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Leafs’ Rielly: Gardiner ready to prove he’s a ‘top-end’ blue liner

Totonto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 10: Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs prepares for a face-off against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on April 10, 2014 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

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Earlier in the day, it was widely reported Jake Gardiner will be in the lineup for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they host the Detroit Red Wings Friday evening.

Gardiner, 24, has appeared in only two of Toronto’s four games to start the season, and was a healthy scratch the other two times.

It’s an opportunity for Gardiner to try and show the Leafs’ coaching staff, led by Randy Carlyle, that he can be in the lineup on a full-time basis.

“He knows I can play better,” Gardiner told “I have to elevate my game to where it was last year and I’ll be fine.”

Of course, this storyline - not to mention the trade rumors surrounding the young defenseman last season, as well as talk of possibly converting him to a forward - is nothing new for Toronto, even after Gardiner signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract in the summer.

“Jake’s a true professional and he knows why he didn’t play but I think he’s ready to come back,” teammate Morgan Rielly told The Canadian Press.

“He’s going to play well. He’s driven. He wants to prove to Randy that he’s a top-end (defenseman) in this league.”

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