by Stan Smith

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Head Coach Sheldon Keefe announced on Wednesday that on the opening day of training camp, William Nylander would be moved from the right wing to center. That move makes sense to a point. And, as the camp opened that’s where Nylander started.

Related: Maple Leafs Training Camp Day 1: Hints or Surprises

It Might Be a Good Time to Move Tavares to Wing

John Tavares, who is still an excellent center and one of the best at the faceoff dot has never been known as being fleet of foot. At 33 years old (his birthday was September 20th) he will not get any faster. At some point in time, it makes sense to move Tavares to the wing to simplify his game and get the most out of his declining abilities. A move to the wing might also prolong his career.

John Tavares & William Nylander, Maple Leafs

William Nylander was a center all through his development. He was a center for the Marlies and also played games at center when he was called up to the Maple Leafs in February of 2016. He was subsequently moved to the right wing where he has remained for most of his NHL career. But, when the Maple Leafs were in a pinch, such as in the 2021 playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens when Tavares was lost early in Game 1, it has been Nylander they have turned to. 

Keefe Knows It’s Harder to Move to Center than Wing

Keefe made a smart observation in his camp opening presser that it is more difficult for a player to move from the wing to the center than it is to move from the center to the wing. Giving Nylander more opportunities at the center will make the transition easier when needed. The move right now doesn’t mean that Nylander will necessarily remain at center, even though Keefe said he does want to give it a bit of a run. It just means that we should expect to see him used at center more often. 

Related: Did Maple Leafs Paint Themselves into a Corner with Samsonov?

There Is a Risk Moving Nylander to Center

There is a risk and a downside to moving Nylander to the center though. It leaves a huge hole on the right side.  

Before Keefe announced he would be moving Nylander to center in the preseason the Maple Leafs’ best options for the top two lines looked like this

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Tyler BertuzziAuston MatthewsMitch Marner
Max DomiJohn TavaresWilliam Nylander
Matthew Knies

Other than a question of whether Knies or Domi would be best suited for the left wing spot on the second line, the top two lines were set. However, if we move Nylander to the center that changes the dynamics of the above setup to this:

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Tyler BertuzziAuston MatthewsMitch Marner
Max DomiJohn Tavares
Matthew KniesWilliam Nylander

If the Maple Leafs want to fill that second-line right-wing role with a righthanded player their options are Calle Jarnkrok, Sam Lafferty, and Ryan Reaves. At present, Dylan Gambrell is a center but is righthanded. He could also move to the right wing. 

Calle Jarnkrok, Maple Leafs

If the Maple Leafs expand the options to include lefthanded players who could play their off-wing, that adds Nick Robertson and Noah Gregor (who is on a PTO) to the mix. One other option could be to move Domi over to the right side.

The Bottom Line

If the Maple Leafs go into the regular season to leave Nylander at center the right side of the Maple Leafs’ top two lines will take a hit and won’t be as strong as it would be if Nylander remained in his usual slot. 

Related: Maple Leafs Unsigned Prospect Steals the Show

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *