Just a week after he had been cleared for contact for the first time since training camp in late September, Clarke MacArthur was fully engaged in Senators practice on Tuesday morning.
MacArthur took his turn in the rushes, skated up and down the ice during the 3-on-3 drills and stood his ground in a few battles along the boards. This was the most real it’s been for the 31-year-old since taking the devastating hit from prospect Patrick Sieloff.
“It’s one thing to watch,” said MacArthur after practice. “And then it’s another thing be out there and trying to figure it out as the play goes. It was a good first day, though. I feel pretty good; a little tired right now, but it was nice to get back out and get hit around a little bit.”
After two and a half months off, allowing his head to return to a comfortable state, he says the little contact he’s faced so far hasn’t bothered him yet. Now, the high intensity practices are a different story.
“After today, I think I’m looking at March 1,” MacArthur joked. “If everything goes the way I want it to, it’ll be the same time frame. Today was the first day of really getting into it and I can feel that I’ve got a lot to do here.
“There’s one thing to skate and there’s another to battle and be down in the corners. The next two weeks I’ll make big gains on that hopefully. It’s nice to get back out and battle, though.”
With MacArthur on pace to return in early January, he’s got a lot to catch up on. Guy Boucher’s system isn’t one that a player can simply jump into at a moment’s notice. The head coach gave him a pass during Tuesday’s practice when he improperly defended a neutral zone rush, but those sort of gaffs should be fixed within a couple weeks.
As for where he fits in when the time comes, the veteran winger’s presence in the top nine would be greatly valued.
With Bobby Ryan, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith and Tom Pyatt combining for seven goals in the last 25 games, the Senators’ offensively driven lines would benefit from a naturally talented forward. Ottawa currently sit 24th in the league with 2.31 goals for per game.
The most important test MacArthur has in front of him is no doubt the neuropsychological assessment he must complete before making a return, but a close second may be simply preparing himself for what’s to come in his first game back.
No one wants to be the guy that hits him too hard, so maybe the Lloydminster, Alberta native has some convincing to do when it comes to the friendly fire he’s going to need in order to feel ready for the real thing.
“I think everyone’s just going along with it for the first week or to to just let me gets some bumps and stuff,” said MacArthur. “Once they see me out there and I’m there for the next couple weeks and hitting and everything, I think that part of it will go away and people will naturally start hitting me.”
Presumably the most contact he’s been a part of since his return to practicing with the team, MacArthur and Kyle Turris paired up for a decent battle in the corner during a 1-on-1 drill. Turris went over after to give his teammate a tap, perhaps recognizing the progress that had been made.
“That was a good little down low (battle) where we’re both kind of wrestling for it,” said MacArthur.
“When you’ve got to protect the puck, you don’t know if you’ve got a guy like Boro or you’ve got someone who comes and closes quicker and harder. There’s certain guys that I’ve got to be ready for when you get into a game. There’s guys that play a lot harder than others. Today was good, though. I got some light bumps from everyone, so that was a good start.”
There are still a number of hurdles in his way before MacArthur takes the ice for his first game since October 15, 2015, but so far, so good.