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Bure Ready For Opener?

Pavel Bure's surgically repaired knee is holding up through his first hockey action in six months, leaving the Florida Panthers marquee player optimistic he'll be ready for the season opener.

The high-scoring right wing has been working out with about 20 other Russian players at an informal training camp scheduled to run through next week.

"Obviously I'm going to be a little rusty, but it feels pretty good," Bure said Tuesday. "I'm ahead of schedule."

Bure skated four times last month in brief sessions without equipment at the Red Army team's facility in Moscow. Now he's wearing pads and a helmet.

He appeared tentative at first, but has been gaining confidence as he goes. Bure made it through the first two-hour session and walked through the parking lot without a limp as he signed autographs.

"The only way to do it is on the ice, one step at a time. It can't happen overnight," said Bure, who only showed flashes of his ability with 13 goals in 11 games last year.

"I'm going to have to be in a game situation, going full speed with someone alongside pushing me to build up trust in the knee again."

Bure came to the Panthers from Vancouver last January, ending a lengthy contract dispute. He scored eight goals in his first seven games, and the Panthers rewarded him with a five-year contract worth $47.5 million.

After twisting his right knee, Bure missed nine games.

Bure's season came to an end March 3 after a hit by Colorado's Adam Foote led to season-ending knee surgery. Three weeks later, the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee had to be rebuilt for the second time.

Bure, 28, completed 12 weeks of formal rehabilitation by the end of June, working out six days a week at the Cleveland Clinic.

"He's a very good worker, very patient and smart," said Mary Ann Towne, the clinic's rehabilitation services director who is monitoring Bure's progress. "His knee is stable. The biggest issue now is confidence, and the more he skates, the more confident he will be."

The Panthers open training camp Sept. 3 in Hull, Quebec, with the season opener Oct. 2. Club president Bill Torrey has little doubt his franchise player will be available.

"I know what this guy is all about," Torrey said. "He'll be back, and he'll be every bit of the player he was before."

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