TORONTO – William Nylander’s evaluation by the Toronto Maple Leafs is to be continued.
Nylander scored in his NHL pre-season debut as the Leafs beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre and showed flashes of offensive brilliance. But the nerves he felt and teammates and coaches could sense make it hard to judge too much from one game.
“Any young player playing in his first game in the NHL is going to be somewhat nervous, and I think that our evaluation process would kind of push this one aside in order to see more of a deeper evaluation on where he’s at (Wednesday) night,” coach Randy Carlyle said.
Carlyle called Nylander, the Leafs’ first-round pick at No. 8 overall in June’s draft, an “energetic, nervous young hockey player.” Linemate Phil Kessel could sense that, too.
The 18-year-old son of longtime NHL forward Michael Nylander acknowledged being nervous in his first taste of professional hockey in North America.
“The pregame warmup, I was just looking around and I was like, ‘This was crazy.'” Nylander said. “Then the nerves started to kick in even more.”
Nylander earned plenty of quality scoring chances before his goal with 56.2 seconds left in the third period. He sailed one shot high and wide after a perfect pass from Kessel and thought he scored in the second when Flyers goaltender Steve Mason managed to get his glove on the puck at the goal line.
“I had my hands up in the air, then I saw it came out on the other side,” Nylander said.
On one shift, Nylander made a picture-perfect tape-to-tape pass from blue-line to blue-line to David Broll, and on another the 18-year-old carried the puck around the net and managed to get it back even after he turned it over. If nothing else, he was noticeable.
“He showed his skills, I thought,” said winger James van Riemsdyk, who scored a goal and would’ve had a second if there was video review in the pre-season. “You see when he has the puck on his stick, he’s pretty electric out there. He’s got some of the quickest hands I’ve ever seen.”
Carlyle said no one can dispute Nylander’s skill. But that doesn’t mean his post-game review was glowing.
“There’s some things that we’d like to see him change, and one of them would be stopping more and being in position on the right side of the puck,” Carlyle said. “He’s one of those guys when he gets the puck, he has a little bit more of a burst of speed than the normal player, that’s for sure.”
Nylander showed off that speed and his smooth-skating during his 15 minutes 55 seconds of ice time. Along the way, he became more comfortable, and in the final minute he got to smile along with linemates Kessel and Mike Santorelli when he beat Mason.
“I was happy for him,” Kessel said. “He’s a kid. He’s 18 and he’s just getting in the league and he’s going to have a lot of years to come.”
It remains to be seen when Nylander’s NHL career will begin in earnest. The Leafs already have 17 forwards on one-way contracts and room for 13 or 14, so it could take injuries or several strong pre-season games for the young Swede to make the opening-night roster.
Nylander should get at least a couple more chances to show himself in exhibition action, perhaps as early as Wednesday in split-squad action against the Ottawa Senators in Toronto. He believes he’ll be less nervous for that game.
“I think now that you have one game in your shoes, and you played here, you’ll get into it even quicker next game,” Nylander said.
Brandon Kozun and Cody Franson also scored for the Leafs, who improved to 2-0 in the pre-season after beating an almost identical Flyers team Monday night in London, Ont.
In his first game action since injuries derailed him late in the 2013-14 regular season, goaltender Jonathan Bernier was sharp in stopping all 12 shots he faced in just under 30 minutes.
“I felt pretty good,” Bernier said. “Just seemed it took a while to get some action in the first period. But the second, I felt really good.”
Antoine Bibeau made 15 saves to complete the shutout.
Notes—Carlyle said injured forwards Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson would skate again Wednesday but did not give any indication when either player would play in a game. … In Wednesday’s split-squad setup, Carlyle will coach the team that remains in Toronto, and goaltender James Reimer is expected to make his pre-season debut. Assistant Steve Spott will run the team that goes to Ottawa.
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