Tonight was a lot of fun for a preseason game. It was the first chance for us to see William Nylander play in a Leafs uniform, and the hype leading up to the game was something else. I’m not sure if Rielly or Kadri had this much behind them in their first camps, but from the broadcast crew to the hockey twitter crowd, folks were definitely excited.
This was probably the most I’ve looked forward to exhibition hockey since the Leafs landed Versteeg in 2010, and the game didn’t disappoint. Neither did Nylander.
The Leafs jumped off to a good start in this one. Nylander lined up with Kessel and Santorelli to start things off, and one thing I quickly noticed was how fast Santorelli can get up the ice. He’s like a Matthew Lombardi but hopefully with better hands. The team just looked fast overall.
There were a few decent carry-ins and the Leafs were alright working the puck in the offensive zone. Their breakouts still appeared confusing and choppy, but they were able to use a generally good first period to take a 1-0 lead after 20 mins on a James van Riemsdyk snipe. And a snipe it was.
(h/t to Jeffler for making these sweet internet moving pictures)
The second period wasn’t as fun, as neither team scored and the Leafs were sort of weak to start, so let’s just talk about the players again.
It was nice to see Komarov back in the fold. He lined up mostly with Smith and Kozun, and the trio did some solid work in the offensive zone at times. They looked quick, too. Komarov also took a lot of penalty-killing duties, ending up with 4:19 SH TOI on the night, and he handled them well.
Toronto eventually blew things open in the third, as Kozun started things off with a short-handed goal, then Franson used his quick release to bank a shot off Luke Schenn and past Mason.
Then this happened.
It wasn’t the first time Nylander looked impressive on the night. He picked pockets earlier in the game, and nearly scored a couple times. He also ripped a pass from his own zone to set up Broll on a break-away, which was a thing of beauty.
Overall, Nylander had a somewhat predictable game for a super-talented 18-year-old. At times it was obvious he had trouble with spacing, and held on to the puck a bit too long, but it was also clear just how much skill he possesses. He has “it”.
For this game it would have to be van Riemsdyk. He was dangerous all night, and nearly looked out of place he was so good. The Flyers’ lineup wasn’t particularly strong and he ran them over. He should have finished the night with two goals on the scoresheet, but one wasn’t called by the refs and couldn’t be reviewed.
- Gardiner was so, so fast, and made some fancy plays that only he can make. It seemed like he was given a lot of freedom to jump into plays and complete some carry-ins, so it’ll be interesting to see if that applies to the regular season as well.
- Kessel was dynamite as usual.
- Nylander saw some good powerplay minutes, and handled them well. He sets up on the wall like Kessel. Having back-to-back options who are confident with the puck in that area will be nice in the future. The kid can pass.
- Bernier didn’t seem to miss a beat over the summer. He was as impressive as ever, and Bibeau looked strong too. Feels nice to talk about Leafs goaltending without the nightmares.
- Polak didn’t impress, but it’s just one game. He made some attempts at big hits that put him out of position, and ended up taking three minor penalties. Not good, Roman.
- NHL.com boxscore here.
- Possession stats (via @theninjagreg) here.
- The Leafs are back at it tomorrow with split-squad games against the Senators in Ottawa and Toronto. They’re both at 7:30pm EST, and the Toronto game can be caught on TSN4.