Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the return of William Nylander to the team.
Have you had a chance to talk to William yet? What did you guys talk about?
Babcock: Just the process of what is going to take place in the next few days, welcome back… We’d already done that part. Excited to have him. We’re a better team with him. Now we’ve just got to get through all the testing you have to do when you arrive to make sure he is healthy and ready to go, and then we’ll get him into action as fast as he can.
Have you considered different line combinations for where he might fit in?
Is that something you are willing to tell us about?
How tough of a transition is it to get back into a lineup when you’ve missed training camp and the first two months of the season?
Babcock: Well, it’s going to be hard for him. The one thing about Willy is he’s got unbelievable edges. He is a real good skater. I think that really helps you. He is a fitness guy and works anyway, so ideally, that will help him. But it’s still the competitive pace. It is what it is.
What sort of growth did you see in him last year and what kind of potential for growth do you see this year?
Babcock: I think for every player that has been in the league a while, some things go good for you and some things don’t go as good. You kind of evaluate your game and you talk to the support people you have and you work on your game.
For Willy, the more competitive he is in the offensive zone, the more competitive he is all over, the more he has the puck. We need him to have the puck. We encourage all of our skilled guys to be real good without it so we can spend all our time on offense. That is the same for him.
What do you tell a guy to get him ready mentally after he’s missed a couple months?
Babcock: I don’t know. He knows what he’s missed. I don’t tell him anything. I just say, “Get ready for the game.” We kind of live in the short-term here. Live in the present. Get ready for the game. When the game is over, think about it for a few minutes and get ready for the next one. That is just kind of your life in the NHL.
You said the other day you were confident he was coming back. You were obviously right. But were you starting to worry a little bit as it got close to the deadline?
Babcock: I think what I tried to say is it’s like coming to every single game. You come with the thought in your mind and in your heart that you are going to win. That’s how I think you should look at life. You come in with a positive attitude every day and believe things are going to work out. Ideally, they do. When they don’t and you have a momentary setback, you get on with it.
The bottom line is, we don’t have to worry about that or even talk about that. This is probably the last time we are doing this, right? We’ve done it for two months, so it’ll be time to talk about the team, which I think is important. But it’s great to have him back and have him a part of things.
Is the club mentally tested and ready to play five of the next six on the road knowing you’ve built up towards this point in time?
Babcock: I mean, it’s just what I said earlier. I didn’t know we were playing five of six… I did because I looked at the schedule, but I know we play in Buffalo tomorrow. That’s what we’ll get ready for.
The Leafs-Sabres rivalry hasn’t been there for a couple of years. Is it kind of coming back?
Babcock: I think it will be. Good for them. They’ve done a real good job there. They’ve got good players and a good program. They’re an exciting team to watch. We look forward to seeing them tonight and then playing them tomorrow.
You and Matthews have mentioned happiness that you don’t have to talk about the William Nylander situation anymore. It didn’t seem like it was a distraction even though you had to talk about it a lot.
Babcock: It wasn’t. The only time it was was when I talked to you guys. The rest of the time, I didn’t talk about it. It is all part of the business of the game. It is what it is. A guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do. In the end, it has worked out for us. We are excited to have him here.
It was really good for our team in that Kapanen got such an opportunity. He earned it. He started on the fourth line. He became such an important piece for us that we end up with a better player because of it, to be honest with you. Another guy got to be important, so that’s great.
Does his play make your decisions tougher now when it comes to lines?
Babcock: There is lots of room for lots of good players.
When do you think William might be available? Do you have a sense of the timeline?
Babcock: Yeah, I don’t know that for sure. We’re just going to see. It’s great for me to speculate, but let’s find out about the results of his testing and medical and all of that stuff and make sure he is okay.