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William Nylander needs to flick the switch before playoffs

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Photo credit:Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
12 days ago
For the first three months of the 2023-24 NHL season, William Nylander was one of the top five players in the entire NHL. Lately, he’s hardly in the top five on his own team. The Maple Leafs need Nylander to flick the switch and become the dominant force he can be, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs are starting in less than a week.
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has tried a new ‘spread offense’ recently. Mitch Marner returned to the lineup on April 6 after missing 12 games with a lower-body injury and it gave Keefe a chance to get creative. Auston Matthews had Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi playing their best hockey as Leafs, John Tavares was centering the second line with Marner and Bobby McMann while Nylander was on the right side of the third line to help balance out the offense.
One problem: Nylander isn’t producing. Nylander looks disengaged at times throughout the game, with one goal in his last 11 games. Keefe has tried to move him up with Tavares and Marner for a spark and Nylander has remained in a slump. Aside from the first line, there’s still lots to work out among the forwards before the playoffs begin on April 20th.
Nylander has averaged at least three shots a game for most of the regular season, and of late, he hasn’t been able to get pucks on net, including back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers (March 30-April 1) where he only managed one shot on net. He’s been putting in some extra work with assistant general manager Hayley Wickenheiser, hoping the reps will translate into game action:
It’s not often you hear Nylander so frustrated when speaking to the media but unfortunately this late-season slump is getting to him. Can he break out of it? Of course he can! It’s more concerning that he’s often been floating around too often for someone that the Maple Leafs rely so heavily on.
Nylander’s frustrated and rightfully so. He’s become accustomed to results game in and game out, and right now not much is going his way. He managed to get out of a mini-slump once he signed his mega-extension on January 8 but after only a few games without producing, he found his groove and was back to his dominant self.
While Nylander is stuck on a career-high 40 goals and is only three points away from 100 on the season, the concerning part is his effort level. There have been numerous shifts the past couple of weeks where Nylander is not engaged, he’s not in proper defensive position and if you’re not going to find the scoresheet, you better be able to keep your opponents from doing so. This goal the Detroit Red Wings scored on Saturday night was a prime example of ‘bad Willy’:
Looking back at the previous three postseasons, Nylander has been a point-a-game player and there’s no reason why it can’t be the very same story this season. For most of the year, Nylander has been hunting down pucks, he’s been able to score some timely goals and he’s been engaged for a full 60 minutes. I’d put him with Tavares and Marner on a loaded-up second line and let them go to work together. They’ve shown they can dominate and that’s exactly what they’ll need to do if the Maple Leafs want to go deep these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If Nylander is out there floating around, shying away from contact and losing his defensive assignment, Toronto stands no chance. Let’s hope the switch gets flicked in time for when the games matter most.

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