TORONTO - William Nylander created and got some opportunities and showed flashes of offensive skill in his pre-season NHL debut.
Time will tell if he's ready for full-time duty at hockey's highest level, but Nylander scored a late goal and was noticeable in positive ways in the Toronto Maple Leafs' 4-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre.
The eighth pick in June's draft is just 18 years old and, in the words of coach Randy Carlyle, looks like he's 14. His game is at least a little beyond that.
Because of that, the smooth-skating son of former NHL forward Michael Nylander is getting a chance to make the Leafs in training camp. It'll take more than a nice first impression to do that, especially given the Leafs have 17 forwards on one-way contracts and spots for 13 or 14.
On Tuesday night, Nylander controlled the puck in the offensive zone, made an NHL-calibre stretch pass from blue-line to blue-line and got robbed by Flyers goaltender Steve Mason on what would have been a power-play goal in the second period. With 56.2 seconds left, he scored to make it 4-0 Toronto.
James van Riemsdyk, Brandon Kozun and Cody Franson also scored for the Leafs. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was sharp in stopping all 12 shots he faced in his 30-plus minutes of action.
Nylander made some good out of his chance to play with star winger Phil Kessel and free-agent addition Mike Santorelli.
"As a coaching staff, our philosophy is that if you're going to have a player like Will, you've got to put him around people that think the game the same way as he does," assistant coach Steve Spott said Tuesday afternoon. "When you look at his skating, when you look at his vision, he can play with elite players."
That skating and vision was on display against the Flyers. On one occasion Nylander skated the puck around the net and got it back even after he turned it over, and he found David Broll for a perfect pass through the neutral zone that likely would've been a goal had Kessel been on the receiving end.
"He's got some of the quickest hands I've ever seen," van Riemsdyk said earlier Tuesday. "He can kind of stickhandle out of a tollbooth. He can make stuff happen out of nothing, it seems like."
Nylander, who played against men in the Swedish Hockey League for 22 games last season, did not look too out of place on the smaller, North American-sized rink. He didn't expect it to be an issue after practising on it for the past month.
Not knowing what to expect from hockey at this level, Nylander at times tried to do too much. But that might just be part of the learning curve for the five-foot-11, 169-pound Swede.
Nylander, who said he can play left wing or centre, has some work to do defensively to be able to handle the competition. He should get another shot to show what he can do Wednesday night in split-squad action against the Ottawa Senators in Toronto.
Notes ??? Replays made it clear Van Riemsdyk would have had a second goal if video review were used in the pre-season, but referee Wes McCauley ruled it didn't go in. ... James Reimer is expected to make his pre-season debut against the Senators at Air Canada Centre. Nazem Kadri was among the other players who could take part in the Toronto game. Antoine Bibeau, who finished Tuesday night's shutout, and Cal Heeter will go to Ottawa along with David Booth and Morgan Rielly.
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