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Here’s how the Maple Leafs’ opening-night lineup could look with Nylander at 3C

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
9 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs officially opened training camp today, one day after media day provided a series of quotes and topics to discuss. While there wasn’t much attention on Morgan Rielly’s comments about not agreeing with Ryan Reaves calling the Leafs dressing room ‘quiet’, there was a ton of attention on William Nylander.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed Nylander is going to get an extended look to start the season at centre. The four centres will be Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Nylander and David Kampf. An interesting start to the Leafs’ 2023-24 season as apparently general manager Brad Treliving was the one who suggested the lineup tweak to Keefe, who of course accepted. Keefe’s been known to tinker with his lineups almost too much during games so this was probably music to his ears from his new boss.
Toronto’s head coach trusts Nylander’s game and had very high praise for #88 at media day mentioning – “I think Willy can do whatever he puts his mind to. He’s that good.” Playing down the middle could be where he starts the season, assuming it goes well in preseason. If that’s the case, here’s how the rest of the Maple Leafs lineup should look:
Matthew Knies – Auston Matthews – Calle Jarnkrok
Tyler Bertuzzi – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
Nick Robertson – William Nylander – Max Domi
Sam Lafferty – David Kampf – Ryan Reaves
Noah Gregor
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
Jake McCabe – John Klingberg
Mark Giordano – Timothy Liljegren
Simon Benoit
Ilya Samsonov
Joseph Woll
For today, let’s just focus on the forward lines with having Nylander down the middle. It’s worth noting he’s only taken 147 faceoffs over the course of the last three seasons and he won 72 of those for a 49% clip. So while he was drafted a centre, he’s been mostly on the wing throughout his career and is rather green in the faceoff dot.
Let’s zone in on the third line first. While Nylander hasn’t seen too much ice down the middle of late, Domi on the other hand has taken 1432 faceoffs over the course of the past three seasons and won 52% of his draws. So if you put Domi on the third line and Nylander is struggling in the dot, it gives him an escape and allows for Domi to take the faceoff on his strong side. The other member of that line could very well be Robertson, who is ready to prove himself as a regular NHLer. We know he can score and his shot is elite, it’s his strength that’s always been in question and he’ll need to prove himself defensively to Keefe to start the season. I think this trio could do some damage against other team’s third lines.
Having Tavares, Marner and Bertuzzi on the second line gives the Maple Leafs perhaps the best second line in all of hockey. Out of Matthews, Tavares and Nylander, it’s the Leafs’ captain who will have the hardest time driving his own line. Having Marner on his wing is something that’s comforting and Bertuzzi in front of the net is a great compliment to the trio. Tavares could easily get back to producing 40-plus goals on the year with Marner on his wing for the majority of the season.
As for the Maple Leafs’ top line, remind yourselves that Matthews asked Keefe last season to play with Jarnkrok and the duo looked locked in at times throughout the season. Adding Knies to the line gives them a strong balance of speed, skill, and work ethics that may not be matched throughout the rest of Toronto’s lineup. Knies loves the front of the net, Matthews is the best 5-on-5 scorer in the league and Jarnkrok showed off his release last season and could easily surpass 20 goals playing alongside Matthews and Knies.
This would also give the Maple Leafs rookie a vote of confidence from the coaching staff that they trust his game. Matthews mentioned during media day that he feels Knies is ready for a full season as he’s been skating with him most of the summer and can see his skillset first hand. Knies measured in at 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds and appears set for a successful rookie campaign.
That’s how I could see the lineup taking shape when the Maple Leafs open up the season Oct.11 against the Montreal Canadiens. Preseason will be fun to watch as the internal competition among the entire team hasn’t been this intense for a very long time. Could we see Nylander at centre regularly in 2023-24? Anything’s possible.

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