No one is going to anoint William Nylander as the next Leafs superstar. Not after one single pre-season game which could have been billed as the Marlies versus the Phantoms instead of the Leafs versus Flyers.
But the 15,190 fans in attendance at Air Canada Centre had the pleasure of witnessing Toronto’s 2014 first-round draft pick in action as the home team shutout their opponents 4-0 in the clubs’ second pre-season game versus each other in as many nights.
Nylander, playing the left wing on a line with centre Mike Santorelli and right winter Phil Kessel, showed great hands around the net, beating defenceman Nick Schultz to a loose puck in the Philadelphia zone and firing home his first goal of the exhibition schedule with just under a minute remaining in the game, closing out the scoring.
“I came into the game really nervous,” Nylander said. “But as the game went on, it slowly went away. I felt better by the time it ended.”
Nylander also showed great vision on a Leafs power-play late in the second period, finding David Broll with a tape-to-tape stretch pass out of the Toronto zone. On the same shift, he nearly scored, but couldn’t angle the puck past Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason.
“He was an energetic, nervous young hockey player,” coach Randy Carlyle said of the 18-year-old’s performance. “Nobody can dispute the skill set that he possesses is a little difference that separates him from other players. You notice the way that he carries the puck, the confidence that he has.
But there are things we’d like to see him change. He could be stopping more, and being in position at the right side of the puck.”
Carlyle didn’t go so far as to say whether Nylander’s areas of improvement are specific criteria for determining the youngster’s probability of making the team. Rather, his overall performance on Wednesday would be a more effective evaluation.
Nylander is on a short list of a split squad roster that will play in Toronto versus the Senators.
James van Riemsdyk opened the scoring in the game by finding an opening above the shoulder of Flyers netminder Steve Mason. Brandon Kozun converted a two-on-one pass from Trevor Smith for the second Leafs goal, while Cody Franson’s seeing-eye shot deflected off former Leaf Luke Schenn to put Toronto in the driver’s seat.
Goalie Jonathan Bernier stopped all 12 shots he faced, and was particularly solid in the second period. He had to be sharp when accidentally knocked over by teammate Henrik Tallinder. Most memorably, he robbed Sean Couturier from in close to preserve the shutout that he shared with backup Antoine Bibeau.
Notes: The pre-season schedule always shows rust from on-ice an off-ice staff. van Riemsdyk had a clear goal waved off in the third period when it was ruled that the puck deflected off the crossbar. Replays conclusively showed that the puck in fact beat Mason…ACC game operations had a minor snafu when they displayed the Canadian flag around the perimeter graphics board during the singing of the American national anthem, finally adjusting to the stars and stripes midway through… As per @doctorkongx the new Leafs goal song is “Howl” by Gaslight Anthem.
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