TORONTO - Morgan Rielly is staying, Joffrey Lupul is limping and David Clarkson is on the verge of playing his first regular season game for the Maple Leafs.
There were certainly plenty of storylines at practice on Thursday for the Maple Leafs, who departed the Mastercard Centre after their morning workout en route for Columbus.
When the Leafs step onto the ice against the Blue Jackets Friday, they’ll have both Rielly and Clarkson in the lineup. Lupul’s status, meanwhile, was up in the air Thursday afternoon after he took a shot in the foot and was forced to leave practice early.
For the 19-year-old Rielly, it was one of the biggest days of his young career. Prior to practice, he was informed by general manager Dave Nonis that he would be staying with the parent club rather than being sent back to junior.
Most observers figured the decision would be made after the Blue Jackets game, but the Leafs opted not to wait that long. Evidently they had seen enough to make up their minds.
“Morgan Rielly will stay with our hockey club,” Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said after practice Thursday. “We would like him to find a roommate and move in with somebody. We think it’s imperative a player 19 years old move in with somebody.
“We just thought that with the contributions he has made here, this is the best place for him. He’s on our team and he’s playing a decent amount of minutes.
“The games are going to get tougher. But he’s earned the opportunity to play for our group.”
When Rielly plays his 10th NHL game - scheduled for Saturday night against Pittsburgh - the first year of his contract automatically is activated.
Obviously the Leafs organization feels confident enough it will be money well spent.
After 40 NHL games, the rookie moves one year closer to eligibility for salary arbitration and unrestricted free agency.
The Leafs do still hold the right to send him back to junior during the season, but he is not eligible to play in the American Hockey League.
“This is a different situation for us,” Carlyle said. “We’re not guaranteeing the player will be with us for the rest of the year. The option of him going to the AHL is not with us. We just look at him and his contribution has been solid. If he wasn’t making a contribution here it wouldn’t even be a thought.”
The feeling among the Leaf brass is that Rielly’s development is best overseen by an NHL coaching staff, not a junior one.
“I’m excited. It’s a pretty good feeling,” said Rielly, the mobile defenceman who has accrued four points - all assists - in his first eight NHL games.
Asked about his criteria for a potential roommate, he chuckled.
“Probably a young guy,” he said. “I don’t want to live with any old guys.” Lupul, meanwhile, was slated to be examined Thursday afternoon after being nailed by a shot in practice. It was a similar type of incident that has kept Nikolai Kulemin out of the lineup for several weeks.
Lupul was not wearing the plastic mould that protects a players foot, much to Carlyle’s chagrin.
“It’s hard to defend the position of them not putting them on in practice,” Carlyle said. “There is a little bit of frustration, whatever word you want to use, in them getting an injury in practice.”
To be fair, James van Riemsdyk admitted he doesn’t wear one either because it “doesn’t feel right.” Teammate Cody Franson, to this point, has not either, but says he will at least try one after watching Lupul get plunked.
“Frankly, it’s a pain in the ass to wear,” Franson said. “But for my own protection, I’m going to test it out.”
Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets will feature the regular-season Maple Leafs debut of prized free agent acquisition David Clarkson, who has finished serving the 10-game suspension he received for leaving the bench during a pre-season game against the Buffalo Sabres. The Leafs went 7-3 without Clarkson in the lineup.
Clarkson started on the third line with centre Dave Bolland and left winger Mason Raymond at practice on Thursday but could be bumped up tp the second line with centre Nazem Kadri and Jay McClement if Lupul can’t go.
Clarkson doesn’t care where he plays ... just as long as he PLAYS.
“I have been waiting for this for a long time,” Clarkson said. “It’s been so hard to watch. But the guys have done a great job to start the season.”
Carlyle said both Kulemin and Frazer McLaren would make the trip to central Ohio, adding “it would be a stretch to say they will play.” According to the coach, McLaren has received medical clearance to play.