TORONTO– Jake Gardiner is making progress with the Toronto Marlies, but there is still no time line for his return to the NHL.
The 22-year-old has spent the past two weeks skating with the Marlies in an effort to prove he has overcome a concussion suffered in early December, however head coach Dallas Eakins hinted it could take more time for the sophomore to get back to being the NHL-calibre player he was prior to injury.
“I think he’s getting back up to speed,” said Eakins. (But) he was out a long, long time. People just think ‘hey you’re back from your concussion, flick the switch you’re ready to go.’ You miss five or six weeks, it’s not like he had a shoulder injury and we could pound him on the bike and have him skate. You have to figure out, is it a concussion, is it his neck, what’s going on? And (the players) are not allowed to do anything and you lose a lot and you lose your timing and he needs to play a little bit.”
On Saturday, the 2009 first-round pick suited up in his fifth game with the Marlies and had his best game since his demotion with added minutes, two assists and the game’s second star. Although he admits he feels “pretty normal”, he still seems unsure of himself when it comes to rejoining the Leafs.
“I think so, I hope so,” Gardiner said when asked if he was ready to be re-called.
Playing with the Marlies during the NHL lockout, Gardiner was originally concussed in a game against the Rochester Americans on Dec. 8. After sitting out over a month, the blue liner was cleared and joined the Leafs to start the NHL season. He suited up twice for the Leafs in late January, but his conditioning wasn’t where Leafs coach Randy Carlyle wanted it and he was sent back to the AHL to regain form.
“If I get (back to the Leafs) I’ll have to do what I did last year and play hard every night,” said Gardiner.”Until then I’ll try and earn my spot.”
Prior to his injury, Gardiner had nine goals, including five on the power play, seventeen points and an even rating in 22 AHL games. This time around, he has three assists and is minus-4 in five outings.
Last season, as a rookie, Gardiner skated in a combined 106 games between Toronto’s two clubs.