BOSTON -- It's going to be a lot easier for the Boston Bruins to move on without the 40-goal potential of restricted free agent holdout Phil Kessel if veteran winger Marco Sturm can make a 100 percent healthy return from season-ending knee surgery in January.
On Sunday at TD Garden, Sturm took the next step on his road to recovery by going through a full practice session with half the training camp squad on the first on-ice day of camp.
"It was good, it was really good. I had no pain, nothing. I was skating good. But at the same time I know I still have some work to do. So I'm not there yet, but I'm working at it," said Sturm, whose annual pursuit to score 30 goals in a season typically ends just a few scores short.
Sturm said he has experienced improvement from even just two weeks ago when he started skating hard at the team's practice facility in Wilmington, Mass. Defensemen Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick, who also are making their way back after surgeries, echoed those sentiments.
Ference practiced today for the first time since his summer surgery for a groin injury and hernia.
"I'm still waiting to be 100 percent but I felt really good as compared to a month ago, when training camp was looming, it was four weeks away and certain things were still lagging behind. I was a little more worried [then]. It definitely has progressed a lot," he said.
Hunwick had his postseason ended early when he had to undergo an emergency splenectomy in the days after the Bruins' Game 1 win over Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. Hunwick worked all summer to put most of his weight back on and get his strength level back where it was when camp opened last fall. Today he went through all the drills full-tilt and wasn't the slightest bit tentative.
"I think it's not bad getting hit; that's why we wear pads. Last year's injury was a bit fluky and there's nothing I can do about it now, so you just go out there and play and have fun."
So for all three recovering players, the mental hurdles have been cleared and all that's left are the physical battles. In Sturm's case, head coach Claude Julien was impressed with what he saw on the first day of camp.
"You've got to give Marco a lot of credit," said Julien. "He's worked really hard, especially at the end of last year when he started skating and over the course of the summer he came back midway through the summer and skated more, and he's really committed himself to come back in good shape and 100 percent. Today I saw a guy skating well. He didn't look like a guy that'd been out for a whole year. And hopefully with these exhibition games he'll find his touch again and will get more and more comfortable and hopefully be ready for the start of the season."
One other Bruins player recovering from offseason surgery, David Krejci, is starting out slow this camp. Krejci, who is rehabbing his hip, skated with a small group of players before the full practices took place. Julien said he expects Krejci to do the same Monday but then skate in non-contact drills with one of the two practice groups after that pre-practice skate.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. He has been on the Bruins beat since the lockout for numerous publications and has been covering the Boston sports scene for a decade. Send any questions for Matt to his mailbag and he might answer them in his Bruins mailbag.