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Nylander will make season debut for Maple Leafs against Red Wings

Forward signed contract Dec. 1, missed first 28 games of season

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- William Nylander will make his season debut when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SNO, FS-D, NHL.TV).
 

"Yeah, I'll be playing tomorrow, yeah," the forward said Wednesday during the Maple Leafs' annual Christmas visit to the Hospital for Sick Children.

Nylander, who was a restricted free agent and missed the first 27 games of the season, signed a six-year contract worth $6.9 million annually on Saturday and traveled to Toronto on Sunday. He had medical evaluations Monday and said later that day he was expecting to meet with the coaching staff Wednesday.

He missed his 28th game as a healthy scratch in a 4-3 overtime win at the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, but he did reunite with many of his teammates for dinner on Sunday.

"It's so nice to see the guys and … skating again [with them], it's lots of fun," Nylander said.

Coach Mike Babcock has not said who Nylander's linemates will be. However, Nylander was the right wing on a line with center Auston Matthews and left wing Patrick Marleau at Toronto's morning skate Thursday. Nylander and Matthews have played together for most of the past two seasons. Kasperi Kapanen, who had been playing right wing with Matthews and Marleau, was moved to a line with center Nazem Kadri and left wing Andreas Johnsson.

"Hopefully he can do what Auston does, jump right in like he has not missed a beat," Marleau said Tuesday. "It'll be good to have him back and playing."

Video: Nylander's role with Maple Leafs going forward

Matthews has scored five goals in three games after missing 14 games with a left shoulder injury.

Forward Connor Brown said he is excited to see how Nylander will help the Maple Leafs improve further, even though they are 20-8-0 and are second in the NHL with 40 points without having Nylander in the lineup.

"Absolutely I think he'll be playing with some urgency, some hop in his step and it will be fun to see," Brown said. "He's a quality guy and a very, very good player. Any time you can add a player of his caliber to your team, you get better right away."

Nylander, selected by the Maple Leafs with the No. 8 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, had 61 points in each of the past two seasons and has 135 points (48 goals, 87 assists) in 185 NHL games. The Maple Leafs have won five games in a row.

Nylander said he was glad to have been able to join the team in time for the visit to the Hospital For Sick Children, an opportunity he looks forward to being a part of each year.

"It's lots of fun to see the kids and to make their day, helping them get away from what's going on in their lives and getting them to appreciate something else for a little bit, it's big," Nylander said. "Coming here, you realize what other kids are going through and how tough it is. It's just nice to be able to take a moment out of your day to try to make their day a little better."

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