Leafs' Kessel could play Tuesday against Tampa


The Maple Leafs could get a large offensive boost on Tuesday night.

Phil Kessel is almost done recovering from shoulder surgery and could make his Leafs debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Air Canada Centre.

“(There’s) a good chance of it, yeah,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said on Thursday afternoon after the Leafs practised at a suburban Buffalo arena.

Kessel didn’t say much as he was hustled to the team bus by a Leafs staff member, but acknowledged he has been cleared for physical play in practice. As for suiting up versus Tampa, the 22-year-old took a wait-and-see approach.

“It’s a few days away,” Kessel said. “I’ll see how it feels. I don’t know yet.”

The pressure on Kessel to produce will be enormous, and not only because the last-place Leafs are among the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL with 24 goals in 10 games.

Leafs general manager Brian Burke put much of his reputation on the line in September when he traded first-round picks in 2010 and 2011, as well as a second-rounder in 2010, to the Boston Bruins for Kessel.

Kessel scored 36 goals for the Bruins last year, benefitting greatly from playing with centre Marc Savard, and the Leafs simply don’t have a player as talented as Savard to get Kessel the puck.

Kessel had surgery in May to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum in his left shoulder, delaying his Leafs debut.

Meanwhile, the Leafs, who are in Buffalo on Friday night to play the Sabres before finishing a five-game trip in Montreal on Saturday night, have recalled forward Jiri Tlusty from Toronto of the American Hockey League. Sent to the minors were rookie forward Viktor Stalberg, who has one assist in eight games, and goaltender Joey MacDonald.