One of the more interesting takeaways from the Toronto Maple Leafs recent media day was the confirmation from head coach Sheldon Keefe that William Nylander will start camp at centre.
The Toronto Maple Leafs coach also suggested that Nylander will be given a prolonged opportunity to prove his worth playing the middle.
Instead of ongoing questions surrounding a new contract, the focus will turn to the ice. Specifically, can Nylander handle the added responsibilities of playing centre?
General manager Brad Treliving and Keefe likely discussed this often during the offseason. There are multiple reasons why the time is right for this experiment.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Timing Is Right For Nylander Experiment
Nylander drives the play when he is on the ice. He likes to possess the puck and his skating is suited to playing centre. He also has the playmaking ability and vision necessary for the position.
His move to centre could provide the Leafs with an internal solution to eventually replace John Tavares, but more than that, it allows them to put an elite player on every line and have a much more dangerous forward group.
With Ryan O’Reilly on board for the Leafs were able to line up three stars down the middle and it made the team far harder to play again.
Nylander’s move to centre could potentially give the Leafs three lines that few teams could match.
It would allow young prospects Matthew Knies and Nick Robertson to fit into the lineup in offensive roles that complement their skills. It eliminates the need for one of them to play on a fourth line or be demoted to the Toronto Marlies.
David Kampf would shift to the fourth-line centre, a much better fit for him. He scores little but is responsible defensively.
The biggest challenge for Nylander will be the added defensive responsibility that comes with the position.
He will have more ice to cover and face star players from the opposition and be expected to limit their scoring while maintaining his production. More grunt work in corners will also be required.
There is no guarantee that this will work long-term, but moving Nylander to centre at this time of the year is a low-risk high-reward venture for the Leafs.
Using the preseason and early regular season games, when the stakes are low, is the right time to see if he can handle the added responsibilities.
This kind of move should provide more motivation for Nylander. Proving he can play centre will earn him more money on his next deal.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot to potentially gain from this move. The timing is right to give it a try. Nylander and the team could benefit greatly if it works.