William Nylander has started practising with Austrian team Dornbirner EC while waiting out his contract impasse with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sportsnet has learned.
The 22-year-old winger was on the ice with the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga team on Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to be at practice again on Friday. His plans beyond that are unknown to the team, according to head coach Dave MacQueen.
Nylander’s connection to Dornbirn came through his sister Jacquline Nylander Altelius, a WTA player who trains at the tennis centre adjacent to the arena. Nylander did an off-ice workout at that facility before skating with a team that includes 11 North American players, according to MacQueen.
He’s been welcomed with open arms by members of the Bulldogs and their veteran coach, who spent 15 seasons in the OHL with Peterborough, Erie and Sarnia and another two years as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning before heading to Austria.
“My GM ran it by me and it took all of about three seconds to say ‘absolutely,’” MacQueen wrote in an email to Sportsnet.
Dornbirn is about a 90-minute drive from Zurich, where Nylander and his camp is believed to have sat down with Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas on Wednesday. It’s not known if that face-to-face meeting produced any progress in stalled negotiations which have kept the player away from Toronto throughout training camp and the first two weeks of the regular season.
Prior to this week, Nylander had been skating back home in central Stockholm with skills coach Jocke Ahlgren.
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Nylander was an eighth overall pick by the Leafs in 2014 and is coming off consecutive 61-point seasons. He had been hoping to land a long-term contract coming out of his entry-level deal but might have to settle for a shorter bridge because of the gap in talks.
The Leafs are 6-1-0 heading into Thursday’s game with Pittsburgh and have produced a NHL-best 4.71 goals per game. Nylander has kept in touch with Toronto teammates by text during his absence and continues to skate in his Leafs gear but isn’t eager to offer up any hometown discounts.
“In the end I have to take care of myself and do what I and my agent thinks is right,” Nylander told Aftonbladet in Swedish on Oct. 4. “Especially if it’s about several years to come. I need to think long term. It’s my own future it’s about.”