Washington Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny will make his return to the lineup Friday against the New York Rangers, his first game back after tearing his hamstring on March 20. Kempny will skate on the third defensive pairing with Radko Gudas, with the possibility of getting a few shifts on the top pairing with John Carlson.

“Yeah I’m playing tonight, it’s been a long time and I’m very excited,” Kempny said. “Ready to go … especially from the beginning of the rehab, small steps make me happy. I think it’s part of rehab and all the bad is behind me and I’m just focusing now and today’s game.”

Kempny’s return has been highly anticipated since the start of training camp. The 29-year-old’s original timeline was for him to be out four to six months after he underwent surgery in April. The six-month mark passed, and Kempny was cleared for contact Oct. 2. He has been a full participant at practice since, with the team repeatedly “hopeful” each week for his return. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said “to do what is right for the player,” Kempny will ease back into a normal workload, which is why he’ll start on the third pairing.

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“We have a range we’d like to have him in and we will see how the game goes,” Reirden said. “Obviously he is fresh, he’s skating really well, he’s in unbelievable condition, so now it’s just to see how it transfers into game action and how his wind is and that and his conditioning.”

As Kempny returns, the Capitals placed forward Richard Panik on long-term injured reserve Friday after he was involved in a collision Wednesday against Toronto. Panik, who signed a four-year $11-million deal this offseason, will have to miss at least 10 games, and Reirden said the forward should not require surgery. In a corresponding move, Washington recalled center Travis Boyd and defenseman Martin Fehervary from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa.

Panik and defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler had an in-game collision Wednesday against Toronto.

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“It’s unfortunate because he did have some good chances in the last few games, I felt like it was coming,” Reirden said of Panik. “He just needed to get one, but that’s the game and so now we will get him healthy and ready to go once he gets back.”

Siegenthaler appeared to take the brunt of the collision in the moment, grimacing on the bench in pain, but after both were reevaluated Thursday by team doctors, the team determined it would send Panik to LTIR and Siegenthaler would be a game-time decision for Friday’s contest. Siegenthaler (day-to-day) was skating Friday morning and took normal line rushes on the top pairing with Carlson. If Siegenthaler cannot play Friday, Fehervary will take his place in the lineup.

By placing Panik on LTIR, it gave the club in $2.75 million in cap space. After recalling Boyd and Fehervary, leaving the team with just over $1 million in space, according to CapFriendly.com. Boyd, who is expected to be a healthy scratch Friday, was waived in favor of Chandler Stephenson on Oct. 6. Reirden said he expects Boyd to travel with the team for their five-game, 10-day road trip starting Sunday night in Chicago. Fehervary’s travel projection is still uncertain and will be reassessed in the coming days.

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Fehervary spent the first three games of the season in the lineup before being sent down. The 20-year-old defenseman was the team’s second-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and made his NHL debut against St. Louis. In three games with Hershey this season, Fehervary scored one goal.

Additionally, goaltender Braden Holtby will get the start in net against the Rangers, after rookie Ilya Samsonov got the start Wednesday in a 4-3 win over Toronto.

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