January 26, 2015
TORONTO– William Nylander’s first weekend with the Toronto Marlies was exactly what the team wanted. A chance to adjust to his new surroundings and the style of play he’ll have to get used to in the American Hockey League.
Nylander made his Marlies debut Friday night on the road against Hamilton and then played his first contest at home Saturday against the Bulldogs. Both games he was given top-six minutes and power-play time in an effort to adjust to the North American game, which was head coach Gord Dineen’s biggest concern heading into the weekend.
“He was what we expected, he was a little tentative, probably more so today maybe playing in front of the home crowd. He showed some spurts there, certainly on the power play,” said Dineen after Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss.
“He’s a dynamic player, he’s just going to have to adjust his game to the way we play. Again the smaller ice and time and space.”
The 18-year-old forward, who Dineen decided to start on the left wing instead of centre, was held pointless with one shot on goal in his two games. That wasn’t a problem for the club or Nylander, who admitted earlier in the week he would have to play in the AHL before commenting on what to expect out of himself.
“You got less time with the puck when you get to the scoring chance areas so you have to get your shot off quickly,” Nylander mentioned as something that stood out to him once he got into game action. “As long as we’re creating that’s important. If we went these games without scoring chances it may be different.”
At times, Nylander had a pass-first mentality on the ice rather than looking to put the puck on net. He also had to avoid being crushed on Saturday into the sideboards when attempting to carry the puck over Hamilton’s blue-line. But his skill set was evident.
The Marlies also had their highest attendance total this season for Nylander’s home debut with 7513 spectators there to watch what he could do.
“I hope he’s not feeling the pressure,” said Dineen. “The one thing I would have liked to have seen is our team responding around him. That’s a way of taking away pressure. When other guys are playing good hockey it maybe takes the focus away from him.”
Nylander started Friday on a line with centre Greg McKegg and winger Spencer Abbott. On Saturday, however, Matt Frattin replaced Abbott up top. The change wasn’t made to benefit Nylander, rather to get Frattin going after a lacklustre performance in a 3-0 loss.
“We were looking for different chemistry, didn’t feel like Matt had his best game yesterday so we wanted a response out of him,” said Dineen. “We put him with (Nylander) who sees the ice pretty well.”
For the first time this season, rather than alternate starts with Christopher Gibson, goaltender Antoine Bibeau got the call in net for back-to-back games. Despite losing both, Dineen was happy with how he responded to the test.
“We just wanted to see how Beebs would react to it,” said Dineen. “I thought he played a really outstanding game, certainly in the third period when Hamilton had the big push on.”
After putting together a run of 7-0-2, Toronto has dropped three straight games. The Marlies next play Friday in Utica against the Comets.