After two impressive victories in Alberta to open their lockout-delayed season, the Sharks return home Thursday night to face the Phoenix Coyotes in the first NHL game at HP Pavilion in more than nine months.

But for one Shark, the homecoming has taken a lot longer: Defenseman Brad Stuart will be wearing a teal jersey in San Jose for the first time in seven years, one month and 29 days.

Stuart said Wednesday that he's excited about returning, though he has no regrets about the course his career has taken.

"I've learned a lot in the time while I was gone and I feel like I'm a better player because of it," Stuart said, adding he was also "a little bit anxious. It's going to be kind of strange going through the Shark mouth again."

Stuart, 33 returns a different hockey player than the one who left at 26. He plays with a bit of a mean streak that wasn't on display very much in his first go-round.

It is the journey over the past seven years that has helped change him.

The Sharks made Stuart the third player taken overall in the 1998 NHL draft. He was a blue-chip blueliner who played 377 games over five-plus seasons in San Jose, scoring 36 goals and adding 117 assists.

Stuart's last home game as a Shark was Nov. 26, 2005 -- a 7-6 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in which he earned an assist. Four days later, general manager Doug Wilson pulled off the blockbuster trade that sent Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau to the Boston Bruins for Joe Thornton.