The club held its first practice with its core players — all now healthy and eager — and announced its final(ish) 23-man roster for Wednesday’s season opener versus Montreal.
As agent Lewis Gross and GM Kyle Dubas continuing working toward an agreement — both sides prefer a long-term contract — the unsigned Nylander remains absent, with forward Tyler Ennis holding down his spot on centre Auston Matthews’ right wing.
When Mike Babcock was asked if he expects Matthews and Nylander’s proven chemistry to mitigate any rust the 60-point star might have from missing the entire training camp, the coach fired a gentle nudge that may be heard across the Atlantic.
“I don’t know. Matty’s been here working every day,” Babcock said.
“The guys that are here working every day are ahead of the guys who aren’t here working every day. It’s part of the business. We all understand that. It’s hard to manufacture the intensity we had today when you’re not here. It just doesn’t work like that.”
Less concerned is Matthews. The pivot been impressed by Ennis’s work in relief but doesn’t expect many hiccups when Nylander’s return forces Toronto to make one more cut.
“Willy’s Willy. So when he comes back, no matter what, he’s going to fit in just fine. He’s been here two and a half years now,” Matthews said.
“He’s a special player, and I’m sure once he’s back, we’ll get rolling pretty quickly.”
Starting Wednesday, Nylander will begin missing pay if he remains unsigned.
A deal must be reached by Dec. 1 for him to be eligible to play this season.