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Wild star Parise set to return Tuesday vs. Panthers

ST. PAUL—Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise will make make his highly-anticipated season debut during the Tuesday, Jan. 2, game against the Florida Panthers.

"All looks good," Parise said with a smile after Monday's practice. "I've got the green light."

It will serve as a culmination for Parise, who hasn't played this season after finally deciding to bite the bullet and undergo back surgery 2 1/2 months ago.

Since then, Parise has worked through 10 weeks of rehab that has featured individual workout sessions, team practices and even a minor league game with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League last week.

"I'm really excited," Parise said. "I've been looking forward to this for a while. I'm glad it's finally here."

Parise won't have any limitations for the game, though coach Bruce Boudreau is being realistic with his expectations for the 33-year-old.

"It's his first game, and anytime it's anybody's first game, it's going to be interesting to see what happens," Boudreau said. "I can't sit here and say the expectations are he's going to get three goals and two assists and be a lifesaver when he gets there. He's going to take some time to get up to full speed, I suspect. If he gets up there quicker, then that's awesome."

Perhaps the biggest step for Parise on his road to recovery came last week with the way his body responded to the minor league game.

"I was more tired from the drive home than anything," said Parise, who made the 3 1/2-hour trek back home by himself after the game. "I didn't feel sore or overly fatigued or anything, so I think that was a good sign."

Parise said he knows he'll have to be patient as he works his way back to full strength.

"I'm hoping to be able to contribute right away and help out with these guys that have been playing well," Parise said. "I just want to help them out, and each one of us wants to get this going and keep going in the right direction to climb the standings."

No matter how long it takes for Parise to get his legs, the fact that he's in the lineup should give the Wild a morale boost.

"We have been itching to have him back," said Charlie Coyle, who centered the third line during Monday's practice with Parise and Chris Stewart next to him. "He's such a huge part of our team. ... It's hard to duplicate (what he brings) when he's out, so to have a guy like that back, and the way he works, and the way he plays, it's going to be huge for our lineup."

Parise said he anticipates some nerves before he plays his first NHL game in more than 250 days.

"That's natural," Parise said. "You always have those jitters (before the season opener), so I don't think it'll be any different."

Asked whether those nerves had anything to do with the injury itself, Parise responded, "I'm not worried about reinjuring. I think we're past that."

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