- Scott Powers, Reporter
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks are closer to having a healthy roster of skaters again.
Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell, the team’s lone forward or defenseman still injured, could return to practicing with the team as early as Friday, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. Bickell has missed the past 11 games with a lower-body injury.
“He’s made good progress,” Quenneville said prior to Wednesday’s game with the Philadelphia Flyers. “He could join practice on that Friday.”
Quenneville hasn’t had a healthy roster of forwards and defensemen to utilize since the Blackhawks added forward Kris Versteeg to the mix on Nov. 14. Injuries have kept Bickell, Michal Handzus, Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa and Mike Kostka out of the team’s lineup at various points since then.
Kostka was the last player to return from injury, and he came back on Tuesday and contributed a goal and an assist in the Blackhawks’ 6-2 win over the Dallas Stars.
“It’s great depth,” Quenneville said. “Game in and game out, the guy that comes in that spot has been very effective for us. Whether you call it the third pairing or whatever it is, we’re getting consistency across the board. Our defense has been a big part of our team and our success. That just doesn’t change much who takes that spot. We look for that guy to come in and make a difference.”
Bickell’s return could bolster the league’s best offense, which is averaging 3.58 goals per game. Bickell got off to a slow start with five goals and one assist in 22 games this season, but he is expected to turn it on at some point this season and resemble the player he was in the playoffs last season. He had nine goals and eight assists in 23 playoff games last season and was given a four-year, $16 million contract in the offseason.
The one area where the Blackhawks are still dealing with injuries is at goaltender. Nikolai Khabibulin hasn’t played since Nov. 16 due to a lower-body injury, and there is no timetable for him to return. The Blackhawks also expect to be without goaltender Corey Crawford for about three weeks after he suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday. Kent Simpson serves as Antti Raanta’s backup.