Why the Toronto Maple Leafs Need To Play William Nylander With Auston Matthews

Since Mitch Marner went down with an injury, we have seen the Toronto Maple Leafs do some line juggling. This has given William Nylander another chance to play with Auston Matthews on the top line. This is a combination Sheldon Keefe needs to stick to, even when Mitch Marner returns.
William Nylander & Auston Matthews
William Nylander & Auston Matthews / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

After having four days off, the Toronto Maple Leafs went to Philadelphia and beat down the Flyers on Thursday night.

This was the second game the Toronto Maple Leafs played without Mitch Marner who has now been diagnosed with a high-ankle sprain.

Before that game, it was reported that Head Coach Sheldon Keefe did not like how William Nylander looked alongside Matthews in the previous game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Going into Thursday night's game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Keefe said that Calle Jarnkrok would slot in on the top line with Matthews and Tyler Bertuzzi.

Why the Toronto Maple Leafs Need To Play Nylander With Matthews

Now this has to be one of the dumber combinations Sheldon Keefe has tried all year long given that
Jarnkrok ranks in the bottom 11 percent of forwards in primary shot assists and in-zone shot assists (via @JFreshHockey).

But this combination did not last long before Calle Jarnkrok took an awkward fall into the boards on Thursday night, leading to the Maple Leafs announcing he would be week-to-week with a hand injury.

Following Jarnkrok leaving the game, we saw Pontus Holmberg get a shot with Bertuzzi and Matthews, While Holmberg has great defensive numbers this season, he is a complete blackhole on the offensive end. He ranks in the bottom 10 percent of all forwards in every offensive chance metric and well below the league average in every passing stat barring primary assists.

Neither Jarnkrok nor Holmberg are going to help Auston Matthews on the offensive end and yes, both are much better defensively than Nylander. But, if defense is what Sheldon Keefe is looking for alongside Matthews, his role as the head coach seriously needs to be reconsidered.

First off, as things currently sit, Sheldon Keefe has had his two worst defensive forwards Nylander and Max Domi on the same line for about a month now. In anything but shocking fashion, these two guys have been on the ice for the most goals against at five-on-five of any Maple Leafs forward over the last 30 days.

But yet, Sheldon Keefe is adding another defensive minded forward to play along Auston Matthews who has been a top 10 defensive forward this season. So as it currently stands, the Maple Leafs have their two best defensive forwards playing together, while the two worst defensive forwards are playing together on the next line. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that, that makes zero sense.

While it was reported that Keefe did not like what he saw from Matthews and Nylander when they played together in the Maple Leafs 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens last weekend. This statement contradicts all the data we have seen from these two this season.

Of all the Maple Leafs forward lines that have played at least 100 minutes together, the combination of Matthew Knies, Auston Matthews and William Nylander have the highest on-ice expected goals for percentage of any of Keefe's combinations.

Keefe needs to stop trying to mould Nylander into this defensively responsible two-way forward he fantasises about. Nylander is going to get paid 11.5 million dollars to score goals and produce points.


You can easily hide his defensive deficiencies as long as he is playing a long side of average defenders, but these defensive issues will continue to be on full display if Keefe continues to roll Nylander on the same line as Domi.