Joffrey Lupul gave the Leafs some encouragement on Monday.
As for James van Riemsdyk, he gave his teammates a scare.
On the day Lupul joined his Maple Leafs teammates for practice for the first time since suffering a fractured forearm on Jan. 23 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, van Riemsdyk left practice early on Monday after appearing to hurt his right leg during a tumble at the Mastercard Centre. He did not speak to reporters afterward.
The fact that van Riemsdyk was able to leave the ice on his own was construed by many observers to be a positive sign. General manager Dave Nonis later indicated that van Riemsdyk was fine, meaning the lanky winger is expected to play against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday at the MTS Centre.
Lupul, who was first injured when he was nailed by a a slap shot off the stick of teammate Dion Phaneuf, was on the ice prior to his teammates on Monday, working on backhands and firing one-timers being fed to him by strengthening coach Anthony Belza. He also took part in various mobility drills under the watchful eyes of team skating coach Barb Underhill.
Once he was joined by the rest of the Leafs, Lupul skated with Mikhail Grabovski and NIkolai Kulemin for about 20 minutes before leaving for the dressing room.
While Lupul is getting closer to a return, he still has a couple of hurdles to overcome before returning to the lineup. Keep in mind that he has yet to be cleared for contact, let alone made it through an entire practice.
Some observers are predicting he might see game action later this week - Thursday versus Pittsburgh or Saturday against Winnipeg - but next week might be a more realistic possibility in the event the team opts to go the cautious route.
Coach Randy Carlyle had toyed with the idea of bringing Lupul to Winnipeg to participate in the morning skate at the MTS Centre Tuesday, but Lupul later revealed that he was going to stay behind in Toronto.
“It was a small step,” Lupul said about being able to finally practise with his teammates. “I’d just call it day to day. It’s been about seven weeks now so I’m not going to say “Oh I’ll be back in seven-weeks-and-a-day or seven-weeks-and-two days.
“You work on things to try and strengthen where the surgery was performed. That’s what you concentrate on.”
With the Leafs already being at the 24-man roster limit, GM Dave Nonis and his coach will have some decisions to make once Lupul is ready to step back into the lineup.
First, what kind of roster move do they make to create space for Lupul? Is David Steckel a candidate? Is struggling Korbinian Holzer slated to be the odd man out? It is an intriguing dilemma, to be sure.
Secondly, where does Lupul play? Does he usurp van Riemsdyk on the top unit alongside his former linemates Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel? Was Monday’s practice a sign of things to come, a workout in which he skated alongside Grabovski and Kulemin? Or does Carlyle have something else up his sleeve?
Whatever decision is made, this much is certain: The Leafs will be a better team with the return of Lupul, who led the club in scoring last season with 67 points.