Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone was clearly emotional in his returning press conference Monday at City National Arena. The captain and the Golden Knights announced his return to the lineup after missing over three months with yet another back injury. The latest one resulted in surgery.
Stone, one of the best players on the team, gets to join his teammates at the pinnacle of the season as the VGK begin the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Winnipeg Jets in Round One. He has been practicing with the team since April 10 and has been taking line rushes.
"It was pretty emotional, you know? It brought some tears to my eyes, but I'm excited to be back. I don't want to miss this. I want to play with these guys, so I am excited to get back," said Stone.
Having two back surgeries in less than nine months has halted the career of the three-time Selke-nominated Stone, who is now 30 years old.
"I was obviously disappointed. I thought I had put that behind me. But I got a good second opinion and had a game plan going in. I took two weeks to see if I could repair it, knowing that it was probably the last date that I could have gotten the surgery to be back for tomorrow. I feel really good, really confident, and am excited to get back," said Stone.
Stone said that this time around, he utilized a different doctor for his surgery, going with the same Doctor that led Jack Eichel's artificial disk replacement neck surgery in the Fall of 2021.
"I think I was able to share a little bit of my experience. I was able to give him a little bit of what I went through, and we were able to bounce ideas off of each other… I give Stone a ton of credit for all the work he has put in. It is not easy to do what he did to get surgery there mid-season, rehab, and then come back. There is a lot of time spent by yourself," said Eichel.
The rehab process for Stone, while not ideal given that he wanted to play an 82-game season, went very smoothly.
"I had steps… I knew that if had met the goals, with the first one being the first month and then to start skating at six weeks. I haven't had any setbacks, and obviously, everything had to align for me to be ready to go for playoffs. Thankfully, it has," said Stone.
In the 43 games Stone did play this season, he scored 38 points, typically on a line with Chandler Stephenson and another winger. Stone is confirmed to play with Stephenson and Michael Amadio for Game 1, but his expectations are lowered given that this is his first game in months.
"We don't expect too much, it's his first game in a long time. But no matter what, he'll be a positive influence for us… There is no minute restriction from what I have been told other than the obvious- he hasn't played in a long time, so you have to be careful and think big picture," said coach Bruce Cassidy.
The Golden Knights fittingly take on Stone's hometown team, the Jets, starting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Stone admitted that he may have to convince some of his hometown friends from Winnipeg to switch from Jets to Golden Knights jerseys for the series.
Regardless of which side you are on, seeing one of the NHL's best two-way players come back for the highest level of the game is great.
"I think the best thing for Mark now is to get him in the game and get him to what he loves to do," added Cassidy.