William Nylander 'on a mission' as Maple Leafs star closes in on franchise record

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William Nylander got home from the Maple Leafs’ longest trip of the season on Sunday and went to the dogs.

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His two faithful companions made it clear how much they had missed him.

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“Ten minutes of chaos,” Nylander said with a smile on Monday. “That was good. Getting home and hanging out with my dogs, that’s what I was looking forward to.”

Considering how Nylander has been creating chaos for opponents in the early stages of the 2023-24 National Hockey League regular season, the reaction from his furry pals was a fit.

A goal or an assist against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night would make Nylander the first player in a Leafs sweater to start a season with a point in nine consecutive games. Three Leafs, most recently John Anderson in October 1982, previously recorded at least one point in eight games to begin a season.

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In 1922-23, while playing for the Toronto St. Pats, Jack Adams set the franchise record when he recorded a point in the club’s first nine games.

“He feels good about his game, he’s on a mission,” Leafs defenceman and fellow Swede John Klingberg said, referring to Nylander’s sizzling October. “He’s one of the absolute top players in the league right now.

“I think he has been a little underrated. Now you see what he’s capable of … he has been our best player and he’s important for this team.”

And let’s keep in mind that Nylander counts the ultra-talented Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner among his Leafs teammates.

After the Leafs practised at the Ford Performance Centre, coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed that Joseph Woll will start in goal against the Kings as Toronto looks to win for the sixth time in nine games.

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Defenceman Timothy Liljegren, who departed during the second period of the Leafs’ overtime loss in Nashville against the Predators on Saturday with a lower-body injury, was back on the ice at practice and is expected to be in the lineup against the Kings.

Nylander, who was eighth in NHL scoring through games on Sunday with 12 points (six goals and six assists), has eight points in 10 career games against the Kings.

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Nothing really gets the 27-year-old Nylander worked up, and this potential record is no different.

“If it happens, it happens,” Nylander said. “I’m just focused on having a good game and that’s my where my mind is at. Nothing more than that.”

Nylander put his at-times inconsistent ways behind him last season, for the most part, when he had personal highs with 40 goals, 47 assists and 87 points. The lulls that have popped up in the past are not in his game now, but he’s not going to get ahead of himself.

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“You just have to stay on an even level, can’t be going anywhere crazy because I have points, whatever, it doesn’t matter,” Nylander said. “Just have to stay on the same level as I’ve always been.”

The Kings, who practised on a different pad at the Leafs’ facility, are aware of that level.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” defenceman Drew Doughty said. “And when you’re playing with confidence, and you have that talent, you’re going to dominate. It’s going to be up to the entire team to shut him down.”

And, of course, Nylander is doing this during a contract year. The salary gaps between himself and Matthews, Marner and captain John Tavares become more glaring when it’s clear from his play that Nylander is rather underpaid.

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If $10 million US a season was a sticking point between the Leafs and Nylander before, that number is bound to rise from the player’s side if Nylander continues his dominating ways.

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What matters most for the team now is what Nylander is doing when he arrives at work.

“The consistency piece is … it’s 82 games, it’s a long road, but certainly the way that he has played, to me, he has picked up from where he left off in terms of his start to last season,” Keefe said. “I know he’s motivated to carry it forward.”

And keep creating that chaos.

“I just feel like I’m doing my thing that I have been doing for the past couple years,” Nylander said.

“I just had a little stretch of a couple of games (last year) where I wasn’t playing my best. I’m trying to keep that (consistency) up for the season.”

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