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Matthew Lombardi has been traded to Toronto. (ROBERT GALBRAITH)
Matthew Lombardi has been traded to Toronto. (ROBERT GALBRAITH)

Lombardi inches closer to return Add to ...

Matt Lombardi is "ecstatic" with the progress he's made so far.

And while there's still no timetable on when the Toronto Maple Leafs centre will be able to play, it appears he's closer than ever to getting back in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 13 of last year.

"I think the guys are maybe trying to avoid me a little out there," Lombardi said after taking part in a two-hour practice, without contact, today. "As camp moves along here we'll make a decision and see if I can get in some contact. If things go well, we'll see what the next step is."

More related to this story

Lombardi added that he's talked about recovering from a concussion with several other players who have been through it, including teammate Tim Connolly and Minnesota Wild winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who both missed nearly a full season with head injuries.

Lombardi said he has made more progress since he was traded to Toronto in early July than he had the previous eight months while a member of the Nashville Predators, a team he signed a lucrative free agent contract with but was only able to play two games because of a concussion suffered early in the year.

Lombardi continues to talk with Leafs doctors every day to monitor his progress but doesn't know when they'll be able to clear him.

"Two months ago, I couldn't do anything," he said. "I'm extremely excited about where I'm at right now. Obviously I've still got a little bit of ways to go, but things are moving along positively.

"We've kind of chatted about how this progression's going to be made. If things go well, we're going to keep moving forward. The next step's probably a little bit of contact and see how I do."

Lombardi's return to the lineup would be welcome news for the Leafs, as it was entirely uncertain when he would be able to play when the deal was made. A defensively savvy former 50-point man, he would be a considerable boost to the team's forward depth, especially in the third-line left winger role Leafs coach Ron Wilson has him tentatively pencilled in for.

"I think he's farther along maybe than Sidney Crosby is," Wilson said. "In relation to that. In the next week or so, he'll have another consultation, and then we'll make a decision. There is no timelines. This isn't you sprained ankle, they tell you out six weeks. Most of the doctors don't even know. When you're symptom free for a number of weeks that's usually when they'll clear you."

Notebook

- The Leafs will host the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow at the ACC in their fourth preseason game, and Connolly is expected to be in the lineup against his former team. He missed practice today due to personal reasons.

- Ryan Miller will start for Buffalo in that game.

- Wilson added that the Leafs will have a stronger lineup for the home game and will send more of their kids to Buffalo for Saturday's rematch. Toronto is expected to be down under 30 players by Sunday, meaning 18 or so more cuts are to come in the next three days.

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