Pierre-Marc Bouchard didn't experience a whole lot of joy last season. In fact, the Wild forward was miserable.
Because of a concussion from 2008-09 that never fully healed, Bouchard was limited to one out-of-synch game in 2009-10. After Opening Night, his season was over.
But as the upcoming season fast approaches, Bouchard, a gifted playmaker, has returned to his canvas. Take Friday, for example, where Bouchard, as upbeat as he's sounded in months, said by phone from Montreal, "I'm heading to the rink."
Bouchard wasn't heading to the rink for treatment or a little bike ride or a light skate, which he began doing again three weeks ago. He was heading to a rink to strap on his full gear, take part in 30 to 45 minutes of drills and then part of a scrimmage with fellow NHLers.
"There's a little rust, but the first time I went back on the ice with my father [Denis], I was surprised and pretty happy. I still can do tape-to-tape passes and make some good shots and some quick turns," Bouchard said. "I said, 'Wow, that's not too bad.' The skills should come back quick.
"I still have symptoms here and there, some pressure in the head, but it's not too bad. I'm trying to pace myself on the ice and in the gym, but my goal is to be ready for training camp [Sept. 17]."
This is tremendous news for the Wild, who can certainly use an influx of Bouchard's productivity after ranking 22nd in offense last season. The 26-year-old playmaker is the third-highest scorer in Wild history (267 points) and averaged 40 assists and 56 points a year from 2005-09.
"The way I'm approaching it is this is like a July 1st free-agent signing," coach Todd Richards said. "Here's a guy that's a potential 60- to 70-point guy, and if you're adding a guy like that, that's a lot more production offensively, a lot more creativity and somebody that will definitely make our power play better.
"So that gets me really, really excited."
Still, Bouchard will need to be eased into things. Other than the season opener, his last NHL contest was March 25, 2009.
He's skating two or three times a week in either downtown Montreal with teammate Martin Havlat's group or the south shore of Montreal with teammate Guillaume Latendresse's group. He takes part in full drills, then about 15 minutes of the scrimmage while wearing a heart monitor. He doesn't allow his heart to rise over 150-160 beats per minute. He's yet to experience contact.
"So I'm still pushing, but not as hard as I can," Bouchard said. "I'll get home, and sometimes I know I'll get a little fatigued or some pressure, but I'm trying to stay positive, and hopefully it's just a matter of getting back in shape and where I was before."
Asked if he's allowed to play through that if the symptoms continue, Bouchard said: "That's a great question. It's really hard to say, even for the doctors sometimes. I'm in kind of a gray area. This is something I'll have to talk to the [Wild] staff about when I'm back and see. If they want me to try to push through it and see how it goes, I'll do it. I guess the real test is when I get hit again."
Richards wants to meet with Bouchard to determine where he's at and what he's comfortable doing in training camp.
"We're here to help him," Richards said. "We need him playing 100 percent. It's going to take a little time physically and mentally. He's probably a little behind just because of his training, and we want him to get to the point where he trusts his body, where he's able to go into the corners and to the front of the net.
"We want him to feel comfortable, and no matter what we tell him, he'll know when he's ready. But it's certainly exciting that he's getting closer."Etc.
• For the first time in Wild history, all 82 regular-season games will be televised, and for the first time, two exhibition games will be televised this season. Fifty games will be on Fox Sports North, 24 on KSTC-TV Ch. 45, nine on Versus and one on NBC. The full TV schedule can be found on startribune.com/russo.