Arizona Coyotes could have Derek Stepan back this weekend

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 16: Derek Stepan #21 of the Arizona Coyotes skates with the puck during the second period of the NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Gila River Arena on February 16, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 16: Derek Stepan #21 of the Arizona Coyotes skates with the puck during the second period of the NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Gila River Arena on February 16, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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The Arizona Coyotes have dealt with a large number of injuries this season, but one player could make his return to the line-up as early as this weekend.

Derek Stepan hasn’t been available for the Arizona Coyotes since the last day of February, having suffered a lower-body injury – with the American originally expected to miss between four to six weeks.

But it appears that the 28-year-old centre could be returning far sooner than expected, with head coach Rick Tocchet reportedly stating he is ‘very close’.

Per Craig Morgan of The Athletic, Stepan could be back in the Coyotes’ starting line-up as early as this weekend, when the team take on the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

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Prior to suffering his injury, Stepan was having a solid season for the playoff-chasing Coyotes, registering 13 goals and 32 total points in 64 games – earning one point every two games while continuing to hold down the team’s top line centre role.

With the Arizona Coyotes now firmly in the playoff mix, sitting one point inside the wildcard places, having Stepan make a return would be a huge boost for Rick Tocchet’s team.

The Coyotes (36-31-6) have had the worst luck with injuries to the centre position, with the team even acquiring Jordan Weal as short-term cover earlier in the season before offloading him at the trade deadline.

Nick Schmaltz is also still sidelined with injury, seeing the Coyotes roll with Brad Richardson, Christian Dvorak, Mario Kempe and Nick Cousins as their four centres.

Having just Stepan stepping back into the line-up helps to boost the Coyotes’ options, with Schmaltz also someone that would command a high starting position when healthy.

The playoff run is starting to heat up for the Arizona Coyotes with only nine more regular season games to play.

The team take on the Florida Panthers before Stepan is expected to make his return, with Tocchet’s team having a game advantage over the Minnesota Wild – who missed their opportunity to leapfrog the Coyotes with a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

With the Coyotes having a number of truly winnable games down the stretch, the re-addition of Stepan to the line-up will be a welcome sight.

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What do you think Coyotes fans? Pleased to hear Stepan has progressed faster than expected? How do you see him fitting back into the line-up? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!