In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at William Nylander’s first game after he transitioned to the center position and share his eagerness to adapt to the new role and the potential advantages and adjustments in playing in the middle. During the team’s first preseason game on Sunday, Nylander showed chemistry with Max Domi.
Second, I’ll look at some of the best players from the team’s first preseason game. It was not a roster of stars, but they did well against the Ottawa Senators with solid performances from defenseman Conor Timmins and forwards Matthew Knies and Fraser Minton. Both young goalies, Keith Petruzzelli and Dennis Hildeby, did well against NHL talent.
Third, I’ll share more notes about Mark Giordano’s motivation following a disappointing finish in 2022-23. This season, he’ll face the challenge of managing ice time at the age of 40. However, I’ll talk about his commitment to rest, recovery, and using the team’s sports science unit wisely.
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Finally, I’ll offer an update on tonight’s rematch against the Senators and the injury status of Calle Jarnkrok.
Item One: Nylander’s First Game as a Center Was Solid
In Sunday’s preseason game, we saw William Nylander make the positional shift that had been rumoured since training camp began. Although he has primarily played as a right-winger during his NHL career, the team’s need for a center following Alex Kerfoot’s departure was part of the reason for this transition, and Nylander is embracing the change.
Nylander noted, “I told Sheldon, ‘wherever you want me, I’m happy. Maybe I get the puck more in the middle, but on the wing, maybe more breakaways.”
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Nylander’s willingness to adapt to the new role was evident, including increased puck involvement in the middle. At the same time, he shared that he might miss some of the breakaway chances he would have gotten on the wing.
During training camp, Nylander has been skating alongside Max Domi and Calle Jarnkrok. On Sunday, Nylander’s play stood out. He showed good chemistry with Domi, with the two players setting each other up for scoring chances. Domi missed a wide-open net on one occasion, but it was a good line.
While Nylander didn’t score, he created several scoring chances and seemed comfortable at center. He also had an impressive 50 percent success rate in face-offs, winning 11 and losing 11. This line has a chance to maximize the Maple Leafs’ offensive capabilities and create a well-rounded attack.
Item Two: Preseason Game One’s Best Players
Many analysts have noted that defenseman Conor Timmins will be placed on waivers before the regular season. If so, he’s history with the Maple Leafs. On Sunday, he showed his skills and was among the best Maple Leafs on the ice. He made one error when an attempted shot led to an odd-man rush for the Senators early in the game, but otherwise, he was solid.
Prospects Matthew Knies and Fraser Minton also left a positive impression. While Knies had a minor giveaway, he excelled in most battles. He could be a bigger version of former Maple Leaf Zach Hyman.
I was impressed that both young (and tall) goalies looked pretty good. Keith Pertuzzelli stopped 25 of 28 shots in the first two periods. He didn’t have much of a chance on any of the Senators’ goals, as one was scored during a scramble in front of the net, and the other two saw him screened by traffic.
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In the third period, Dennis Hildeby took over and faced limited action, seeing only four shots. Although he was shaky initially, when he ventured out of his net and got caught, he quickly regained his composure. He showed his calm, reminding fans of his performance in the prospects tournament last weekend. Hildeby made one crucial save, denying the Senators a sure goal to keep the score 3-2.
Item Three: Giordano Will Take Advantage of Maple Leafs Sports Science Unit
Mark Giordano is entering the season motivated by a disappointing finish to the 2022-23 campaign. His ice time dwindled from 19 minutes during the regular season to less than nine minutes by the end of the postseason. For a player who will soon turn 40 and holds the distinction of being the oldest player in the NHL, managing a heavy workload will be his biggest challenge, but he has the skill and experience.
Because he recognizes the need to adapt and improve his approach, Giordano will prioritize rest and recovery between games. He also realizes the significance of embracing scientific and analytical developments and will take advantage of the Maple Leafs’ sports science team’s valuable insights. He is determined to contribute, but to do so, he has to show his performance last postseason was an anomaly.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs are set to face the Senators at 7:00 p.m. on Monday. Fans should look forward to seeing the group of players who sat out Sunday’s game in the lineup. Sunday’s game only featured a handful of those expected to be in the opening-night lineup.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe said that fans should see more NHL regulars in tonight’s game, giving everyone a first look at the team’s potential lineup for the season. Fans will likely see 20 different players tonight. Jarnkrok was slated to play on Sunday but was labelled as “banged up” and is listed as day-to-day. Don’t expect to see him tonight.