NEWARK, N.J. — Ville Leino was feeling so good Wednesday, he didn’t want his first full regular-season practice with his teammates to end. The workout showed that his year could soon start.
Leino, who has yet to play for the Buffalo Sabres this season, skated with vigor in Prudential Center. He hadn’t done contact drills with the team since training camp because of a hip injury, but it’s healed enough to allow him to envision a return to the lineup.
The forward is aiming for Sunday in Philadelphia against his former Flyers teammates.
“Philly would probably be one of the good options here,” Leino said. “I’m having a lot of fun out there. I wish practices would run longer, and that normally doesn’t happen during the season. It’s pretty exciting.”
Leino isn’t 100 percent, but he says he’s in good shape and should be able to play through any lingering pain.
“It gets a little sore, but hockey players don’t really feel well ever, so it’s quite fine,” he said. “I’ve been able to do a lot of other stuff other than skating, and my conditioning is good. The oxygen runs pretty good. My lungs are pretty good. I’ve been [lifting] a lot of weights, so it’s pretty good.”
Jordan Leopold, who has an upper-body injury, also practiced. The defenseman, who hasn’t played since Feb. 17, does not have a timetable for returning.
“It’s just not quite there,” Leopold said. “Getting close and making progress every day. The good thing is I haven’t taken any steps backward.”
At least once per season, the debate about making visors mandatory re-ignites. It’s happening now after New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal got hit in the right eye Tuesday night on a shot by Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
The Rangers announced Wednesday night they expect Staal to make a complete recovery.
“The league continues to support a rule that would make visors mandatory in NHL games,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to the New York Times. “It has been the consistent position of the players’ association that they are opposed to mandating visor use, that it should be a matter of ‘player choice,’ and that increased visor use by players should be achieved through continued education and sensitization to the dangers associated with non-use.”
The Sabres are a visor-friendly team. Defenseman Robyn Regehr does not wear one — he says sweat dripping on the shield impairs his vision — but 18 members of the Sabres do.
“Does it provide more protection? Yes,” Regehr said. “Can sticks still come up and get under it? Yes, I’ve seen that, too, so by no means is it going to take away all injuries that way. But it is going to provide a little bit more protection.”
New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer said goaltender Johan Hedberg will start against the Sabres tonight. Hedberg gave up three goals on 11 shots before being pulled during the second period of the Devils’ 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
The Devils returned tough guy Cam Janssen to the minors on Wednesday, so the Sabres likely won’t need to dress enforcer John Scott. Interim coach Ron Rolston used the same forward lines and defense combinations in practice that he used Tuesday during the 4-3 loss to Carolina.