William Nylander and the Maple Leafs arrive in Stockholm for 'dream' trip

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Get your rest and get ready to play some hockey.

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That was the message, in short, from Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe to his players on Tuesday.

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Not long after touching down in Stockholm following an overnight flight, the Leafs were on the ice in the Swedish capital for practice. 

“It’s really about fire-the-engines a little bit just to keep them awake through the day,” Keefe told reporters after the Leafs practised at Hovet Arena. “We’re trying to keep them away from the hotel and keep them away from being able to nap or having the body shut down just because (Tuesday night’s) sleep really is vital to set us up for the week.

“To get to bed at a decent time and be able to sleep through the night is the priority for the day. The skate was just about firing the engines and getting a sweat.”

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The NHL Global Series features games involving the Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators.

The Leafs play the Wings on Friday afternoon and will square off with the Wild on Sunday before returning home. 

While the trip is a special one for the Leafs’ Swedish players — William Nylander, Calle Jarnkrok, William Lagesson and the injured Timothy Liljegren — there’s a little more something to it for Nylander.

He arrived in the country where he was raised playing the best hockey of his National Hockey League career. Not only was Nylander sixth in NHL scoring through games on Monday, there’s that franchise-record 15-game point streak he is riding to start a season.

Provided he gets a point in each of the Leafs’ two games in Stockholm, Nylander will become just the second active NHL player to start a season with a 17-game point streak. The Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid accomplished as much to begin 2021-22.

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“The point streak is one thing,” Keefe said. “Sometimes there is some luck involved in these point streaks and whether the streak continues, that’s not the point.

“He has just played terrific hockey. He has really been a catalyst for us offensively, his effort away from the puck defensively has really matched the effort that he is putting forth on offence. To me, he looks like he is really focused on having a great season, which is building upon last season. I thought he took a big step in his overall game last season and he has taken another one here this year.”

With 22 points (10 goals and 12 assists), Nylander is on pace for 120 points in 82 games. That would smash his career high, which came in 2022-23 when he had 87 points in 82 games.

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Nylander began to put the offensive side of his game into overdrive two years ago, when he had 80 points in 81 games.

There’s no doubt that, with each passing match, Nylander is increasing his value and therefore the salary he will command on his next contract. How it plays out for the Leafs, who will have a potentially tough decision to make when the NHL trade deadline rolls around next March, will keep the intrigue and debate alive as the season progresses.

What matters most for the Leafs and Nylander is that the looming free agency — if Leafs general manager Brad Treliving and Nylander’s agent, Lewis Gross, can’t find common ground — has had no negative impact on how Nylander gets his work done. Not that one was expected, given Nylander’s outlook.

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In Sweden, Nylander said his grandmother for the first time will watch him play in the NHL. He had to gather approximately 90-100 tickets for the games (in total, not for each game).

“It has been a dream to come back here and play,” Nylander said. “I didn’t think that would happen in my career, to play an NHL game in Sweden, so that’s going to be very special.”

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While Nylander has excelled on the ice, as a tour guide, well, perhaps not so much. It’s Keefe’s first time in Sweden and, he said, his first time in Europe in 30 years.

“Will is the guy I have talked to the most about (things to see and do in Stockholm) and, as you can imagine, Will is pretty chill,” Keefe said with a smile. “Just walk around and take in the sights. That was really all he had to offer, but sounds like Willie himself has got a pretty full plate while we’re here.

“I’m sure he is excited to be here, but knowing Willie, he likes to keep the focus on the hockey, so he will get his obligations out of the way and all our Swedish guys, especially, will be excited to play.”

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