Ducks center Nate Thompson takes another stride in comeback from shoulder surgery

Christmas came early for Ducks center Nate Thompson on Wednesday. That’s the way it felt to him, anyway. After so many days and weeks of skating alone, he joined his teammates for their pregame skate at the Honda Center for the first time since undergoing off-season shoulder surgery.

It was a small but significant step on the lengthy trek back to the Ducks’ lineup.

“It was fun,” Thompson said before the Ducks faced the Florida Panthers. “It was exciting. It was like my game out there. I’ve been on the ice by myself. It was nice to have some guys to joke around and have some fun. It’s going good. You can definitely see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

As much as he’s missed the Ducks, the Ducks have missed him, too.

After all, he was their blue-collar fourth-line center until a hard check in the regular-season finale last April 11 against the Arizona Coyotes dislocated his left shoulder, forced him to sit out the first round of the playoffs and required surgery to repair two labrum tears after the postseason.

He scored five goals and 18 points during the regular season, won 52.7 percent of his faceoffs to rank second on the Ducks and had a team-best 204 hits. He also blocked shots, won battles for loose pucks and the Ducks were better with him in the lineup than out of it.

The Ducks’ depth in the center of the ice carried them to their third straight Pacific Division title and playoff victories over the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames before they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in seven games in the Western Conference finals.

Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Rickard Rakell, the centers ahead of him on the Ducks’ depth chart, receive most, if not all, of the attention. Thompson’s spot in the lineup was taken by Shawn Horcoff for the 12th game Wednesday, but it won’t be long before there’s a battle for ice time.

Or so it would seem.

“I’m slowly easing back into it,” Thompson said. “Getting back into a pregame skate with the guys is always a good sign. It was like Christmas out there, being with a bunch of guys and not just by myself. It was fun. Little things for me are a big step.”