William Nylander will get his first preseason reps at center ice as the Maple Leafs visit the Senators for the 2023 exhibition season opener (2 p.m. EST, Sportsnet One).
“I think Domi and Willy are both really dynamic on the rush,” said Sheldon Keefe on Friday of his Max Domi, Nylander, and Calle Jarnkrok line combination in camp. They won’t have Jarnkrok on their right wing this afternoon (Alex Steeves instead), but Domi and Nylander will have a chance to build some chemistry starting today in Ottawa. Domi will take the left-side faceoffs — he’s a 51.8% on the dot over his last three seasons — while Nylander will take the right-side draws. Jarnkrok won’t play this aft due to bumps and bruises, but that line combo would give the coaching staff three players who have played center in the league before on the same line.
On the backend, the beefed-up Conor Timmins (who is up 21 pounds over his last camp weigh-in) is looking to fight his way onto the NHL roster but is battling the logistical challenge of a tight salary-cap picture that may necessitate a 20-man roster. His path to earning a spot is not just showing well offensively (as is his strength) but by being reliable enough defensively. He’ll pair off with 27-year-old Swede William Lagesson, who has 60 games of NHL experience (mostly in Edmonton) and is expected to log major minutes with the Marlies as one of the top left-shot call-up options in case of injury.
Both the Senators and Leafs will essentially ice one full NHL forward line and one full NHL defense pairing, with a few regulars sprinkled in on the other lines among the bubble players and AHLers. After a long Leafs hockey-less summer, though, nobody is complaining.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the benefits of William Nylander at center:
It gives us increased depth. To me, we have more real options on wings. We talked about the depth on the left wing and some of the options that we have there. That is part of why I would want to consider starting camp this way [with Willy at center]: you can spread it out a little bit better. We saw some of the benefits of spreading things out last year in the playoffs as we acquired O’Reilly.
We have to look at it, but it is about getting Willy comfortable. In terms of how it impacts the team or the flow of the team, I am really not going to have a sense of that until we start playing games, and it is not going to be until the regular season, really, that we get those answers. It won’t be all that often through the preseason that they will be all playing together.
Keefe on Conor Timmins’ push to make the team:
He has put in a ton of work not just over the summer but from the trade deadline on. He was really in development mode. He’s had a great attitude and worked extremely hard.
He is a guy we expect to be in here pushing. In the scrimmage [Friday], he made a few excellent plays. You can see the sense that he has. He is going to play a lot in preseason and get an opportunity to win a job and make things difficult on us.
Keefe on the different options available on the left wing this camp with Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Matthew Knies on the roster:
Especially if you focus on the forwards with Domi, Bert, and Reavo, those three guys are competitors first and foremost. It is not about making noise in the room, certainly. It is not about that at all. For me, I think we have guys that no matter what the game brings or calls for, they’re comfortable.
In fact, sometimes they are going to raise the temperature of the game themselves. They’re comfortable playing in that environment. If you look at Bertuzzi and Domi, they are two guys who play their best when the games are most competitive. They have a great skill set to be able to score. Reavo has done his job as good or better than anybody in the league for a number of years now.
Between those three guys — and when you have them on three different lines — it is a good mix for us. Matthew Knies is bringing a lot to the Tavares group. There are some different elements there that we maybe haven’t had in the past.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup
Max Domi – William Nylander – Alex Steeves
Matthew Knies – Dylan Gambrell – Sam Lafferty
Roni Hirvonen – Logan Shaw – Max Ellis
Kyle Clifford – Fraser Minten – Josiah Slavin
Morgan Rielly – Timothy Liljegren
William Lagesson – Conor Timmins
Maxime Lajoie – William Villeneuve
Ottawa Senators Projected Lineup
Brady Tkachuk – Tim Stützle – Claude Giroux
Matthew Highmore – Rourke Chartier – Josh Bailey
Parker Kelly – Mark Kastelic – Zach MacEwen
Jiri Smejkal – Roby Jarventie – Egor Sokolov
Jake Sanderson – Artem Zub
Tyler Kleven – Jacob Bernard-Docker
Jorian Donovan – Nikolas Matinpalo