(HockeyStL) -- After missing the first seven games of the season, defenseman Carl Gunnarsson is ready to make his Blues debut.
Gunnarsson, 27, will make the trip to Dallas on Monday and will play against the Stars on Tuesday. It will be the first game-action for the defenseman since last April, when he had surgery to repair a torn labrum.
“I’m ready to go,” Gunnarsson said Monday after practice. “It feels good right now, but once you get into games that’s when you really know. “
Gunnarsson, who was acquired this past offseason from Toronto in a trade that sent Roman Polak to the Maple Leafs, was cleared for full participation two weeks ago but has not suited up for any of the five games since being granted the OK.
The medical clearance, which came from a specialist in Nashville, was the final large hurdle standing between Gunnarsson and a return. However, the Blues were waiting for the defenseman to indicate that he was comfortable enough to be placed in the lineup.
Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock joked a week ago that Gunnarsson was scurrying away every time the head coach approached him to avoid being asked if he was ready to go. But on Sunday, there was nowhere for Gunnarsson to hide.
“I caught him in a bad spot,” Hitchcock said. “I was the only guy here at the rink and he got caught walking in the door at the same time as me so we had the conversation. He was already anticipating playing on Tuesday.”
“I was kind of hiding in the shadows,” Gunnarsson admitted.
Heading into training camp, the Blues were hoping to partner Gunnarsson with Alex Pietrangelo on the team’s top pairing. However, with Gunnarsson unable to participate fully at that point, the team altered its plans. Once Gunnarsson is up to speed, it’s believed the club will revert to the original blueprint, placing him with Pietrangelo and moving Jay Bouwmeester to the second pairing with Kevin Shattenkirk. That plan may not be consistent for the first few games.
“We have to be smart about this,” Hitchcock said. “We know why we traded for him, where we want him to play. To ask for him to play that now is a little unrealistic. Let’s work him into the role and let’s be able to evaluate him on a period-to-period basis. He’s done everything to get ready for this but he’s walking into a tough opponent. If we are patient and give him four to five games, he’s going to get up to speed.
“He’s going to play in a couple of different roles, but it’s more about managing the minutes.”
While Gunnarsson’s return is imminent, forward Paul Stastny’s recovery is not yet to that point. However, the center is making progress.
Stastny joined his Blues teammates on the ice Monday for the first time since sustaining a shoulder injury on Oct. 18. It was the fifth consecutive day of skating for Stastny, but his first with the full group on the ice.
“This is the fifth day he has skated, first day with the team,” Hitchcock said. “He’s (still) week-to-week.”
Stastny skated for 45 minutes, joining in on a few drills, but limited his shooting and avoided contact altogether. The Blues are hopeful Stastny is a full participant by the weekend.
“Once he becomes a full participant, which we are hoping towards the end of the week he starts participating on a full basis, we can evaluate him,” Hitchcock said.