Justin Soryal may still be getting up to speed, but he’s more than willing to put in the extra work.
The veteran forward that most identify as being the Checkers’ enforcer last season is on the ice with the team for the first time since breaking a bone in his leg last March. He’s only been skating at full speed for about a month since being cleared by doctors, so it’s understandable that he’s not quite back to himself.
Not yet, anyway.
“The first couple of days were about shaking the rust off, but I feel like I’m getting that strength and that timing back,” he said. “Other than that I’ve had no issues with the injury. I’m a happy guy right now.”
He’s happy despite the grueling first three sessions of camp that are trying for any player, let alone one coming off a major injury. That outlook might be tested even further in the coming weeks, but that’s all part of the process.
“He’s still got a little bit to catch up on, and he’ll admit that,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We’ll put in a little extra work with him as we go on but he’ll be OK with that because he wants to get back up to speed.”
Daniels, who was instrumental in the organization’s decision to sign Soryal in each of the last two offseasons, is willing to be patient. While most look at Soryal’s statistics and see the 667 career penalty minutes (to be fair, they are hard to miss), Daniels has always valued him as more of a complete player.
“His job is one of the toughest in the game, but he showed he’s also a guy that can get in on the forecheck to create some offense and he’s shown good hands since he’s been here,” said Daniels. “He’s the first guy to stick up for his teammates when it needs to be done. He’s a good team guy.”
That’s why Soryal will have a fighting chance for playing time even with the added depth caused by the NHL’s work stoppage, offseason signings and promotions from the junior leagues. Since camp began, Daniels said that veterans from last season are likely to make the team, though not necessarily in the same roles.
“He brings something we don’t have a lot of, and we’ll consider that when we put our lineup in,” said Daniels. “Whether he’s going to be in the lineup or not, he’ll get an opportunity to battle for ice time just like a lot of guys are going to have to do from now on.”
Given the circumstances, Soryal said he understood.
“There’s going to be a battle for jobs no matter where you are in the lineup,” he said. “Even guys on our top three lines are going to be competing for minutes and power play time and will want to be at the top of that depth chart. And when you look at that depth chart, even our fourth and fifth lines have a lot of skill.”
When it comes to “battling,” a term that’s been used more often than any other since camp began, who better prepared than Soryal?
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” he said.