SAN JOSE, Calif. — The reinforcements are coming.
There were nine defencemen on the ice with the Toronto Maple Leafs for practice at Solar4America Ice here Monday and the news was even better afterwards — Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci are both expected to return next week, according to head coach Sheldon Keefe, while winger Ilya Mikheyev is projected to return before the end of the regular season.
That represents the best-case scenario for each of those players.
Rielly was ruled out for eight weeks minimum when he broke a bone in the arch of his foot while blocking a shot on Jan. 12 and the eight-week mark passes on Sunday. Rielly has only been back skating for a week and Monday’s practice was his first full session with his teammates since getting injured.
“Obviously it’s very positive for us to see him on the ice, and he steps right into doing a lot of our drills, a lot of our full-contact drills,” said Keefe. “He’s been feeling really good.
“We’ve just got to make sure that everything continues to have the appropriate amount of time before he gets into the game.”
Ceci has been out with an ankle injury since Feb. 5, while Mikheyev is recovering from surgery to repair a severed artery and tendons in his right wrist suffered on Dec. 27.
The Leafs initially gave him a minimum recovery period of three months — which would run through March 27 — but it was far from certain he’d be ready to return at all. Now, according to Keefe, it’s “very much looking like he’s going to be back this season, which is very good for us.”
Heading into Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks, the Leafs coach was planning to make a couple lineup adjustments — replacing Rasmus Sandin with Timothy Liljegren on the blue line and starting Jack Campbell in goal.
Keefe is mindful of overworking his young defencemen, which is one of the benefits of getting healthier. He’ll be able to better manage their workload.
“Frankly, yes, and that’s the conversation that I’ve had with them,” he said. “It’s important for us to not allow our circumstances to put those guys in difficult spots. Rasmus Sandin, with our team, just played 15 games in 29 days in the NHL in February — that’s a lot to ask for a young guy and take on a lot of responsibility here with the injuries and such.”