With all due respect to Carl Gustaf, William Nylander left Stockholm on Sunday as the King of Sweden.
The week-long coronation for the Swedish-Canadian winger concluded with a highlight-reel goal in overtime that gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild at the NHL Global Series.
Nylander scored twice and had five points combined in wins over the Wild and the Detroit Red Wings during a European adventure in which he was cheered by nearly 100 friends and family members and mobbed by fans.
On Saturday many of them waited in a 2 1/2-block line in chilly temperatures to get his autograph during a personal appearance at a clothing store.
“He’s a rock star here,” said Sheldon Keefe, the Toronto head coach.
Trade Willy? Not a chance. Afford Willy? At this point that is a much bigger question if his contract expires at the end of the 2023-24 campaign. With each passing day the price tag for him climbs farther above the US$10-million-mark per season. That buys a lot of meatballs at Ikea.
Nylander showed a dramatic flair during a trip in which he had numerous commitments and never got distracted.
“Unflappable,” is the way Keefe described him.
The dazzling goal in overtime brought the crowd to its feet inside Avicii Arena and extended Nylander’s franchise-record season-opening point streak to 17 games. There have only been seven longer point streaks to start an NHL season and three of them were achieved by some fellow who goes by the last name of Gretzky.
As of now Nylander sits tied for fourth in NHL scoring with 12 goals and 27 points in 17 games.
Remember how fans were howling when he held out and signed for US$6.9-million five years ago? Now that contract looks like it was consummated at Honest Ed’s.
The Maple Leafs returned to Toronto on Sunday evening with 10-5-2 record and a four-game winning streak. They are a point out of second place in the Atlantic Division and in a good position with U.S. Thanksgiving looming on Thursday.
It seems like a long time ago that they were 6-5-2 and struggling.
They played two solid games in Stockholm, looked better on defence and got good goaltending from Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll. One concern is that John Klingberg, the defenceman they signed for one year at US$4.15-million, sat out both games and appears close to being placed on the long-term injury list. The nature of the injury has not been disclosed.
Conor Timmins, who was hurt in preseason, is expected to return when the Leafs visit Connor Bedard and the Blackhawks in Chicago on Friday but the defensive corps is as thin as a tissue. Toronto is said to be interested in obtaining Calgary’s Nikita Zadorov or another big blueliner but it is a challenge.
Someone is bound to ask for Nicholas Robertson and a draft pick in return or something close to that. Robertson is movable but the Maple Leafs are very short on draft picks as it is.
They have played in fits and starts but seem to have found better footing in home Swede home.
Nylander emerged as the big winner, playing abroad with panache while showing his teammates the sights in Stockholm. His maternal grandmother, Eva, got to see him play professionally for the first two times and was awarded with two goals.
“It’s been a blast,” Nylander told TSN on Sunday. “I love being here. Hopefully I can do it again some time.”