The Toronto Maple Leafs are set to experiment with William Nylander at center as they kick off their upcoming season. Coach Sheldon Keefe revealed this strategic move, acknowledging that Nylander was originally drafted as a center but hasn’t played much in that position during his time in Toronto. The decision to place Nylander at center aims to give him a more well-rounded skill set while providing the Maple Leafs with offensive diversity.
Keefe expressed his confidence in Nylander’s capabilities, stating, “I think Willy can do whatever he puts his mind to. He’s that good.” This transition won’t be a one-off or a brief preseason experiment; the team plans to invest time in this position shift.
By slotting Nylander behind star centers Auston Matthews and John Tavares, the Maple Leafs aim to create three potent scoring lines. This change also leads to David Kämpf taking on the role of fourth-line center, where his defensive skills are better utilized.
John Tavares had high praise for Nylander, emphasizing the Swede’s progress and unique talent. Tavares expressed the team’s desire to have Nylander as a key player for the long term, a sentiment echoed by GM Brad Treliving, who emphasized that signing Nylander to a new contract is a priority. “Willy made tremendous strides, I think, throughout my whole time here”, Tavares said. He added, “He’s such a special and unique talent, and he’s obviously someone we want to be here for a long time. He’s stated that as well. There’s lots of time here.”
In terms of faceoffs, Nylander has a career faceoff win rate of 50.7%, but his success rate dropped to 42.4% last season. While Nylander is known for his goal-scoring prowess, he has sometimes faced criticism for his defensive play. This position shift will provide Nylander with an opportunity to develop his skills and contribute to the team in new ways.
Is This Huge Risk Going to Pay Off?
The move to center for Nylander represents an exciting but potentially risky development for both the player and the team as they seek to maximize their offensive potential while improving their overall performance. As the season progresses, Maple Leafs fans will be watching closely to see how Nylander adapts to his new role and whether it proves to be a successful strategic adjustment for the team.
And, if Keefe intends to give it time and stick with it, the hope is that Nylander excels early.
Next: Toronto Maple Leafs: The Battle for the Top-Line Left-Wing Spot