Photo credit: Toronto Star
Sheldon Keefe says Nylander's recent demotion is about sending a message, needing more from him
BY DEAN CHAUDHRY MARCH 20, 2023 (8:36 PM)
Over his last 3 games Nylander has gone pointless, has only fired 7 shots on goal, and his ice-time has decreased from 21:12 to 17:32 to 16:53. He has also been pushed out of the top-6. On Monday, Keefe did his best to explain the decision to demote Nylander to third line duty.
"There's a lot more perimeter, a lot more getting rid of the puck. I want him to hang on to it. I want him to challenge. I want him to be on the attack. I want to see lots of pace. That's when he's at his best." - Keefe on Nylander's recent struggles
The reconfigured Leafs lines Leafs has Nylander skating with Bobby McMann and Sam Lafferty on the team's third line. Auston Matthews is centering Alexander Kerfoot and Calle Jarnkrok. Together, the trio proved to be lethal against the Ottawa Senators. Meanwhile, John Tavares has the luxury of playing with Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting.
Keefe on Nylander playing with Lafferty and McMann:
"Playing him more with guys who are going to skate and move their feet, that he can be the guy that really drives things. That's really the idea."
This is hardly bad news or a head coach calling out one of his better players. Keefe just wants to see Nylander come out and play with a more consistent flair. If he's sticking to the perimeter, dumping the puck, and not playing the game that led him to a career-season, then changes are to be expected. There's also the fun fact that Nylander has already told Keefe that he wants to be kicked in the rear end every now and again when the coach feels that his play is slipping
The Leafs are still in the thick of a battle for 2nd in the Atlantic Division and for home-ice in the first round. The Tampa Bay Lightning are only 3 points back of the Leafs for 2nd place but the Buds do have 2 games in hand. They have won 2 straight games after back-to-back defeats and are looking to maximize their star-studded lineup to the best of their abilities. If that means Nylander has to play with Lafferty and McMann to regain his mojo, then so be it. He is still playing on the top power play unit and should get plenty of chances to get back on the scoresheet and into the top-6.