By Friday, 20 percent of the NHL season will be gone.

Dan Boyle, acquired by the Rangers in July to be their power-play quarterback and a top-four defenseman, has played just two periods.

But Boyle, out with a broken right hand suffered in the season opener in St. Louis, is expected to play against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

"I had a brief conversation with him this morning and I asked: 'Do I play you on the first power-play unit or am I easing you in?' " coach Alain Vigneault said after practice. "And he said, 'First power-play unit,' so that's sort of a sign . . . I think he's going to play."

Boyle has been patiently watching the calendar.

"It's five weeks tomorrow, that's a sufficient amount of time for the bone to heal," according to the doctor, Boyle said. "As far as pain goes, he said that could be another month, month and a half before that goes away. As I said, we all play with pain, so that's what I'm going to have to deal with."

Having patched together a blue line minus four players -- Boyle; captain Ryan McDonagh, whose shoulder was separated by a check on Nov. 1 and remains sidelined; John Moore, who served a five-game suspension for an illegal head shot; and Kevin Klein, who injured his foot blocking a shot -- Vigneault will welcome Boyle's return to his 7-6-2 team.

The 38-year-old Boyle had six goals and 18 points on the Sharks' power play last season and has 66 goals with the man advantage in his career. The Rangers' power play has scored just six goals; only three teams -- the Sabres, Canadiens and Wild -- have scored fewer.

"He should be ready to go and he should make us a better team," Vigneault said.

Initially, it will be uncharted waters for Boyle, who has played 75-plus games in each of the last six full seasons. His concern is not passing or shooting, but about puck battles.

"I grinded a couple of guys [in practice]," said Boyle, who removed a protective brace halfway through. "But I think it will be trial by fire."

Boyle will pair with Marc Staal five-on-five as well as run the power play, Vigneault said, and coaches will monitor his minutes, as with center Derek Stepan, who has played three games since recovering from a fractured fibula.

Asked whether it might be prudent to be more cautious with Boyle, Vigneault didn't seem willing to wait.

"I don't know if you've taken a look at the standings lately, but we're not in the playoffs," he said. "We're like a lot of teams, fighting for position, and there are no easy games. We're meeting a team that was one of the best teams in the NHL last year, that just got blown out Tuesday [by the Islanders, 6-0], so my experience tells me that team is going to be fired up. The type of game we played against Pittsburgh we're going to have to play again."