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Auston Matthews (34) of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on against the Washington Capitals during the third period at Capital One Arena on Oct. 13, 2018 in Washington, D.C.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Auston Matthews is ready to play hockey again. But the medical mavens have to be satisfied first.

That means official word from the Toronto Maple Leafs will not come until a few hours before Wednesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks at the earliest. In today’s NHL, no player is healthy until a team doctor says he is, which is probably a good thing.

“In my mind, I’m ready to play tomorrow,” Matthews said after his first full-contact practice with the Leafs on Tuesday. Then again, after spending the past month rehabbing his injured shoulder and doing only the conditioning work allowed by the sports-science people, Matthews’s patience may not play into a wise decision about his return.

“I’ve been bored to death the past month,” Matthews said. “I’m excited just to be back with the team and get in the game [Wednesday], and do what we all do, which is play hockey.”

If a player is allowed to take part in contact at practice these days, he is generally considered ready for game action, even if the average NHL practice has about as much contact as a Mormon dance party. The only question is how many practices a player needs before he gets the green light. Last season, Matthews took part in two contact practices before he returned to the lineup.

However, the Leafs’ schedule appears not to have another full practice on it until next week, so it would be a surprise if Matthews does not play against the Sharks. Thursday is expected to be a day off and Friday the Leafs will be in St. Paul, Minn., to prepare for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. The plan Friday is for Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner, a Minnesota native, to play host to what’s become an annual outdoor Leafs practice that is really an intramural three-on-three charity tournament.

In the meantime, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock would have everyone believe it has not occurred to him who will play with Matthews.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t thought about it because until they tell me he’s playing it’s just us talking,” Babcock said. “When he’s available I’m sure we’ll find him some linemates.”

That wasn’t the only fun Babcock had with the media on Tuesday. He also made sure there were no full line drills in the Leafs’ practice, only four-on-four and lesser stuff, so no one could get a handle on who Matthews will have as linemates.

Even Matthews claims to be in the dark. “I don’t know, that’s a question for [Babcock],” he said in response to a double-barrelled question about potential linemates and the chances of William Nylander signing by Saturday’s 5 p.m. EST NHL deadline.

“The other is a question for Kyle,” Matthews replied on the Nylander matter, referring the matter to Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. There was no word on Tuesday about any progress in contract talks with Nylander, Matthews’s regular right winger until this season. If he doesn’t sign by the deadline, Nylander can’t play in the NHL this season.

While it could be assumed Matthews would simply be plugged back into his regular No. 1 centre spot between wingers Patrick Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen, there is a question there. Kapanen was a terrific replacement for Nylander after he was promoted to Matthews’s line but Marleau did not seem the best fit in the first month of the season.

Following Matthews’s injury, Marleau has been playing with centre Nazem Kadri and playing better. It would not be a surprise to see Marleau stay with Kadri and form the third line with someone like Connor Brown.

The vacancy at left wing with Matthews could then be filled by someone like Andreas Johnsson, who shook off a bad start to the season with a hat trick last Saturday. He might play there for a week or until Nylander is in game shape, assuming he signs. At that point, Kapanen could slide across to left wing on the Matthews line.

But Babcock made it clear he is not ready to make any pronouncements about Johnsson finally getting over the hump in his first full NHL season. When Johnsson was brought up in his media scrum, Babcock wondered aloud about both his three-goal night and Monday’s 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins, in which Johnsson went back to being decent rather than red-hot.

“Two nights ago or last night?” Babcock said. “My point there is that every single night in the league you’ve got to be whatever you are. You’ve got to figure out over time what your level watermark is. He’s getting better obviously, he’s feeling more confident and he’s got to continue to do that to have success.”

Actually, Babcock’s point was no player on any of his teams should ever get comfortable.

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