Ryan Malone furiously signed autograph after autograph Sunday afternoon for fans who waited in line during the grand opening weekend celebration of the new Dick's Sporting Goods in Clearwater.
While the two hour session no doubt put his right wrist through a strenuous workout, the bigger question surrounding Malone is what kind of shape his right shoulder will be in when the Lightning report for training camp on Sept. 16.
Malone underwent unexpected surgery on the shoulder in July to repair some damage stemming from a shoulder separation suffered in April during Game 3 of Tampa Bay's first-round playoff series victory against Pittsburgh following a hit from Penguins' forward James Neal. Malone never missed a game, however, playing through the injury all the way through Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, which ended on May 27, more than five weeks after the initial injury.
"It didn't even feel like my shoulder at all (when it happened), it was almost like I got stabbed in the back,'' Malone said. "I remember there was some specific area in my back where it felt like I maybe had broken a rib, but it ended up being high in my shoulder.''
When the Lightning's season ended, rest and recovery was the expected route for Malone, but while doing some off-season training, he said he felt something wasn't right behind the shoulder.
"It was just kind of nagging, so I went to get it looked at it and it was still kind of separated so we had to go get it fixed,'' Malone said. "After the season there was still all the swelling so after everything went down, that's when we found some other stuff that had to be taken care of.''
The procedure was performed by Dr. Daniel Buss, the team physician for the Minnesota Twins, who specializes in shoulder and elbow injuries. While initial reports suggested that Malone could miss up to six months, he said on Sunday that he expects to be ready for the start of the regular season when Tampa Bay opens up at Carolina on Oct. 7.
At about the six week mark now following the procedure, Malone has been cleared to resume full training, which he will continue to do while working out with former Lightning strength and conditioning coach Chuck Lobe outside of Minneapolis, Minn., and skating with fellow players – including teammate Nate Thompson – before arriving in Tampa just ahead of the start of camp.
Though Malone has been cleared for full training, he has not been cleared for contact, and likely won't be before the start of camp, which means he likely will miss some, if not all, of Tampa Bay's six scheduled preseason games.
But when he does get back on the ice, Malone will return to wearing the familiar No. 12 on his jersey, the number he wore for his first two seasons with Tampa Bay. Last season Malone wore No. 6, the number he wore in college, to allow now former Lightning forward Simon Gagne to wear No. 12.