Maple Leafs’ top prospect Nylander focused on getting to NHL

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TORONTO — William Nylander knows he can’t ask the question of management. Still, he wonders constantly about the prospect of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Nylander returned to action for the Toronto Marlies in late January after missing a month due to a concussion, but his goals remain much grander than the American Hockey League for the weeks and months ahead.

"My only goal is to play in the NHL this year," Nylander said. "That’s my only goal right now other than winning the Calder Cup."

Nylander admits he constantly thinks about playing in the National Hockey League. He can’t really escape the thought of it while playing in the same city as the Maple Leafs and watching their games night after night.

"You just try to focus on what you can do and nothing else," he said. "In the end it’s what you do that’s going to get you to the NHL."

The eighth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Nylander enjoyed a strong first half this season before he suffered a concussion playing for Sweden at the world junior hockey championship in Helsinki. Cutting across the ice in a Boxing Day game against Switzerland, Nylander was drilled by forward Chris Egli.

He thought he had more time to escape the hit.

"I didn’t see him coming," Nylander said Tuesday after a midday off-ice workout. "What I saw was that I was going to be able to beat him, but I turned around and he had more speed than what I anticipated and (he) was able to hit me, but blind-side, so."

He missed the rest of the tournament in Finland with his first concussion and sat out upon his return to North America too.

Nylander said he didn’t experience any of the stinging symptoms usually associated with concussions but was unable to pass one element of the protocol required for medical clearance. He skated on his own for a couple weeks — also enduring a brief bout of appendicitis — before rejoining the Marlies on Jan. 29.

"I think he’s been pretty good considering that he just had a concussion," said Kasperi Kapanen, his linemate and best friend with the Marlies. "It’s never easy coming back from stuff like that. I’ve been lucky enough to not ever get one, but I’ve heard it’s tough."

The AHL scoring leader before the injury, the 19-year-old Nylander has six points in five games upon his return for the first-place Marlies. He’s still looming as a threat for the league scoring crown.

But as he’s quick to note, that’s not really the goal. He remains focused on getting to the NHL.

"You watch every game and stuff," he said. "So of course you think about it."

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