His nameplate was back. His equipment was at his locker. Everything seemed normal once Valentin Zykov stepped on the City National Arena ice for Tuesday’s morning skate.
Except, of course, it wasn’t. It was Zykov’s first practice with the Golden Knights since he was suspended 20 games for violating the terms of the NHL/NHL Players Association Performance Enhancing Substances program.
The league’s collective bargaining agreement allows players to return 10 days before the end of their suspension. Zykov is eligible to play starting Nov. 29 against Arizona.
Whether the winger is inserted into the lineup immediately is still to be determined, coach Gerard Gallant said.
“He was away and skated hard and got in shape,” Gallant said. “We’ll just get him back and see how things go in the next week or so.”
Zykov played in the Knights’ first seven games and had two assists. Circumstances have changed in his absence, though, as Alex Tuch has returned from injury and reclaimed his wing spot on the third line.
It also remains to be seen how much trust the organization has in Zykov. Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee called the situation “black and white” the day the punishment was announced and said the team supported the suspension.
McPhee said Zykov told him he had taken supplements for four years. Zykov, claimed off waivers by the Knights on Dec. 29, is not available to the media until his suspension ends. He said in a statement after his suspension was announced that he didn’t know how he tested positive but that he accepted his punishment.
Defenseman Nate Schmidt was suspended 20 games at the beginning of last season for violating the performance-enhancing substances program, but McPhee said the two situations were completely different. Schmidt maintained his innocence after his punishment was announced and the Knights supported him.
The defenseman also returned to practice 10 days before the suspension was over and said afterward “the whole time you go through it, it’s tough.”
Gallant said the two situations also are different on the ice.
“The last player’s a star, and this guy’s a guy that’s trying to get ice time with us and play hard, and he was doing real well,” Gallant said. “Hopefully he comes back and skates real well.”
On the farm
Left wing Brandon Pirri and center Nicolas Roy apparently didn’t sulk after being sent to the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.
Roy, demoted Sunday, had two first-period power-play goals for the Wolves on Tuesday against the San Antonio Rampage. Pirri, who was placed on waivers Saturday and went unclaimed, had an assist on Roy’s first goal.