From the time Eric Staal hurt his knee in May the goal was to be fully healthy and ready when the Canes' preseason camp opened in September.

The first on-ice practices were held Thursday at PNC Arena. Staal was ready.

"It was a good pace a good practice and hopefully it keeps getting amped up every day" Staal said. "It's been a long summer and everyone was excited to get going."

Staal's summer was a particularly long one considering the slow pace of his rehab. Competing for Canada in the IIHF World Championship in Sweden in May he suffered a third-degree sprain of his medial collateral ligament after a dangerous knee-on-knee hit from Swedish defenseman Alex Edler.

On Wednesday the Canes announced that defensemen Joni Pitkanen would miss the entire season because of a broken heel bone that has not fully healed. That was a blow for the organization. But having Staal back and healthy with no complications somewhat offsets Pitkanen's injury offering a sense of relief for the organization.

Staal the Canes' captain said there never was any doubt he'd be ready on Sept. 11 when camp officially began.

"Well maybe in June when I was pedaling the bike and not even getting all the way around" he said smiling. "But they assured me that was part of the process. It was just a longer process than I thought."