More good news on Leafs' Lombardi

Matthew Lombardi during a Toronto Maple Leafs practice at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey...

Matthew Lombardi during a Toronto Maple Leafs practice at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence in Toronto on Thursday September 22 2011. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:51 PM ET

Matthew Lombardi isn’t ready for grunge hockey just yet, but he wouldn’t mind a little rock and roll.

That’s music to the ears of the Maple Leafs, who could have the centre back early in the season if his recovery from a career-threatening concussion continues at this rate.

Lombardi, limited to two autumn games last season with Nashville, has joined full team practices the past couple of days and is anticipating the next step of body contact.

“Obviously, the guys are trying to avoid me a little bit right now,” Lombardi said Thursday at the MasterCard Centre. “As camp moves along, we’ll make a decision and see if I can get in some real contact.

“We’ve been working a lot of defensive zone coverage, I’ve been going into the five-on-five (drills) at both ends of the rink and I’ve been getting in a little bit of that (bumping).”

Lombardi was a risky pick-up by the Leafs in a summer trade with Nashville that was ostensibly about getting big defenceman Cody Franson. Lombardi’s $3.5 million US salary through 2013 was a whopper for a player with a clouded future. But the Leafs had the cap space for both players and now Lombardi is looking like he will at least get into the lineup.

“Two months ago, I couldn’t do anything, so I’m extremely excited about where I am right now,” said Lombardi. “I’m not 100% to take a big hit, but that’s going to come pretty soon.”

He checks with a team doctor every day and coach Ron Wilson says a full consultation is expected next week.

“Matthew still has to pass some more tests, but he’s allowed to get more and more involved,” Wilson said. “I can’t predict, but I’d say he’s farther along than Sidney Crosby is. There is no timeline. This isn’t like you sprain your ankle and you’re out six weeks.

“When you are sympton-free for a few weeks, they will clear you.”

Lombardi, who can play centre or wing, could be plugged in just about anywhere on the top three lines.

“I’m not feeling like the puck is around me right now,” he admitted. “But that’s part of being off so long. My conditioning is getting better and that’s all I can ask for.

“Right now, if I’m pushing it a little more, it’s usually later on in the day when I feel (general body soreness catching up). I’m past the point where I think (problems) are going to happen out on the ice. So I go home, evaluate how I’m feeling and if it’s good, we keep progressing. And hopefully that will be the way it goes from here on out.

“I definitely need to get in better shape. Practices are high tempo, guys are flying out there and that’s good for me because I need to try and keep up and push myself. I still have a little ways to go.”


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