Toronto Maple Leafs Practice with Nylander at Centre

RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 24: (L-R) William Nylander
RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 24: (L-R) William Nylander /

The Toronto Maple Leafs may be on the verge of converting winger William Nylander into a centre.

According to TSN reporter Mark Masters, the Toronto Maple Leafs had Nylander take Bozak’s place in practice on Monday.

Bozak is sick, and if he plays on Wednesday against the Flames, then in all likelihood Nylander will continue to be used at wing.  Whether or not this happens right now in a real game or not, it’s still important that the Leafs are trying this look.

It has long been suspected that the Leafs want to use Nylander as a centre.  I have written about it at least fifty times, as has practically every other Leafs commentator.  The only thing is, Mike Babcock has always played Nylander on the wing.

Even when he was in a pinch for a centre earlier this year, he used Patrick Marleau instead.  For many, this was an indication that Nylander’s long-term future was as a winger.  Backock, however, seems to have relented.

William Nylander

Nylander might be having a terribly unlucky season when it comes to point production, but he’s still been playing at an elite level regardless.  Sure, people don’t notice if the actual production isn’t there, and this leads to ridiculous trade suggestions like Nylander going to Buffalo for a defenseman who is like a #6 if you don’t include power-play stats, but what can you do?

No matter what anyone tells you, William Nylander is playing good this year.

Among forwards, he is 40th in individual 5v5 scoring chances and 68th in individual 5v5 shots.   That might not sound like very high rankings, but there are 93 first line forwards in the NHL. He has also been on the ice for the seventh most scoring chances in the league, and he has a solid 53% CF rating.

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Nylander’s shooting percentage is 2.13% (5v5) which is hilariously low.  It should be around ten percent.  The worst players in the NHL can expect to shoot seven percent.  You have to agree that either Nylander is one of the worst shooters of all-time, or he’s unlucky.  The fact is, players have no control over their shooting percentage, and every player’s career will be littered with a couple of months where their shooting percentage bottomed out for no reason.

Moving to Centre

Wingers are more valuable than centres.  A team with three legit first-line centres is almost impossible to put together due to the salary cap, and it’s almost impossible to defend against.

Furthermore, moving Nylander makes Bozak expendable and gives the Leafs the option to work Kasperi Kapanen (the by-far most deserving of being a regular among the Leafs current prospects) into the lineup.   Considering Kapanen is the Leafs (arguably) fastest player and one of their better defensive forwards (a concept the Leafs have trouble with) it makes sense to get him into the lineup as soon as possible.  So there are two ways that Nylander to centre improves the Leafs.

Beyond that, a team that has Matthews, Kadri, Nylander as it’s three centres is going to dominate.  The Leafs are already a hard to team to defense against, but improving on Bozak makes them even better.

Next: Toronto Maple Leafs November Re-Cap

This is a move that is happening sooner or later, and I say let’s get it done now, since, the longer earlier you do it, the earlier Nylander can through the inevitable learning curve.