The Toronto Maple Leafs are returning to an experiment that’s yielded middling returns at best when tried in the past. Head coach Sheldon Keefe is beginning training camp by utilizing William Nylander at center, putting the Swede back in the position he played when he was drafted in a crucial year for both team and player.
In theory, the move could pay serious dividends if kept long-term. It allows Keefe to roll out Nylander, Auston Matthews and John Tavares on three separate units while letting David Kämpf hone his shutdown specialty in a fourth-line role. If Nylander can adapt to playing down the middle, it would also give more support to a rag-tag group of wingers made up of skilled free-agent signings on one-year deals and youngsters looking to prove they can handle full-time roles. He hasn’t ever stuck as a full-time center, however, and he was famously moved there by former head coach Mike Babcock during the postseason early in his career. It didn’t work out – he scored just three goals through his first three playoff series, but he’s exploded since then and solidified himself as a consistent playoff performer – which is more than other stars on the team can say.
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference today:
- Things are still progressing on the Shane Pinto front for the Ottawa Senators. The RFA remains without a contract as training camp looms in a matter of hours now, but general manager Pierre Dorion tells TSN’s Claire Hanna he’s getting “creative” in freeing up cap space to sign the young center. Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch also chimed in today, reporting the Sens and Pinto aren’t far apart on a new deal but that many moving parts (i.e., creating cap space via trade) still need to get worked out. While it’s anyone’s guess if Pinto will be in attendance for the first day of training camp, it does seem the wheels are in motion to make things work, and it won’t be too much longer before he reports, new contract in hand.
- New York Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette says he’ll open camp with 2020 first-overall pick Alexis Lafrenière at right wing. Many have speculated a move to his off-wing could be beneficial for the 21-year-old, who’s struggled to find ice time on the left wing behind Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin. It could work out to be a prudent move for the Rangers’ new bench boss, as getting both Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko clicking in top-six roles out of the gate alongside the team’s veteran firepower would be incredibly impactful for their long-term futures with the team.