Blackhawks’ Jake McCabe on faster track toward return than realized

McCabe expects to return to action in four-to-six weeks after undergoing cervical spine surgery in August.

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Jake McCabe skates with the puck.

Jake McCabe’s cervical spine surgery happened earlier than previously thought, moving up his return timeline.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images file photo

Jake McCabe might not miss much of the Blackhawks’ regular season after all.

The 28-year-old defenseman clarified Friday — after participating in a non-contact jersey in the first two practices of training camp — he underwent cervical spine surgery in early August, not mid-September as previously thought.

Therefore, he’s expected to return to -action in four to six weeks — rather than 10 to 12 weeks — from now. He likely won’t play opening night Oct. 12, but he could return just a few games later.

“I haven’t had contact yet, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” McCabe said. “That’s going to be the real test with this -injury. My legs feel good, but I still have to wait a couple of weeks for full battle -contact. I’m just trying to stay patient with that.”

On-and-off back pain has plagued McCabe for the last four or five years, he said, dating to his previous NHL tenure with the Sabres.

After playing 75 games for the Hawks last season, he started this summer still trying to fix or at least tolerate the issue through more conservative treatment approaches. But “that wasn’t doing the trick,” and surgery eventually became the clear next choice.

The operation removed a fragment of a herniated disc to remove pressure from a nearby nerve. McCabe resumed skating two weeks after surgery (four weeks ago). Two weeks from now, he anticipates he will be cleared to resume contact, although he has “already started pushing around a little bit.”

“Obviously, I’d like to be fully healthy, but it wasn’t like I was not able to work out at all [this summer],” he said. “I tested well in off-ice workouts. I feel really good on the ice. I’m in shape.”

Luke’s camp

New Hawks coach Luke Richardson is running his first training camp with a different touch than his predecessors.

Each practice has had one specific focus area: Thursday was the defensive zone, -Friday was the neutral zone and Saturday will be the offensive zone. Sunday will be an off-ice day before the team prepares -Monday for their preseason opener Tuesday against the Blues.

Players also have spent less time on the ice than they did under Jeremy Colliton — only about 35 minutes of drills and 10 minutes of conditioning skating per group — and more time reviewing video and -discussing systems in off-ice meetings.

“[Luke] wants to put some good systems in where we can just be able to play and not really think so much out there,” Patrick Kane said. “[If] everyone’s on the same page, then we can play fast and have the freedom to do that, as well.”

Defenseman Jakub Galvas missed practice with an oblique strain, joining McCabe, Ian Mitchell, Colton Dach and Paul Ludwinski on the injured list.

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