If you got distracted by the major non-news story that Wayne Gretzky has had no contact with MLSE about taking over as Toronto Maple Leafs President, you may just have missed the fact that Jake Gardiner is getting ever closer to a return to action.
After skating on his own several times last week, Gardiner participated in his first full practice with the team Tuesday since his injury. The smooth skating defenseman has been out since December 8th with a concussion he suffered while playing for the Toronto Marlies. Gardiner said he felt good after the practice and could get back into the line-up as early as Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins if doctors clear him.
The Leafs have done a good job of being patient with Gardiner, but who will he bump to the press box and where will he fit best when he returns? The easy answer is, who cares? Having Gardiner back out there elevates whoever he is playing with and there is little debate that he is the team’s best defenseman. A better answer might be to pair him with Mike Kostka. The two played together with the Marlies earlier in the campaign before Gardiner got hurt, and saw them both thrive when it came to the scoresheet.
Gardiner led all rookie defenseman in minutes played and points in the 2011-12 season, so having him back helps the Leafs in many ways. The main thing Gardiner will hope to accomplish whenever he returns, is to spark an offense that has only been able to score on the power play so far this year, and hasn’t generated much in 5-on-5 situations.