TORONTO – Fresh off his best performance as a NHL player, William Nylander will face his toughest test.
Mike Babcock doesn’t plan on shielding the 19-year-old rookie when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night. Even with veteran centre Tyler Bozak ready to return after missing 21 games with a concussion, the coach won’t go out of his way to get Nylander a favourable matchup against the Western Conference powerhouse.
“No, I’m going to go just the opposite,” Babcock said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s been here long enough now, he’s playing better, so now he’s got to figure it out. He’ll be right in the fire there tomorrow.”
Nylander had a dominant three-point performance in Monday’s 5-2 victory over Calgary, but he did so while seeing most of his shifts against fellow teenager Sam Bennett.
Plus, the Ducks are arriving in Toronto fresh off a 4-3 loss in Montreal and need points while battling for home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I think (it’s a) real good (test),” said Babcock. “Getzy and Kesler and (Rickard) Rakell, right down the middle, they’re good. They’re a good team. I watched them last night, they didn’t get a win last night, but I’ve watched them a couple times here lately.
“They’re a heavy team, their back end’s mobile, the goaltending’s good, they’re good on the specialty teams. They’ll be a handful.”
Nylander is still adjusting to life in the NHL, but his performance has been trending upwards. He is the youngest Leafs player to record five points over a two-game span since Wendel Clark in November 1985, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The eighth overall pick from 2014 has spent plenty of time in the video room with Babcock lately – looking at clips of top players like Jonathan Toews and David Krejci, but also reviewing his own shifts.
“I went through his stuff from last game with him today and then set him up for a few things tomorrow,” said Babcock. “He knows what he’s getting in to. Part of being a good player is understanding where you’ve got to go, and the growth you’ve got to have.
“He really believes he’s ready for it; I do, too.”