Nylander gears up for Maple Leafs return: ‘I was pretty nervous’

Sportsnet's Dan Murphy talks how the Vancouver Canucks are preparing to handle the North Division leading Toronto Maple Leafs in their first game back since the devastating COVID-19 outbreak that swept through team personnel.

The return of William Nylander is imminent.

After submitting nine consecutive negative COVID-19 tests over nine days in isolation, Nylander was given the green light to rejoin the Toronto Maple Leafs this weekend for their trip to Vancouver.

Provided the winger responds well to practising Friday and Saturday, expect Nylander to return to the lineup Sunday versus the Canucks.

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Nylander had piled up four points over two games in Calgary April 4 and 5, giving him 30 in 39 games on the season.

Upon returning to Toronto earlier this month, he had met up with someone who later tested positive for the virus and informed the Leafs.

Nylander never broke protocol, and coach Sheldon Keefe praised the player for being proactive in informing the organization about his potential risk.

“I was worried about maybe me getting it and giving it to the guys, which is something that I really didn’t want to happen,” Nylander said Saturday evening after a team practice.

“I was pretty nervous. Thank God, nobody got it. That was the probably the No. 1 thing.”

Nylander had use of an exercise bike while serving quarantine and took reps net-front on the Leafs’ top power-play unit Saturday.

“We’re very happy to have him back,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “He did his thing with the protocol, and he says he’s feeling good. So, I think he’ll be flying tomorrow.”

More positive news: Auston Matthews, who was sidelined for Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, also participated in a full practice Saturday.

Keefe stopped short of committing them to Sunday’s lineup, saying he’d wait to see how his stars respond to the morning skate.

The coach has rewarded engaged rookie Nick Robertson by promoting him to the top six, alongside Nylander and captain John Tavares.

“He’s a fast guy,” T.J. Brodie said of the 19-year-old winger. “You know, the little guys are hard to hit sometimes, and he uses that to his advantage down low and along the wall.”

Jack Campbell, who was chased in the first period of Thursday’s loss, will start in net Sunday.

With the Toronto Marlies idle due to COVID-19 precautions, Toronto brought Rasmus Sandin on this five-game road trip. Keefe says Sandin is not game-ready quite yet, but the coach would like to get him some NHL action before the season wraps.

While Rielly acknowledged that the COVID-riddled Canucks — preparing to play their first game in 25 days — have overcome a lot the past few weeks, he expects them to be a tough test.

Toronto is looking to snuff out a three-game losing skid and remedy its slumping power play.

“We have to get ourselves back in track,” Reilly said.

Maple Leafs practice lines Saturday:

Galchenyuk-Matthews-Marner

Robertson-Tavares-Nylander

Mikheyev-Kerfoot-Hyman

Thornton-Spezza-Simmonds

Extras: Engvall, Brooks

Rielly-Brodie

Muzzin-Holl

Dermott-Bogosian

Extras: Marincin, Liljegren, Sandin

Campbell

Rittich

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