Colin McDonald did not know for sure that the Penguins would be sending him back to Wilkes-Barre, and he certainly did not know when it might happen.
But he was all too aware that guys in his position, with one skate planted firmly in the American Hockey League, can have their status change at any time.
Occasionally, that means they land a spot in the parent club's lineup. Sometimes, it means a visit to the NHL is over.
"Someone in my role, I really need to take it not even one day at a time, but one hour at a time," McDonald said a few days ago.
Time ran out on McDonald's most recent stint in the NHL Wednesday, when the Penguins returned him to their minor league team in northeastern Pennsylvania. Forward Jason Williams, who had been recalled from the Baby Penguins a day earlier, also went back to Wilkes-Barre.
Those moves suggest that center Jordan Staal, who has missed the past 15 games because of a knee injury, is a good candidate to be taken off the injured-reserve list and put back on active duty this weekend, when Winnipeg and Tampa Bay will visit Consol Energy Center.
McDonald made his fifth appearance of the season with the Penguins in their 3-2 shootout loss Wednesday in Montreal, logging a team-low eight minutes and nine seconds of ice time.
That's not much, obviously, but it is better than being a healthy scratch, as McDonald had been for the previous two games.
His latest opportunity to work at this level was a by-product of the injury -- believed to be a sprained ankle -- that right winger Tyler Kennedy sustained late in the Penguins' 5-2 loss Sunday at New Jersey.
Like most players, McDonald stresses he does not like to have his chance to play stem from a teammate's injury, but he also understands it is inevitable that players will get hurt, and that someone must be ready to step in.
"Obviously, I want an opportunity to play, and a lot of times you get that opportunity with injuries," he said. "That's one reason they maybe kept me here [on a just-concluded] road trip, just to have an extra guy for that situation, in case a guy goes down."
This was McDonald's second stint in the NHL this season. He was summoned from Wilkes-Barre in late December when it looked as if the Penguins had suffered a significant lost-time injury, only to have the player's diagnosis and prognosis change rapidly and radically.
"I was in this position in my first call-up, where they said [James Neal] had a broken foot and I thought I was going to be here for a while," McDonald said. "Then he was off crutches the next day and doesn't miss a game, so you just never know."
McDonald, 27, caught the attention of Penguins management last season, when he had 42 goals and 16 assists in 80 games with Edmonton's AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City.
His career season coincided with the expiration of his contract, and he accepted a one-year deal with the Penguins.
"I was fortunate to have a pretty good year last year, and it opened some doors for me," McDonald said. "I wanted to take an opportunity to play with one of the best teams in the National Hockey League, and see where it took me."
He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent again this summer and, while he said there is a genuine appeal to remaining with the Penguins, other factors will shape his decision.
"I would like to stay here, absolutely, but, at the end of the day, it's the best opportunity where I think I can play in the NHL," he said. "If it's with another team, then so be it, and they would understand.
"I'm not sure how much they knew about me coming into this year, but now that we're halfway through the year, if I can keep progressing and keep getting better I hope I can prove to them that, maybe come the fall -- assuming I re-sign here -- they're going to give me a legit opportunity to maybe be a full-time player here."
NOTE -- Kennedy's ankle injury is not believed to be as serious as many feared initially, although Penguins officials have yet to discuss it publicly. That is expected to happen today.
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @molinaripg. First Published February 9, 2012 5:00 AM