The Philadelphia Flyers saw a couple of big names return to practice on Tuesday as forward Kevin Hayes and defenseman Ryan Ellis skated with the team.
Ellis, who was acquired from the Nashville Predators during the offseason to become an anchor of the Flyers’ blue line, has only appeared in three of Philadelphia’s opening 10 games this season as he deals with a lower-body issue.
He was plenty productive when he was available, recording a goal and three assists over those three games.
Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault revealed that Ellis could return to the lineup “in the near future” meaning as early as Wednesday night’s clash against the dangerous Toronto Maple Leafs.
Hayes’ estimated time of arrival isn’t as soon, but Vigneault at least provided more of a concrete timeline stating that he could play by next Tuesday at the earliest. That would come at home against a strong Calgary Flames squad that is challenging the red-hot Edmonton Oilers atop the Pacific Division.
The 29-year-old has yet to appear this season for the Flyers as he’s navigated his way through a challenging offseason. He continues to recover from abdominal surgery that he underwent in late September — which provided a timeline for a return of six to eight weeks. But the right-winger has also had to cope with the loss of his older brother and former NHL forward, Jimmy, who passed away in August.
Hayes’ return would bolster the Flyers’ top six as a scorer who has become a 20-goal threat in each of the previous three full seasons.
While the Flyers are sitting in an advantageous position having collected 14 points through their first 10 games — good for fourth in the Metropolitan Division that has seen two of the teams ahead of them play at least two more games — their schedule is about to test their mettle.
Following Wednesday’s matchup against a Maple Leafs team that ranks second in the Atlantic Division, the Flyers meet the Metropolitan-leading Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night in Raleigh.
The Hurricanes are 9-1-0 in their first 10 games having scored the second-most goals in the division while allowing the fewest goals in the entire NHL.
After a meeting with the Dallas Stars, it only gets tougher for Philadelphia as they face the Flames, the defending-champion Tampa Bay Lightning twice, and the 10-1-1 Florida Panthers before hosting the Hurricanes on Nov. 26.
Certainly tough sledding ahead — and one that calls for their most important absent names to be ready to go.