Connolly ready to re-join Leafs

For all of the knocks Tim Connolly takes in Leafs Nation and beyond, he does add an element or two to the Maple Leafs lineup when he is healthy.

And with his first full practice with his teammates since suffering an upper-body injury against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 5, Connolly took a big stride toward returning to the lineup.

The smart money probably is on Connolly being in uniform not until Thursday evening when the Leafs visit the Nashville Predators, with a smaller chance that it happens on Tuesday night when the Phoenix Coyotes visit the Air Canada Centre.

For coach Ron Wilson, Connolly is not just the guy to plug in between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.

“(Connolly’s defensive contribution) does get overlooked,” Wilson said after the Leafs practised at the MasterCard Centre.

“It’s due to experience and playing for a defensive-minded team in Buffalo. He does have the defensive-zone coverage pretty much nailed.”

Connolly, believed to be recovering from a rib problem, didn’t completely rule out suiting up against the Coyotes. But he wasn’t going to have a clearer idea until Tuesday morning.

“I was not 100% out there today, but I felt pretty good,” Connolly, who has missed the past three games, said. “Skating, shooting, a little bit of everything. It’s just not quite there. I can’t get up to full speed or a full shot but I am not too far away.”