Rookie Ny­lan­der a force on Maple Leafs power play

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JONAS SIEGEL

TORONTO — With Win­nipeg’s penalty killers clos­ing in, Wil­liam Ny­lan­der looks to be cor­nered and out of op­tions. Then the Toronto Maple Leafs for­ward brushes off Joel Ar­mia, pro­tects the puck from the Jets winger’s pry­ing stick and fi­nally whips a cross-ice pass to Leo Ko­marov for an­other power-play goal.

Still just a rookie, Ny­lan­der is al­ready a wizard on the Na­tional Hockey League’s No. 1 power-play unit. He leads his team and all rookies with 19 power-play points and the en­tire league in power-play points per 60 min­utes at 8.69.

“You’re just try­ing to see what they give you,” Ny­lan­der said Wed­nes­day. “Maybe Leo might not have been open and then I maybe could’ve got a shot off or what­ever so it de­pends what they do.”

Ny­lan­der had two points with the man ad­van­tage Tues­day in Toronto’s 5-4 over­time win over the Jets, in­clud­ing his eighth power-play goal that tied the game 4-4. That brought him to within one of the Leafs fran­chise rookie record for power-play goals (held by three play­ers) and within six of Dan Daoust’s fran­chise rookie mark for power-play points (25), ac­cord­ing to the Elias Sports Bu­reau.

“He’s very calm with the puck and I think he makes plays,” said team­mate Con­nor Brown. “For him, I think just the way he can have the puck on his stick and be able to look around and see the ice (makes him ef­fec­tive), the way he han­dles the time and space well.”

Ny­lan­der spends most of his time on the Toronto power play with fel­low rookie and Leafs lead­ing scorer Aus­ton Matthews. Each op­er­ates on one side of the ice — Ny­lan­der on the right, Matthews on the left — thereby cre­at­ing du­el­ing threats for op­pos­ing penalty kills to con­tend with.

Matthews set up Ny­lan­der’s goal against Win­nipeg, his 17th over­all this sea­son. The Amer­i­can cen­tre shot wide of Con­nor Helle­buyck in the Jets cage and the puck bounced di­rectly to Ny­lan­der, who dropped to his right knee and fired. Matthews said the two had prac­tised the play two months ear­lier and got “lucky” that it worked in a win.

“They love to pass to each other too — some­times a lit­tle too much,” Ko­marov said.

From time to time the two rookies, both wildly skilled, like to play with the puck a lit­tle too of­ten for team­mates’ lik­ing. But both also see the ice ex­cep­tion­ally well, Ko­marov notes, and have the skill to make de­ci­sive plays, whether by shoot­ing or pass­ing to open team­mates.

On the Ko­marov goal, he saw “a lit­tle lane” to­ward the net and caught his team­mate creep­ing to­ward the back-post.

“We just see what they give us,” Ny­lan­der says of the op­po­si­tion penalty kill. “You try to cre­ate stuff, but it’s mainly what they give you.”

Matthews sucked in the at­ten­tion of all four Sen­a­tor penalty killers last week­end against Ot­tawa and then dished to Ny­lan­der on the weak side. He quickly re­ceived the pass and then loaded up for a wicked shot that beat Craig An­der­son. Ko­marov credits the rapid re­lease for his shoot­ing suc­cess with the man ad­van­tage, some­thing Ny­lan­der says is owed to prac­tice and lots of it.

He of­ten lingers with other young play­ers af­ter on-ice ses­sions to talk about his shot.

“He can flat-out shoot the puck,” Leafs coach Mike Bab­cock said.


Maple Leafs’ Con­nor Brown cel­e­brates his 15th goal of the sea­son in the first pe­riod against the New York Rangers at the Air Canada Cen­tre in Toronto on Thurs­day night. For the re­sult, see thes­

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