The Maple Leafs should keep William Nylander on the wing

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
7 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been discussing some options with their lineup this season, and according to Elliotte Friedman of 32 Thoughts, there’s been a little bit of chatter around William Nylander getting a look at centre. While he can essentially play all over the lineup given his elite skill set and skating abilities, the Maple Leafs should be keeping him on the wing this season.
Nylander isn’t a ‘natural centre’ but he’s shown over the course of the past eight seasons he’s very capable to fill in and has done so in spot duties. He’s never been given a long run down the middle and apparently this could potentially be the year.
What if John Tavares moves to the wing and Nylander is the second-line centre? To me, that’s a little easier to swallow based on the fact his minutes will still be significant, but at the same time, you’ll essentially have two players playing out of position. Is that what the Leafs are looking for this season? Play a bunch of forwards out of their comfort zone?

Nylander’s Coming Off Career-Best Season

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. An old saying that applies here. Nylander enjoyed a fantastic 2022-23 season and posted career highs in goals with 40, assists with 47 and of course total points at 87 in 82 games. He followed that up by collecting another 10 points in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games and headed into the offseason with sky-high confidence and determination to make his ‘contract year’ even better.
Nylander is in the final season of his contract that pays him $6.9 million against the cap. Yes, talks haven’t progressed as well as, say, Auston Matthews, who is now signed long-term, but the Nylander talks are next on the list for general manager Brad Treliving.
The lack of job security and the trade rumors that have been circulating this summer throughout the market have not bothered Nylander one bit. He lives by ‘Hakuna Matata’ and this carefree attitude and ability to not let things bother him is what makes the former first-round pick the perfect star for the Leafs. Playing in Toronto isn’t easy and considering all that’s been said and done, he has made it look easy for almost a decade.
After what Nylander showed he’s capable of last season and the year before for that matter, he should be staying on the wing. It seems to be working just fine and sure, if Tavares’ legs are catching up to him and it becomes a weak-link for head coach Sheldon Keefe, then of course, Nylander should be sliding over, or the Leafs have other options.

Nylander Deserves First-Line Minutes

Mitch Marner kills penalties, so that’s why he led the Leafs in average ice time last season, but you’ll have to scroll down to eighth on the team to find Nylander’s name. ‘Willy Styles’ saw an average of 18:32 per game last season and this number needs to somehow hit 20 minutes this season.
While it’s not killing penalties, Nylander deserves to see the ice more with Auston Matthews on the team’s top unit. Having Matthews, Nylander and Tyler Bertuzzi as the team’s top line and Tavares, Marner and Marner’s old pal Max Domi on the team’s second line. Coach Keefe may want to consider this his top six to start this season.
One thing is for sure, Nylander should not once be on the team’s second power-play unit. Keefe tried to experiment in the playoffs last season and it worked at times, but there’s no way the talented forward should be seeing the ice less when his team has a man advantage.

Centre Depth is Weak in Toronto

After Matthews and Tavares, the centre depth in Toronto does get thin. David Kampf will be leaned on heavily again this season and is expected to see a bump in minutes as the team’s third-line pivot with Pontus Holmberg having the inside track on the fourth line. Lots to love and lots to desire.
Domi is also an option down the middle and has shown in the past he’s capable, so that’s one more option to consider. Then who, Dylan Gambrell or Noah Gregor? Needless to say, there’s lots to sort itself out at training camp this week.
So, why is Nylander to centre all of a sudden a talking point again? These discussions have been taken place because there’s a number of new forwards in Toronto and considering all options weeks before your first game is smart business for the organization. It’s good to know what options are out there in case a player isn’t performing to start the year or a dreaded injury occurs. For now, Nylander should be starting on the wing and he should be seeing a ton of ice in the process.

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