We all knew that at some point, William Nylander would be making his return to the Toronto Marlies. From the sounds of it, though, that time is still a ways away, and will be to complete unfinished business more so than anything else. While Leafs management still haven’t publicly announced whether or not their teenage phenom will play beyond his ninth game, Mike Babcock appears to be more than content with the idea of having him stick around.
“I haven’t sat down with Lou and said hey, what are we doing with this guy?” the head coach told media after today’s morning skate. “But to me, the idea was to bring him up to keep him up. I think the same shows with [Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov], if they can show they can play, then let’s play them.”
Nylander hasn’t quite lit up the score sheet just yet, picking up two goals and no assists in his first eight games. But he’s shown flashes of brilliance, chipping in the occasional pretty play with the puck and playing positive possession hockey throughout the stretch. He also just about tore the roof off of the Air Canada Centre via the crowd’s ecstasy after a last-minute, game-tying goal against the New York Islanders last week; something that fans hope they’ll see much more of down the stretch.
What Babcock has noticed the most, though, is Nylander’s top-end skating ability; something that all of the recent call-ups have in common. “I think it’s been real good for those kids, obviously, they’re very effective players that play with much more speed than the group we had. All you have to do is look at the good teams and how fast they are.”
Babcock also mentioned that Nylander could have made the team on opening night, but felt it made more sense for everyone if the carry-over players from the previous system were acclimated first. “You come into a new program, I think it’s important that you the players that were supposed to be leading the way playing the way a Leaf should play.” Babcock said. “When you’re done with that, you can help the other guys more.”
If Nylander plays through to Game #10, it will burn the first year of his entry-level contract, which the Leafs were previously on pace to let slide for a second consecutive year. As a non-CHL drafted player, games played in Europe or the lower North American Pro league are treated in the same fashion that going back to junior would be, which allows for a situation like this to paly out. Nylander will also not play enough games to burn a year of restricted status, which means the Leafs could actually benefit from signing him long-term at a younger age without risking losing him sooner. The Calgary-born Swede kept his answer about the situation short today, stating that “we’ll have to see what they decide”.
Nylander is expected to once again centre the second line with P.A. Parenteau and Zach Hyman on his wings tonight as they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 PM.