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KRIS IS BACK: Versteeg Returns Thursday v. Lightning

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

For the first time in over seven months, Kris Versteeg will play in a regulated NHL game on Thursday night. The opponent will be a familiar one.

Versteeg was sidelined after injuring his knee in a game against Tampa Bay on March 12. The Panthers' front-line right winger, Versteeg has worked his way back and was medically cleared by Dr. John Uribe after a meeting Monday.

When Uribe signed off on Versteeg's health on Tuesday, Versteeg said he took of a photo of the clearance form and sent it over to some family members.

"I actually get nervous before any kind of game, get those butterflies,'' said Versteeg, who added he would be in Florida's lineup Thursday night against the Lightning in Estero.

"After what I've been through in the months after surgery, this is icing on the cake. Being able to go out and play is easy because I know I've done everything I can to be strong.''

The rehabilitation process has been a long one for Versteeg. A few weeks after the surgery, he said he didn't think he would be back with the Panthers until November at the earliest.

Then, he says, four months into rehab he saw hope he would be ready for the beginning of the season. Versteeg has been practicing with the Panthers since the start of camp.

Versteeg was a third of Florida's top-scoring line when the team won the division championship in 2011-12 by scoring 23 goals with 31 assists. Versteeg was limited to 10 games last year because of a variety of injuries -- including the knee injury that ended his season.

"Kris had a long six months,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "I think he's coming back 100 percent.''

-- Florida placed veteran Mike Mottau on waivers Wednesday and if he clears, Mottau will be assigned to AHL San Antonio. Forward Vincent Trocheck was also sent to San Antonio on Wednesday.

-- John Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and center on Florida's playoff team two years ago, has joined the team as a pro scout

-- Center Nick Bjugstad is still being treated for a concussion suffered Sept. 8 against Tampa Bay in a prospects game tournament and briefly skated just once during that time.

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