Flames prospect Jakob Pelletier nearing return, but a little patience needed

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Jakob Pelletier is most of the way back.

But there’s still a ways to go before anyone should expect to see him skating in a game with the Calgary Flames.

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It’s certainly a matter of weeks, not days.

While Pelletier returned to practice with the Calgary Wranglers early last week following three-plus months of recovery from a shoulder injury suffered during a Flames pre-season game against the Seattle Kraken, the organization isn’t rushing him into game action.

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Pelletier didn’t travel with the Wranglers for this weekend’s road games against the Coachella Valley Thunderbirds and Bakersfield Condors.

The 22-year-old has been cleared for contact, but after an extended period on the sidelines, he still has to get his conditioning back to where it needs to be and overcome the mental hurdles that are inevitable when a player is returning from a major injury.

“The big thing for me with the trainers and everything … was, ‘You’re good to practise, you’re good to hit.’ But for a game, it’s going to be on us to tell if we’re good to go 100%,” Pelletier explained. “I think most of it is in your head. I don’t want to be scared and go on the ice and be scared to play, because the type of player I am, I don’t think it’s going to be good for me if I’m scared at all.”

Expectations were high for Pelletier coming into the season and there’s still plenty of time for the 5-foot-9 winger to make an impact.

It’s just going to take time.

Pelletier was going to make the Flames’ opening-night roster. That was confirmed by head coach Ryan Huska shortly after the team announced that the winger would require surgery following an awkward collision with the Kraken’s Marian Studenic.

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Since then, it has been a long road back.

Pelletier had surgery at a clinic in Vail, Col., returned about eight weeks later for a checkup and was cleared to skate.

Then, last week, he got the green light to participate in full practices with the Wranglers.

It hasn’t been an easy couple months for a guy who made his first strides as an NHL player last season, playing in 24 games and picking up three goals and four assists.

He had worked all summer and was ready to pick up right where he left off.

And then … Pelletier had a lot of time to focus on recovery.

He skated with Kevin Rooney and Jeremie Poirier, who are also dealing with long-term injuries. They watched Flames games together and came to the Saddledome to cheer on the Wranglers, too.

But otherwise, there wasn’t always all that much to do.

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“It’s been hard,” Pelletier admitted. “First time in my life where I couldn’t skate for two and a half months. First time in my life I was injured for a big part of time.

“It’s a thing where as a pro you have to learn and have to use that time wisely and then when you’re going to come back you need to be 100% to be a game-changer, whether it’s for the Wranglers or the Flames.”

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So what exactly has to happen now for Pelletier to get back into a game? With reports suggesting that Flames winger Martin Pospisil might be out until after the all-star break because of an injury suffered in Thursday night’s loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, fans might be wondering if that isn’t a spot on the roster that Pelletier could fill.

A little patience will be required, though.

It’s possible that Pelletier could return to game action for the Wranglers late next week, but it could take a little longer than that.

Again, the Wranglers and Flames won’t rush him. This slow build to a return is part of the process.

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“I think the big part is they’re healed, now we’ve just got to make sure they’re mentally OK,” Wranglers head coach Trent Cull said. “It’s a confidence thing, everyone’s gone through that before where you’ve had an injury and you’re working your way back, so you have to make sure that you have confidence in your head with it.

“Once you do, all of a sudden that kind of eliminates things in your brain and you just go out and start playing the game.”

Every day, Pelletier is getting closer to a return.

It might not be this weekend, but it will happen sooner rather than later.

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