‘It was pretty fast out there’

Ny­lan­der takes part in first full prac­tice with Maple Leafs

The Expositor (Brantford) - - SPORTS - JOSHUA CLIPPERTON

TORONTO — Wil­liam Ny­lan­der jumps on a loose puck dur­ing a power-play drill and ri­fles a shot in­side the far post.

That light­ning-quick re­lease is on dis­play again a cou­ple min­utes later, the puck on and off his stick in a split sec­ond for a pair of goals off the rush.

In be­tween those se­quences, how­ever, the Maple Leafs winger is of­ten hunched over, his stick on the tops of his knee pads as he tries to catch his breath.

“There’s eight ex­hi­bi­tion games for a rea­son and train­ing camp for a rea­son,” Toronto head coach Mike Bab­cock said. “The league starts slow and goes faster and faster. “It’s hard to ar­rive late.” Ny­lan­der prac­tised with his team­mates for the first time Fri­day, a full week af­ter the re­stricted free agent’s pro­longed con­tract im­passe ended with a new deal worth US$45 mil­lion over the next six sea­sons.

The 22-year-old, who along with team­mate Kasperi Ka­pa­nen was in­volved in a mi­nor car ac­ci­dent later Fri­day that didn’t re­sult in any in­juries, wound up play­ing in the Leafs’ 5-4 over­time loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thurs­day de­spite hav­ing not taken part in a full on-ice ses­sion with the club.

He was sup­posed to join the group Wed­nes­day, but Toronto’s bus had en­gine trou­ble fol­low­ing the pre­vi­ous night’s vic­tory in Buf­falo and didn’t ar­rive home un­til around 3 a.m.

De­spite skat­ing just twice on his own ear­lier this week with a Leafs as­sis­tant, Ny­lan­der in­sisted tim­ing rather than con­di­tion­ing was the is­sue in the 12 min­utes 29 sec­onds he played against Detroit. But the Swede didn’t see any ac­tion in the game’s fi­nal 14:35 as Toronto pushed to tie af­ter fall­ing be­hind 4-1 through two pe­ri­ods.

“Would I do it any dif­fer­ent (with Ny­lan­der) if I had the chance? No I’d do it ex­actly the same way,” said Bab­cock, whose team saw its fiveg­ame win­ning streak snapped. “Did I ex­pect him to be any dif­fer­ent than he was? Not re­ally.

“Do I think this is go­ing to take some time? For sure, but I don’t think Willy’s too wound up about it. I’m not wound up about it.”

Ny­lan­der prac­tised along­side junior play­ers in Swe­den and briefly with a pro club in Aus­tria dur­ing con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions in hopes of stay­ing fit, but that’s noth­ing like be­ing dropped into Game 29 of the NHL sea­son af­ter more than seven months off.

“It’s just nice to get the first one,” Ny­lan­der said. “Now I have a game and a prac­tice in me. It feels a lit­tle bet­ter.

“It was pretty fast out there. The game was go­ing pretty fast. It felt bet­ter and bet­ter as the game when on.”

Leafs cen­tre Aus­ton Matthews, who played his fourth game back Thurs­day af­ter miss­ing 14 with a left shoul­der in­jury, said it usu­ally takes him a month to feel nor­mal fol­low­ing an ex­tended pe­riod on the shelf.

And de­spite his five goals and three as­sists since re­turn­ing, the 21-year-old added even he’s not yet 100 per cent.

“The first pe­riod’s been re­ally tough for me,” Matthews said. “This is (Ny­lan­der’s) first team prac­tice. I don’t know how I would feel if I was lit­er­ally just jump­ing into a game from sum­mer skates.

“That’s kind of ex­pected, es­pe­cially for a guy that hasn’t gone through train­ing camp.”

Ny­lan­der started with Matthews and Pa­trick Mar­leau on Thurs­day, but was moved to Nazem Kadri’s line at prac­tice.

Mar­leau, who got the day off, is ex­pected to play the left side with Kadri and Ny­lan­der when the Leafs (20-8-1) open a five-game road trip against the Bos­ton Bru­ins (14-104) on Satur­day, while Matthews looks likely to skate with Ka­pa­nen and An­dreas Johns­son.

The Leafs will be look­ing for a much bet­ter start against the in­jury-hit Bru­ins, who are with­out Pa­trice Berg­eron, Zdeno Chara and Ke­van Miller.

Bos­ton beat Toronto 5-1 at TD Gar­den back on Nov. 10 — mi­nus Matthews and Ny­lan­der, of course, in the sec­ond of a back-to-back — and also took last spring’s firstround play­off se­ries in seven games.

“They’re a team that com­petes no mat­ter who’s in the lineup,” Matthews said. “They make it hard on teams, es­pe­cially in that build­ing. No mat­ter what, we’ve got to be pre­pared.”

Kadri said adding Ny­lan­der to a top-end for­ward group that also in­cludes John Tavares and Mitch Marner should present op­po­nents like the Bru­ins a real chal­lenge.

“It’s just an­other great player you’ve got to worry about,” said the cen­tre. “Just be­ing able to de­cide who’s go­ing to play against who is a tough de­ci­sion for a lot of teams.

“That cer­tainly gives us the ad­van­tage.”

But it’s an ad­van­tage Toronto might not fully re­al­ize for some­time as Ny­lan­der con­tin­ues to work his way back.

“You may think you’re in shape ... I’m sure he’s done ev­ery­thing he can on and off the ice,” Kadri said. “But once you add the phys­i­cal and con­tact com­po­nent, it changes.

“He’s a great player. He’s go­ing to be fine.”

JACK BOLAND/TORONTO SUN

Toronto’s Wil­liam Ny­lan­der is pic­tured dur­ing a break in the ac­tion of his first game this sea­son: a loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thurs­day.

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