The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking a bold chance with star forward William Nylander this upcoming season. He has played down the wing his entire NHL career to this point. However, the Maple Leafs are going to have the 27-year-old play down the middle as a center iceman in 2023-24.
The idea originally came from Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving. That said, both Nylander and head coach Sheldon Keefe are on board with the idea. And the Maple Leafs head coach revealed why he trusts Nylander in that role on Wednesday.
“Willy can do whatever he puts his mind to. He’s that good. I push Willy more because I really do believe in his ability,” Keefe said, via Sportsnet. “It's not going to be a one-off or a one-day thing or one pre-season game. We want to give it some time.”
Nylander has shown just how much ability he truly has over the last two seasons. The Maple Leafs star followed up a 34-goal, 80-point season in 2021-22 with a 40-goal, 87-point season in 2022-23. Both point totals smash his previous career high of 59.
Nylander is hoping for a repeat performance, or even more preferably, an improvement on his previous two seasons. Such an improvement couldn't come at a better time, either. Nylander is an unrestricted free agent next summer. And the salary cap is expected to jump up, as well.
Perhaps Nylander hits NHL Free Agency as an option to anchor a team's top line. That would certainly skyrocket his value on the open market. Of course, the 27-year-old actually has to perform this season. It'll be interesting to see how this move works for Nylander and the Maple Leafs moving forward.