It is a reunion that Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been pining to see for a while.
William Nylander will make his season debut Thursday night, less than a week after he ended his two-month-long holdout and signed a new six-year contract with Toronto.
I can’t help but think of that famous Peaches and Herb song from 1978, Reunited:
Reunited, and it feels so good
Reunited ’cause we understood
There’s one perfect fit
And, sugar, this one is it
We both are so excited ’cause we’re reunited, hey, hey
You’re singing that song in your head right now, aren’t you? You’re welcome.
I’m sure the vast majority of Leafs fans attending the game against Detroit at Scotiabank Arena are going to give Nylander a warm reception when he steps back onto the ice. But I won’t at all be surprised if a few disgruntled fans — given all the drama they had to endure during the contract negotiations — give Willie the gears, at least until he scores his first goal.
Given how Nylander has played against the Red Wings over his two-year NHL career, it may not take him long to find the scoresheet in his first game back. The speedy, 22-year-old Swede has three goals and four assists in eight games versus Detroit and has a plus-minus rating of plus-5.
Barring a huge surprise, Nylander is going to be rejoined with super centre Auston Matthews on one of the Leafs’ top two lines. However, that should not come at the expense of fellow right winger Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen, 22, is having a breakout season — recording career highs with 10 goals and nine assists through 28 games — while playing many of those contests alongside Matthews.
Given that Kapanen and Nylander are also good friends off the ice, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock should keep the two players on either side of Matthews and move veteran winger Patrick Marleau to the third line with Nazem Kadri, who he’s played with semi-regularly, and Connor Brown.
Without Nylander this season, Toronto has compiled a record of 20-8, good for second overall in the NHL. Now that he’s reunited with his teammates, I’m very eager to see how much better this Leafs team can be.
Maple Leafs forward lines, if I were Mike Babcock:
Kasperi Kapanen — Auston Matthews — William Nylander
Zach Hyman — John Tavares — Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau — Nazem Kadri — Connor Brown
Tyler Ennis — Par Lindholm — Andreas Johnsson