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Marner return not 'too far away,' Maple Leafs coach says

Forward who's missed past 10 games because of ankle injury practices, won't play against Flyers

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

TORONTO -- Mitchell Marner practiced Monday for the first time since sustaining a high-ankle sprain Nov. 9 and Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said the forward's return to the lineup was not far off.

The Maple Leafs placed forward Nicholas Shore on waivers Tuesday, indicating Marner's return could be imminent.

The 22-year-old, who led Toronto in scoring each of the past two seasons, will miss his 11th straight game when the Maple Leafs play the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, TVAS, NBCSP, TSN4, NHL.TV). Toronto then plays a home game Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche and visits the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.

Keefe said Tuesday that Marner could return as soon as the game against Colorado.

"We're unsure what his status for tomorrow is, but it's obviously a sign that it's imminent," Keefe said. "I haven't found out today on how his day went today. We'll see how his day goes tomorrow and make a decision whether it's tomorrow or the weekend."

Marner, who has 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in 18 games, was injured against the Flyers on Nov. 9 when he got tangled up with Philadelphia forward Carsen Twarynski and fell awkwardly on his ankle. The team said initially that he was expected to be out a minimum of four weeks but Marner credited the medical staff for getting him to a position where he is ahead of schedule.

Video: MIN@TOR: Marner beats Dubnyk five-hole for PPG

When Marner returns, he's expected to play right wing on a line with center John Tavares and left wing Ilya Mikheyev after the forwards skated together at practice Monday. Zach Hyman spent the majority of last season at left wing with Tavares and Marner, but Keefe said he wants to see how Hyman's skill set will fit on a line with center Alexander Kerfoot and right wing Kasperi Kapanen.

Marner's teammates are eager to have him back.

"He's one of our best players," forward Andreas Johnsson said before the game against the Flyers. "When one of those guys is missing, you notice that a lot. So hopefully he can come back as soon as possible.

Marner, who had been skating recently with injured forward Trevor Moore, said his biggest hurdle right now is making sure his fitness level is where he needs it to be before returning to the lineup.

Video: TOR@CBJ: Marner scores second from the doorstep

"I felt good. I feel like I've been working hard in the gym and trying to keep my conditioning up," Marner said Monday. "It's always hard to keep it up in the gym but the last couple days I've been on the ice with Trevor, so I feel like [my] conditioning is back where I need it to be."

General manager Kyle Dubas said Monday that getting the chance to assess a fully healthy roster will be nice when Marner returns but that the potential for further injuries must always be considered.

"Full health is a luxury that not many teams have. Even teams in our division, Boston has missed a lot of guys in the last two years, but they won their seventh in a row [Sunday] night, they just continue to find a way," Dubas said. 

"It would be great in a perfect world to have the best 20 every night. I don't think in a League this physical and with 82 games in about 180 days, it's tough to be there all the time where everyone is 100 percent healthy, but Mitch is a special player and we'll be excited to get him back here in the coming days."

Johnsson said he's also looking forward to having a healthy roster.

"That's one thing I've been hearing a lot about, that we haven't had a chance to show what we really can do with a full roster," he said. "It will be exciting when everyone comes back to see what we can do together." deputy managing editor Adam Kimelman contributed to this report


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