TORONTO – It’s rare that an injured player will meet with the media before he’s ready to return to action, but Morgan Rielly was in the Maple Leafs’ dressing room on Wednesday with his usual broad smile to share positive news about the lower-body injury he suffered Tuesday night.

Rielly was tripped up by Buffalo Sabres forward William Carrier and tumbled into the boards early in the first period. He managed one more shift before his night was over. Head coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday that Rielly will not be in the lineup on Thursday against the New York Rangers, the first time in his NHL career the 22-year-old will miss a game due to injury. There is no timetable for his return.

“Right now, it’s day-to-day so that’s good news,” Rielly said. “Whenever you go down awkwardly and you don’t really know what happened you get a bit concerned. The way it looks [on replay] is the way it felt. I’m happy that I’m walking around and everything and I’m feeling better than I was yesterday.”

Rielly left for the dressing room immediately after the fall with a slight limp, but tried to return several minutes later. While Toronto challenged a Buffalo goal, Rielly took several twirls on the ice and felt pretty normal – until the game started again.

“You don’t really know what it’s like until you skate,” he said. “You start going full speed and certain things don’t work the way they’re supposed to. We called it, and I think the doctors made the right decision.”

A devastating ACL injury to his right knee caused Rielly to miss all but 18 games of his draft year, but the defenceman was quick to say this injury wasn’t as serious. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported it’s an injury to his ankle, and the severity is still in question.

In Rielly’s absence Tuesday, Jake Gardiner stepped in to play 29:24, the biggest minutes of his career. He will move up to the team’s top pair with Nikita Zaitsev, while Connor Carrick will play alongside Frank Corrado.

Fresh off a two-week American Hockey League conditioning stint where he notched three assists, Corrado got the news from the assembled media that he’d be paired with Carrick.

“I think we both can move the puck pretty good, might be able to make a little happen on the blueline,” said Corrado, who has played in one game for the Maple Leafs this season. “Morgan’s a huge part of our team so you never want to see [an injury] happen. It’s an opportunity none the less. I’m a hockey player, so it’s nice to play hockey.”

Replacing Rielly’s team-leading minutes (22:51 per game going into Tuesday) and his penalty-killing abilities won’t be easy. Gardiner has had a standout season so far, pacing the club’s blueliners with 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) and in puck possession (53.9 Corsi-for percentage). But he and Carrick have also had more offensive zone starts than any other Toronto pairing (over 55 per cent), and Gardiner averages 2:35 per game on the power play.

With the team on a three-game winning streak, and 9-1-1 in their last 11 games, Gardiner isn’t overthinking the prospect of playing tougher minutes.

“Nowadays it seems teams have two or three lines that are pretty high-end,” he said. “I feel pretty confident right now. When you start getting points, you get more confidence. I think I’ve been a lot more consistent this year, that’s been a big part of it too.”

The Maple Leafs could face a tall task in the Rangers on Thursday, after beating them handily in their own building less than a week ago. However the defensive minutes ended up doled out, Babcock isn’t mourning the loss of his best defender.

“It’s next man up, right?” Babcock said. “We’re going to find out who wants to play more right now. We always try to be five together and when we get the puck we like to create space as much as we can. It’s no different. It’s not like we’re changing anything now that Morgan is out.”