Leafs hopeful Auston Matthews will be back at end of week

Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews has taken another step toward returning to Toronto's lineup.

Toronto coach Mike Babcock eyeing Thursday or Saturday games for return

Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews has missed the past six games with an upper-body injury. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews has taken another step toward returning to Toronto's lineup.

The 20-year-old suited up for his first full practice Monday since suffering a shoulder injury on Feb. 22. He was still wearing a red non-contact jersey, but head coach Mike Babcock was encouraged to see his young star last an entire session.

"He's obviously feeling way better," Babcock told reporters.

Matthews has been skating on his own, and was a brief participant in a pair of practices last week.

He also missed four games in November with a back injury before sitting out six more in December because of what was believed to be a concussion.

Could play Thursday

"He'll be in better shape when he comes back than he was when he left just because two of his previous injuries he couldn't skate during that time," Babcock said. "I think that's important for him. It'll still take him a bit for timing."

Babcock said Matthews will likely miss Wednesday's game at home against Dallas — his seventh in a row — but added he could suit up either Thursday in Buffalo or when Toronto hosts Montreal on Saturday.

"I would expect that he's going to be pushing not for the Dallas game, but after that sometime," said the coach. "I don't know when that is exactly, but I imagine that as he's feeling better he'll be part of the plan."

Despite missing 16 games this season, Matthews still leads the Leafs in goals with 28 and sits second in points with 50.

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