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Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy is ready to return — and Ethan Del Mastro is set to debut

Chicago Blackhawks defensemen Connor Murphy and Ethan Del Mastro couldn’t sit at more opposite ends of the career spectrum.

Murphy, who joined the Hawks via a June 2017 trade with the Arizona Coyotes, is easily the longest-tenured Hawk.

Del Mastro, called up from the Rockford IceHogs on Thursday, is the shortest-tenured.

They paired up during drills Thursday at practice at Fifth Third Arena, and the plan is for them to play on the same line against the Nashville Predators on Friday at the United Center.

“He looked great, like really fresh,” coach Luke Richardson said. “I think he feels really good right now and we’re happy to have his leadership back.”

It will be a big moment for both defensemen: Murphy will return to action after missing nearly three months with a groin strain, and Del Mastro will make his NHL debut.

“I feel good. Ready to go,” said Murphy, who missed 34 games. “It’s been too long, so it’s nice. The last test is just getting in a game and see how it lasts all game.”

Del Mastro, who compiled seven goals and 30 assists in 55 games for Rockford, said it was “crazy” when he got the call from the Hawks on Wednesday night.

“You always dream of this moment, so it’s obviously a huge step in your career,” he said. “I’m just super excited.”

His parents and brother are set to attend. Del Mastro admitted to a “little bit” of nervousness ahead of his debut.

“I’m more so nervous for the rookie lap more than anything,” he said. “I think once you’re in the game, you’re just playing.”

If veteran Murphy has jitters, it doesn’t show.

“It’s relief, but it’s still disappointment to miss so much time,” said Murphy, who last played Jan. 13 against the Dallas Stars. “There’s only four games left now and I wish we were able to come back a lot earlier.”

The 11-season veteran said he feels “100%” healthy: “There’s always going to be a little bit of soreness.”

Murphy’s recovery took much longer than he expected. Each time he felt pain, it wasn’t severe or long-lasting, but it kept recurring.

“I had a few games before the last game … where I had pain and just (kept) pushing through it,” he said. “Every day in between I was kind of limping around, walking. It hurt on my hip to try to even walk. It didn’t take long for that pain to go (away) where I could walk smoothly.

“But it was more just getting out of bed and off the couch, where you’d pull your leg over and your groin would activate and it would hurt. But that didn’t last too long, that’s why I was optimistic I was going to come back way earlier.”

For advice, he talked with San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture, who was limited to six games because of a hip/groin injury and shelved for the season in March.

“His pain came back after he tried to play a few games,” Murphy said. “He had it really rough and his pain level sounded way worse than mine.

“But it was just a confusing injury that is frustrating. It’s frustrating when guys don’t know a specific way to heal it in a specific timeline.”

Murphy dealt with many moments of “false hope” in which felt close to being healthy, “and then I would start to test it and it would hurt.”

For the last two weeks, he has felt he as if he’s back to 100%, but he has monitored his body signs of a setback.

“You’re testing every step of the way,” Murphy said. “You’re testing sprinting, stops and starts, pivoting, battling, conditioning. There’s like so many different steps you have to pass along the way to get to 100% and know that it’s strong enough to hold up.”

As excited as he is to play Friday, Murphy sounded just as amped to partner with Del Mastro, a prospect who has been high on the Hawks radar.

Del Mastro was selected to the AHL All-Star Game in February.

“He has had an unbelievable year in the minors this year so far and big (6-foot-4), strong, offensive … moves, great hands — that seems to be a key consistency with us,” Murphy said.

“We have (Alex) Vlasic and him. … Those big guys, when I was their age, were pretty clumsy. I’m still a little clumsy, but it’s impressive at a young age what those guys can do.”

Richardson said Del Mastro had “just a solid year down there, and (Del Mastro was promoted to) give him a bit of a cookie as an appreciation for the work that he did; give him a chance to see and evaluate where he is at this level.”

He might stay in the lineup for Sunday’s home finale against the Carolina Hurricanes before he’s sent back to Rockford to gear up for the playoffs.

Richardson said Del Mastro can benefit from pairing up with an experienced blue liner in Murphy.

“He’s a very vocal guy out there, so that should help on the ice,” Richardson said. “But he’s a big, rangy guy, so keeping it simple early will be key for a young defenseman.”

What does Del Mastro hope to bring?

“I’d say a two-way defenseman, someone that you know likes to shut guys down, shut their top end guys down and play hard defensively,” he said. “And then transition pucks and jump up into the rush and make plays.”