizona Coyotes' Derek Stepan celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan was ruled out 4-6 weeks on March 1 because of a left knee injury. To no surprise, he appears to have pushed that timeline forward after practicing for a few days.

“I would say he’s very, very close,” head coach Rick Tocchet said Wednesday. “He’s days from going. He’s done a great job in the rehab part so hopefully here in the (near) future he’s going to be in the lineup.”

After a Thursday clash with the Panthers, the Coyotes play in New Jersey on Saturday and at the New York Islanders on Sunday. Tocchet told the Coyotes’ Dave Vest a return on the weekend is more likely than on Thursday.

On Feb. 28 in the third period against the Vancouver Canucks, Stepan suffered a left knee injury that did not appear to be due to contact.

Stepan plays over 19 minutes of average ice time a night, the top number for any Coyotes forward and is joined by only Clayton Keller as the only other forward averaging at least 17.

A focal point of the team, Stepan has played a top-six role all season. His 32 points are fifth on the team and his three shorthanded goals are tied for second.

The return of Stepan would be humongous for the Coyotes, as they are in the middle of a playoff race. Prior to Thursday’s action, Arizona was one point ahead of the Minnesota Wild for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

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Tocchet: Derek Stepan’s return for Coyotes is ‘very close’