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Leafs Line Shuffle

Willy at centre? Again?

It’s been 134 days since the Toronto Maple Leafs surrendered game five of the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Florida Panthers in a heartbreaking overtime loss.

Tonight, they take the ice for the first time since.

There’s been a flurry of news around the team in the past week as training camp has gotten underway. Most notably, Sheldon Keefe has told reporters that William Nylander will be starting camp at centre.

“Willy’s moved to centre at different times since I’ve been here, moving from wing to centre is a lot more difficult on the fly than it is to move from centre to wing, so giving him some time and some opportunity to grow into that position through camp, and have experience and confidence to do it gives us a chance to see what it looks like. How it affects Willy’s game, but also how it affects our team and the flow of our team,”

As Keefe pointed out, Nylander has gotten a few opportunities at centre, none of which have stuck for very long, or produced meaningful results.

“I think it’s important to do so. Willy’s been fully on board. He’s totally comfortable playing centre. He gets drafted as a centre, I coached him playing centre with the Marlies, so it’s not a huge leap…”

While the past iterations of Nylander at centre have never lasted for more than a game, Keefe says that this time is different.

“We’ll commit to it for a bit here. Not committing to any specific period of time, but it’s not gonna be a one-off or a one-day thing. We want to give it some time to come together just to see what that looks like.”

This still remains the second biggest story revolving around Nylander, as the 27-year-old is still without a contract for next season.

Make no mistake, if Nylander was able to match his production of last season (40 goals, 87 points) while playing on the wing, he would’ve earned a massive raise on his next deal, in Toronto or elsewhere. 

But if he can produce even close to that while juggling the added responsibilities of an NHL centreman, he may end up as one of the highest-paid players in the league.

It’s a massive opportunity for Nylander, and a big swing from the Leafs to determine a fair-value contract for one of their best forwards.

Dave Felsbourg

Sunday, September 24, 2023

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