Austin Watson serves domestic violence suspension, returns to Predators

Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson on Wednesday was reinstated to the team's roster after serving an 18-game suspension for domestic violence.

The 26-year-old Watson is eligible to return for Thursday's game against the Arizona Coyotes. He initially received a 27-game suspension from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, though it was reduced to 18 games by a neutral arbitrator in October.

The NHL doesn't have a written domestic violence policy and takes each situation on a case-by-case basis.

"I would like to thank my family, friends and the Nashville Predators for their continued support during this difficult time," Watson said in a statement, released through the NHLPA. "It is a privilege to play in the National Hockey League, and I am grateful to be able to once again compete with my teammates. I want to apologize to Jennifer, my family, Jennifer's family, my teammates, the Nashville community and the Nashville Predators for the negative attention that has come from the events of June 16th."

Watson said he will not discuss the matter any further.

The Predators issued their own statement Wednesday, saying the team will "continue to support Austin, Jennifer and their baby as they take the necessary steps to move forward as a family."

On June 16, a witness flagged down a police officer to a gas station in Franklin, Tennessee, where Watson and his girlfriend, Jennifer Guardino, were in a parked car. Watson told police he and Guardino were arguing and that he pushed her.

Officers said they found red marks on her chest, and she said Watson caused them. Watson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge. His sentence included three months probation, an inpatient program for alcohol and substance abuse and 26 weeks of batterer intervention.

Guardino issued a statement in October, claiming the incident "was not an act of domestic violence," that "Watson has never, and would never hit or abuse me" and that she took "full responsibility."

Watson, a former first-round draft pick, has played his entire career with the Predators, who currently have the best record in the NHL at 13-4-1.