William Nylander was back in Toronto Monday, undergoing his physical after signing a six-year contract extension with the Maple Leafs late Saturday afternoon. But there was no metric to measure how thrilled Nylander was to be back playing NHL hockey, nor to assess how excited his teammates were to have him at the arena again.
"It's a special feeling every time you pull that jersey on," Nylander said Monday. "Wanting to be here and finally getting (a new contract) done was a huge relief."
"I was checking my Twitter feed probably every 15 seconds, that's for sure," added winger Kasperi Kapanen in regard to Saturday's news about Nylander. "It kind of went down to the wire there and I was getting nervous a bit, but once it was done it was a good feeling, obviously. Everybody kind of regrouped, focused, and it was a good day, all in all…it's just good to have him back."
The 22-year-old Nylander stayed back in his home in Sweden for the first quarter (and then some) of the regular season while the process of contract negotiations played out. And for an athlete who loves the sport as much as he does, being away from the rink and the camaraderie of his teammates was easily the most challenging part.
"Going and practicing by yourself, missing the guys, just wanting to be here and playing was probably the toughest part," Nylander said. "I always wanted to be here, and that was not a question for me throughout the entire process. There was a lot of negotiation to get to where both sides were happy."
It may take Nylander a couple of games and/or weeks to catch up to his fellow Leafs in terms of on-ice game-readiness, but Nylander has been training through the weeks and months leading up to this point - and once he is back at full speed, figuring out how to contain Toronto's already-dangerous offensive attack is going to be a hellacious task for opponents.
"(We're) excited to have him - we're a better team with him," said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. "He's got unbelievable (skate) edges, he's a real good skater (and) I think that really helps you. He's a fitness guy and works anyway, and so ideally, that'll help him. But it's still the competitive pace - it is what it is."
Some will speculate as to which line Nylander will skate on when he makes his return to action - whether that's Thursday when the Leafs host Detroit, or perhaps Saturday when the team visits Boston - but the reality is, the Buds have so much talent, Nylander is going to be in a great position to produce regardless of where he plays.
"It really doesn't matter for him," said centre Auston Matthews, who frequently played on a line with Nylander in the past two seasons. "We've got so much talent (and) skill down the lineup, it doesn't matter who you play with - you're going to play with a guy that is skilled (and) makes plays."
Nylander is often a man of few words - he's happy to let his play do the talking for him - so it falls on his teammates to describe what's ahead for him. And what's ahead is a whirlwind of acclimation, followed by the familiar comforts of home. That's enough to make Nylander, and the Leafs he plays with, happy.
"He's obviously such a good player, I don't expect it to take him too long to get back to how he can play," Matthews said of Nylander. "It's going to take him a couple weeks or so, just like it does to get your legs back under you and get that timing and pace of play down, so I don't expect he'll be too long. But if you have him in the lineup, that gives you another pretty big weapon."