Five weeks after sustaining an upper body injury in a fight against Jordin Tootoo on opening night, Nashville Predators defenseman Anthony Bitetto could return to the lineup tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.
Bitetto participated in morning skate after being called up from a two-game rehab assignment with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin also participated in morning skate, so it’s unclear what role Bitetto might have tonight.
While he feels like he’s ready to go, Bitetto knows he will have to battle hard to make the lineup, especially considering how the defense pairings have come together.
“I think I’ve got to do what I was doing,” he said. “I think I had a good training camp for sure, but that’s just training camp. I think you have to have a good day and have that mindset that you have to earn your spot every single time you’re on the ice. I think that’s my mindset going forward when I get the opportunity to be back, and I think I’ll try to make the best of it and get better each game that I continue to play in.”
The defensemen that have played in his absence might make it difficult for him to crack the lineup again. Irwin and Weber have played very well over the past few weeks. Weber has a plus-seven rating through 18 games, while Irwin has three goals and two assists in 13 games.
Head coach Peter Laviolette said he sent Bitetto to Milwaukee as a warmup after spending so much time out.
“[Bitetto] went down just for a few games, just wanted him to play some games,” he said after morning skate. “He was really good for us before the injury, he’s been out for awhile. For a young player, it’s good to get down and get your game and confidence, play 20 minutes, he had an excellent showing in both games. It’s time for him to come back, so it’s good.”
Bitetto said the time in Milwaukee did the trick in getting him game-ready.
“I was kind of frustrated [after the injury], but it’s been a positive five weeks, getting back and getting back in shape and getting my injury better,” Bitetto said. “I think the biggest thing for me was going down to Milwaukee and playing those two games, it’s huge. I really think that was a key point. The games went well. Obviously, in the first game, your head’s thinking a little much, kinda everywhere but it was definitely good for me to go down there.”
As for his role tonight, Laviolette said he won’t need to ease him back in if he gets the chance to play, considering how much he got to play in Milwaukee. Off the ice, Bitetto said there’s no adjustment period needed, as he knows most of the guys in the room from last season.
Even though he was out for an extended period of time, Bitetto kept up with the team, and he likes the direction they’re headed in.
“We have a bunch of new guys, we’ve lost some older guys and leaders on the team, so it’s kind of a younger group,” he said. “I think we’re so talented that once those puzzle pieces come together, it’s going to be a good picture. It’s something I believe in and I think the team’s starting to see it and believe in it.”
The Predators take on the Jets tonight at an early 5 P.M. central puck drop for Black Friday.