Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly nears return: ‘He’s gotta be antsy’

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly (44). (Nathan Denette/CP)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Morgan Rielly is on the brink of returning to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.

“If you didn’t know he was injured, you wouldn’t know he was injured. Eventually they’re gonna let him out of jail there and let him play,” head coach Mike Babcock said Thursday evening.

The 23-year-old defenceman skated at Madison Square Garden with Frederik Andersen and fellow scratches Matt Martin and Josh Leivo Thursday morning.

The Leafs have gone 5-1 in six games with their No. 1 defenceman sidelined due to an upper-body injury suffered Jan. 18 in Philadelphia.

Babcock said Rielly does not need to participate in a full team practice before returning to game action. So with the Leafs having Friday off, it’s possible Rielly returns Saturday in Boston.

“I think he’s ready to go,” Babcock said. “He’s gotta be getting antsy, too.”

Veteran defencemen Ron Hainsey and Roman Polak, who are suffering from illness, did not travel with the Leafs to New York but may be available to play Saturday as well.

Once Toronto’s defence core reaches full health, expect call-up Justin Holl to return to the Marlies. Tougher decisions must be made on the internal third-pairing competition being waged by Travis Dermott, Connor Carrick, Andreas Borgman and Polak.

Toronto assigned winger Nikita Soshnikov to the AHL Marlies on a conditioning stint Thursday. Soshnikov has only appeared in three NHL games this season, the most recent being Nov. 24.

“If [Soshnikov] wants to get traction with this group, he’s got to get playing at a high level, so when he gets playing, he can stay in,” Babcock said.

“He plays with energy, he plays nasty, he’s a good penalty killer. He’s just had no opportunity.”

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