Quintin Laing is nine weeks removed from a torn spleen and just a few weeks away from free agency.
Some players might not want to push their rehabilitation from such a frightening injury, especially considering the uncertainty that looms after the season. But as fans of the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears and the Washington Capitals found out the past couple of seasons, Laing is not someone who would think like that.
So here he is, practicing with the Bears and hoping to return to the lineup Friday night when Hershey visits the Providence Bruins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs.
"I don't really worry about that kind of thing. That's not really why I play," Laing said. "You battle with a group of guys for six months to get into the playoffs, and then you want to finish it off with them. That's just what I do. You get hurt; you want to get back as soon as possible. That's all I was thinking about."
Laing became a cult hero for Caps fans last season. Summoned from Hershey on an emergency basis, the forward quickly became a hit with teammates and fans because of his penchant for blocking shots. Considered a minor league journeyman, Laing proved he could play at the NHL level and spent 39 games with the Caps.
This season began with Laing back with Hershey, and he had to wait until March 19 for his first opportunity with Washington. He was set for another extended stay with the Caps because Boyd Gordon was to miss two to three weeks with a broken finger, but his time in the NHL lasted only one game.
After a 5-2 victory at Tampa Bay, Laing felt pain in his abdomen, and trainer Greg Smith quickly diagnosed it as serious.
"It felt kind of surreal because it didn't feel like there was that much wrong with me," Laing said. "But when the doctors were talking to me, they were pretty serious, saying, 'Well, you're going to be done for three months, and that's probably going to be the end of your season.' It doesn't really hit you until a few days later. I was pretty thankful that the doctors picked it up."
Laing spent four days in a Tampa, Fla., hospital - including two in intensive care. The team left for Raleigh, N.C., but Caps media relations manager Paul Rovnak stayed with Laing until his wife, Aimee, could join him.
The doctors didn't remove his spleen, so rest was the prescription. For six weeks, Laing wasn't allowed to do any cardiovascular activity or lift anything heavier than 5 pounds. For two weeks after that, he was restricted from lifting anything heavier than 20 to 30 pounds.
After a trip to the doctor last week and a CT scan showed his spleen has healed, Laing was cleared to start skating and practicing.
"I feel like I am pretty close to game-ready," Laing said. "I think I am a definite possibility for Friday's game. We'll see what the coach thinks, but I've been feeling really good in practice."
Laing is more of an offensive threat for the Bears than he was with the Caps, but his duties - killing penalties, blocking shots, winning battles for puck - remain mostly the same, just like the respect and admiration he receives from fans and teammates.
"He's a Saskatchewan boy - that is something that doesn't even faze him," Hershey coach Bob Woods said. "He's not going to change how he plays. He only knows one way, and that's what everyone loves about him.
"He's a playoff guy. He's one of those guys that does a lot of the stuff that no one else wants to do, and he loves doing it. You can't have enough of those types of guys around. He's a good team guy, and everybody loves him."