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William Nylander does not see his duty to kill with additional penalty projected this year as a painful task, in fact Sheldon Keefe would call it a reward.

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“When we see growth in a player, his role should reflect that,” the coach said Saturday morning. “I feel like he made great strides last year, in his attention to detail, on defense and just his game off the puck in general, being consistently competitive. Then you see his established skill at that: strong and good instincts, a really good stick for removing discs. And, of course, it is dangerous in the transition. “

He played 2:06 of PK time Saturday in a 4-1 win over Ottawa and added a power play assist in just under 17 minutes of ice time. Nylander’s special teams experiment grew out of last season’s drop in performance, Toronto’s unit slipping to the league’s bottom 10 at 78.5%.

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“We also had some changes in our coaching staff (Dean Chynoweth took over the short staffing after the success with Carolina last year),” Keefe said. “He’s been on board with William and if Auston (Matthews) had been active he would have been a participant as well.

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“The way we want to eliminate penalties this season will require more pressure, it will require a lot more energy and we will need more guys to do it (like newcomer Ondrej Kase). We are trying to give ourselves more opportunities to use our depth and there will be competition for those positions. “

Nylander’s energetic skater didn’t like to sit too long if the Leafs faced penalties.

“You can move instead of sitting on the bench for an extended period,” Nylander said, “and keep the puck out of the net, which is the most important thing.”

CROSS WOUNDS OF STARS

Before Ilya Mikheyev suffered an apparent long-term hand injury, Keefe was asked about Alex Ovechkin’s lower body injury on Friday night and the retrospective risk of a good player getting hurt in exhibition games.

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“You always expect guys to get through, preseason or regular,” Keefe said. “You hate to see it happen (now), but you have to play hockey; today or next week. You have to deal with it. “

If the Leafs’ final roster was up in the air because it conformed to the salary cap, Mikheyev’s mishap will require a different math calculation if he’s on injured reserve. That’s so Keefe, general manager Kyle Dubas and salary cap specialist Brandon Pridham find out before Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline to submit their list.

Over the past year, lower-paid fringe Leafs unexpectedly entered games when the club was hit by salary cap enforcement, while other situations required removing a player from the 23-man roster or sending someone. to the Marlies that he did not require exemptions.

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“That is part of our reality,” Keefe said Saturday morning. “We are not the only team in the NHL dealing with that. Ever since the flat cap has been around here, a lot of them are seen doing it. We are lucky last season (partly because a taxi squad was allowed on the truncated schedule) we didn’t have to play with as few players as many teams did. Many times things happen like this that is out of your control. “

TIME FOR TIM

Chynoweth also received another summer project: keeping former No. 1
Draft pick Timothy Liljegren got engaged, as a string of new acquisitions and fellow Swedish pick Rasmus Sandin keep him low on the depth chart.

“Dean has come here with a fresh look at him, preparing for the season, with video and has been excited to work with him. Everything you’ve seen of him during the camp has confirmed it. He believes in him and wants him to be around and be a part of things. As a young player, you have to be happy with that (special attention) in a coach.

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“Timothy has done a good job, whether we paired him with Jake Muzzin for a long time or others. He has made good progress and has done everything that was asked of him.

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BULLDOG IN THE YARD

Alex “Bulldog” Biega, the 33-year-old Montreal-born defender via Harvard with 241 NHL games, remains with the team for now after he and forward Kurtis Gabriel were placed on waivers on Saturday.

“He’s a great veteran,” praised Keefe. “Whoever he has spoken to, or anyone in our organization before the decision to sign him, is that he is the consummate professional, the best teammate.

“He has a level of physique and simplicity to his game that we think is a nice addition to the depth of our group, another guy that delivered on what we thought we were getting in terms of his work habits.”

WHERE IS BRADY?

Brady Tkachuk remains unsigned as the Senators’ season opener looms. It’s unclear to what extent owner Eugene Melnyk could be influencing his hockey bureau in negotiations, as he has not been afraid to alienate stars in past conversations. But Tkachuk could be seeking a three-year bridge deal in hopes of a better payday down the road, rather than management hoping to sign him long-term.

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