December 6, 2015
TORONTO — The Maple Leafs have kept quiet on the possibility of sending prospects William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen to the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship but an answer should be coming soon, according to Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe.
Nylander and Kapanen, both 19 years old, qualify to play for their home countries at the upcoming annual tournament, which is schedule to start on Dec. 26 in Helsinki, Finland. The Toronto organization hasn’t announced yet if they plan to allow the two teenagers to leave the Marlies for the two-week event.
“We got two guys there that are motivated to perform no matter what the stage,” said Keefe. “So in the event they end up going I’m sure they’ll be motivated and ready, and I’m sure a decision will come soon.”
A report out of Sweden last week said that Nylander would be available to play for his country. The skilled centre, however, was just as quiet Sunday when asked if he planned to make it to Finland and gave no specifics.
“Right now my focus is on what’s happening here,” said Nylander. “Whatever happens, happens. If I stay here I’m happy, if I go there I’ll start focusing on that if that happens.
“For me, I haven’t thought about it at all. Just thinking about playing as well as I can here.”
Nylander and Kapanen played in the 2015 World Junior Championship and their presence would be a major boost for their countries. While Nylander kept his responses simple, he did say that the chance of joining younger brother Alexander — who currently plays for the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads — would be extra incentive to want to participate.
“If my brother goes it would be fun, but I wanna try and play for the Leafs,” said Nylander. “My mindset is here.”
Nylander currently leads the AHL in scoring with 13 goals and 29 points in 22 games after recording a goal and two helpers in a 9-0 win against the Moose on Sunday. Kapanen sat out as a healthy scratch because it was Toronto’s third game in three days. The speedy Finn, who has had injury troubles early in the season, has five goals and nine points in 15 games.
Keefe is familiar with having to loan his players out for the World Juniors because of his time spent coaching the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Last year he saw defenceman Darnell Nurse represent Canada and forward Sergei Tolchinksi suit up for Russia. Keefe says the opportunity to go to the World Juniors is a benefit to any player.
“Any time I’ve had guys that left for that tournament they came back feeling as more complete, better players,” said Keefe.
The World Juniors run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5., but teams are already preparing and starting up selection camps. Nylander and Kapanen would miss six Marlies games if they make it to Helsinki.