Photo credit: Toronto Star
Former Leaf reveals exactly what Keefe's motives are in placing Nylander on the third line
BY MIKE ARMENTI MARCH 21, 2023 (12:44)
Among the biggest issues for Keefe with Nylander's game lately is his unwillingness to go to drive the net and get the the middle of the ice, where he's been so dangerous all year. Keefe pointed out on Monday that over Nylander's 3-game pointless streak, he's been gradually shifting back towards being a perimeter player, which is not how he's found the success that he's found this season - a pretty fair assessment.
One thing we know about Nylander's relationship with Keefe is that the two are on the same page in terms of what the player needs. Keefe wants his players to remain engaged, focused and pushing the play to the right areas of the ice to generate chances. Nylander knows that he has a tendency to drift at times and has previously asked Keefe and the coaching staff to get on him when he needs a nudge in the right direction.
This morning on TSN1050's First Up, host Aaron Korolnek and co-host and former Leaf Carlo Colaiacovo were both surprised with how Sheldon Keefe chose to send his message to Nylander very publicly, through the media. Colaiacovo and Korolnek felt as though the conversation should have been one that happened behind closed doors and stayed there. However, Colaiacovo also believes that Keefe's rationale behind dropping Nylander to the 3rd line to get his game going in the right direction. Playing against weaker matchups can help to get Nylander going, but it can also spark something in him to help him drive his line again, which in turn is great for the Leafs as a whole.
Nylander is currently saddled up next to Sam Lafferty and Bobby McMann, who are both speedy, relentless players. If Nylander can feed off of that energy and use Lafferty and McMann's speed and intensity to create some space and challenge off of the rush, it could help generate some scoring in the bottom six. In addition, Colaiacovo believes that Keefe's philosophy is that if that third line can get going with Nylander, then when the time comes to promote Willy back to the top 6, he will have helped McMann and Lafferty to build the confidence necessary to keep their momentum going even without Nylander on that line. It's a sneaky good idea if you look at things that way.