Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Nylander, Eakin & Milano, Odd Lineup

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at what might motivate William Nylander to play his best hockey. Everyone agrees that he’s one of the most talented players on the Maple Leafs’ roster, but I believe he has another gear. I believe head coach Sheldon Keefe is seeking to find it.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: William Nylander, Skilled But Polarizing

Second, I’ll look at two PTOs who were released by the Calgary Flames – Sonny Milano and Cody Eakin. Their release has promoted a spate of suggestions that they should be picked up by the team. Although I don’t doubt they’d bring value, I don’t think the team should change its course right now or use them to dump higher contracts (and the players tied to them).

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Finally, I’ll look at the lineup for tomorrow’s game against the Detroit Red Wings. To say the roster for the game is “interesting” is an understatement. I am looking forward to seeing how the young prospects perform – mostly by themselves.

Item One: What Motivates William Nylander, by Sheldon Keefe

A post I wrote yesterday about William Nylander playing center generated a lot of back-and-forth among commenters. A number of readers simply disagreed with my take that Nylander is rising to the occasion. Some readers remain convinced that he’s soft and avoids confrontation with opponents on the ice. 

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A much smaller group of commenters believed that Nylander was one of the best Maple Leafs’ players. In fact, Andrew commented that “Nylander seems to be the type of player who gets better when he is challenged to do more.” 

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I agree with Andrew’s assessment. In fact, as a former K-12 teacher for a few years before I became a university professor, I know a lot of young people who for some reason responded like Nylander seems to. They respond to challenges. The more they are trusted and challenged, the better they do. That’s one reason I like Nylander so much. I still think he has room to grow.

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From what I’m seeing from Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe, I have to believe he’s using similar opportunities for motivation. It should be an interesting season for Nylander.

Item Two: It’s Time for the Maple Leafs to Trust Their Prospects

Yesterday, the Calgary Flames surprised everyone by releasing two PTOs – Sonny Milano and Cody Eakin. There was some stirring from Maple Leafs’ writers that the team should capitalize and jump on those two players to increase the team’s depth. One writer noted that it was a chance to move both Pierre Engvall and Alex Kerfoot and clear off some salary cap space for the team.

Cody Eakin, Buffalo Sabres
Cody Eakin, when he was with the Buffalo Sabres (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

I have no doubt that both Milano and Eakin would bring value to a team and I have not a thing against either of them as players. I also see the logic in moving contracts for salary-cap space. However, I don’t believe these two PTOs provide greater value than Engvall or Kerfoot. I also don’t think that the team should continue to bring in outside players when there are players in the organization who would bust their butts for a chance to play with the big club.

I’d rather see roster spots given to players like Nick Robertson, Alex Steeves, Pontus Holmberg, or Bobby McMann than bring in an outsider. On the other hand, I do hope the organization signs Zach Aston-Reese to a contract

Related: Red Wings’ Top 5 Defensemen of All Time Ranked

But for as good as Eakin and Milano might be, I think it’s time to stay with homegrown prospects. Even if the team can dump the combined salaries of Kerfoot and Engvall (which would amount to about $5.75 million) I don’t think either Kerfoot or Engvall should be treated as disposable players. I think this is a season for the team to use the players it has.

Item Three: Tomorrow Night’s Lineup – Last Chance Time?

This morning, the Maple Leafs released the roster for tonight’s preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings. It’s curious, to say the least.

This is going to be an interesting game to watch. It might be last-chance time before the last cut down to the regular-season lineup. It’s a collection of young players but has Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford with the team. 

Both the forward lines and the defensive pairings will be creative. I know I spent quite a bit of time just looking at the different players on the game roster and wondering who might play where and with whom. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Forwards Ranked for Defensive Play – 2021-22 Season

It could turn out to be one of those games where the team gets buried or it rises to the occasion to put on a collective show. If it’s the former, hope the goalies have a good dose of confidence. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The talk of Nylander playing center brings up an old argument that John Tavares should be moved to the wing as he ages. The argument is that an aging Tavares is no longer capable of putting up good numbers as a center. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs Center John Tavares screens Tampa Bay Lightning Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tavares is one of those players I believe is under-appreciated by Maple Leafs’ fans. In looking forward to this regular season, I am looking forward to watching the team’s second line perform. I am also interested in the way the fourth line has been – I believe – thoughtfully constructed.

I am looking forward to the start of the regular season.

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