Jordan Staal spent the first three weeks of the 2010-11 season getting ready to play his first game.
Now, he apparently will have to wait for six more.
Staal is scheduled to undergo surgery today to repair a broken right hand he got when he was struck by a puck during the Penguins' practice at Southpointe Monday.
Staal, who missed the first 12 games of the season while recovering from a foot infection, is expected to be out until around mid-December while his fracture heals.
Although that prognosis isn't necessarily firm, it appears to be a fairly realistic projection of when Staal should be able to resume playing.
"It could change, I guess," general manager Ray Shero said. "We'll see after the surgery. We're being somewhat conservative. We want it to heal properly."
Staal had resuming practicing about two weeks ago and impressed his teammates and bosses with his commitment and enthusiasm.
"He was feeling good and working hard at it," Shero said.
"When you're that close to coming back and a freak thing happens ..."
Staal was hoping to make his first appearance of the season when the Penguins visit Dallas Wednesday.
He joined with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy to form arguably the NHL's top third line last season, and skated with Kennedy and Mike Comrie Monday before being hurt about 30 minutes into the workout.
Whether Staal would have played between those two against the Stars isn't clear, but his teammates were understandably excited about having him return to active duty, regardless of where he was used.
"Anytime you get a big part of the team back, it's nice," Kennedy said.
Shero said he had no immediate plans to recall a forward from the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre to replace Staal, who has not taken up a spot on the 23-man NHL roster because he has been on the Long-Term Injured List while getting over his foot infection.
That could change if Evgeni Malkin, who sat out the Penguins' 3-0 victory at Carolina Saturday because of a bruised knee, is unable to play in Dallas.
He did not participate in the workout Monday.
"We'll see how [Malkin] is for Wednesday," Shero said.
Defenseman Kris Letang, who is believed to be nursing a hand or wrist injury, and defenseman Alex Goligoski, who made only a brief appearance on the ice during practice, were listed as "day-to-day" by coach Dan Bylsma, who applied the same label to Malkin.
"We're hoping to see them all play [against the Stars], but you don't like to have three guys who are day-to-day like that," Bylsma said.
Staal left the ice immediately after being injured and, after a brief consultation with the training staff, departed Southpointe to have his hand examined by a doctor.
As a result, he didn't get to publicly share his thoughts on what happened. It seems safe to assume, though, that he was fairly dejected because he had been so clearly excited about the idea of getting back into uniform.
"It's disappointing on a couple of levels, but mostly it's personal for Jordan," Bylsma said. "He's had a difficult off-season and training camp and to this point [of the regular season].
"To get to the point where you're looking at coming back to play and then ... having to deal with another injury is disappointing."
During the summer, Bylsma and his staff decided to have Staal center the No. 2 line, with Malkin moving to wing, this season, but that experiment was put on hold when the foot infection -- one of the after-effects of surgery he underwent in May to repair a sliced tendon -- did not clear up in time for training camp.
Staal and Malkin still could be paired at some point this winter, but, for now, the Penguins will have to get by -- again --without a center who has top-six offensive potential and is one of the finest defensive forwards in the game.
That would be a major blow to any team, but doesn't have to be a lethal one for the Penguins' chances of being a Stanley Cup contender this season.
"He's going to be back in plenty of time to play a significant part of our schedule," Shero said.
"That's the good news for me."
Dave Molinari: email@example.com .