Maple Leafs centre O’Reilly skates with team, ‘making his way back’

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Ryan O'Reilly skates during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Toronto Maple Leafs had a welcome sight Saturday morning when Ryan O’Reilly took to the ice with his teammates for the first time since breaking his finger.

Coach Sheldon Keefe said the centre actually skated by himself Friday in Raleigh and has been on the ice a fair bit back home in Toronto, too. It’s all part of the process of the two-way centre working his way back from an injury that occurred three weeks ago.

“We wanted to bring him on this trip and have him around the group for a portion of the trip,” Keefe said after the Leafs’ optional morning skate ahead of their Hockey Night in Canada game with the Carolina Hurricanes. “But, certainly, today is a big step. Yesterday was a good step for him, it was his first time really handling and shooting pucks. Today, again, he’s taking another step out here. So, certainly, he’s making his way back.”

O’Reilly fractured the index finger on his left hand when it was struck with a shot by Auston Matthews in Vancouver on March 4 and he had surgery to fix the digit on March 7 in New Jersey. Acquired from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 17, O’Reilly has played eight games with Toronto. And while the next one likely still won’t be for a little while yet, the team is obviously encouraged to see its biggest in-season acquisition making progress.

“He’s feeling better, but they’re going to be very cautious with it,” Keefe said. “It’s one thing to be handling pucks and shooting, but the contact — especially for a centre taking faceoffs and such — they’re going to take the time to make sure that the finger has appropriate time to heal and minimize any risk of re-injury.”

Morgan Rielly, who draws back into the lineup in North Carolina after sitting out Thursday’s win in Florida for some extra rest, said it’s just nice to see O’Reilly laying the track to return when it matters most.

“It’s good, he’s been working hard,” Rielly said. “It’s nice to have him on the road with us, and he’s doing what he can to try and get healthier and just get himself to a point where (when he can return) you can hit the ground running.”

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