Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews and William Nylander Return to Practice, Nick Robertson Moves Up

Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Auston Matthews and William Nylander are on track to return to the lineup while Nick Robertson moved up to the team's second line at practice in Vancouver.
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VANCOUVER -- The Toronto Maple Leafs lineup got a fresh dose of the familiar while injecting some new life up front as the team tries to snap out of a three-game losing streak.

Auston Matthews and William Nylander were full participants at Rogers Arena on Saturday. 

Matthews missed the last game with an injury head coach Sheldon Keefe said was "similar but not the same" as the ailment that forced the NHL's leading scorer to miss three games before missing a fourth on Thursday.

Nylander skated with his teammates for the first time since entering quarantine last week. He came into contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

"We'll have to see how they feel after skating today," Keefe said. "They got through the practice well today so that's obviously a very positive sign, but we won't know their official status for the game until we see how they are at the remainder of the day and how they wake up tomorrow."

Nylander took part in the morning skate with his teammates on Apr. 7 before their 3-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Nylander later showed on the NHL's COVID-19 list and the team put out a statement that the player was  pulled from the lineup due to "exposure to a possible positive case with a close contact outside the team".

"We got back from the road and I met somebody who tested positive for COVID the next day," Nylander said. "So I had to isolate for nine days and had nine nights of tests. Now I'm here."

The potential return of both Matthews and Nylander allowed the Leafs to restore some normalcy to their lineup. During the Saturday skate, both players were on their regular first and second lines, respectively. They were also grouped together on the team's first power-play unit. Toronto loaded up the unit with Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

The Maple Leafs are 1-for-42 on the power play over their last 17 games.

"We probably would have gone to it sooner had we not lost Will and Auston," Keefe said about putting the band back together. "We've been talking about this look, going back with it for a while now but that got disrupted.

"The timing is right here now."

Matthews has 32 goals and 21 assists in 40 games this season. Nylander has 13 goals and 17 assists in 39 games.

Robertson moves up

With two offensive weapon nearing a return, Nick Robertson has not only escaped the chopping block but has moved further up the lineup.

Robertson found himself skating on a wing with Nylander and John Tavares.

"I think the first thing, with me, that jumps out is how hard he works," Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said of Robertson. "In practice, he just wants to get better, wants to put the time in to work hard, he skates with so much power."

Robertson has one assist in four games. 

Although this is an excellent opportunity to for Robertson, it's not clear that this would be a long-term move. When Nick Foligno wraps up quarantine, I think the second-line left wing spot is where he ends up. That's not to suggest Robertson hasn't earned the promotion. But if the Leafs do end up making some moves roster moves to free up space to activate Frederik Andersen off LTI before the playoffs (more on that later), removing Robertson and assigning him to the taxi squad is one of their least riskiest moves.

Engvall demoted

Pierre Engvall is the man on the outside looking in. He has three goals and five assists in 35 games this season, but found himself benched for part of Monday's game in Montreal. He has one assist in his last 10 games.

Engvall carries a cap hit of $1.25 million and the team can make $1.075 million in space available by taking him off the roster. Engvall requires waivers as he is no longer exempt after undergoing the process before the regular season started. 

Andersen skates

Frederik Andersen skated before practice with goaltending coach Steve Briere. He was put through the paces by working on a lot of side-to-side motion in the goal.

He's still a long way from being on the radar to return to the lineup as he'll need to get some practices in, but his arrival on the road was a sign that it could be an option later in the week.

As it stands right now, the Leafs don't have room to activate Andersen off LTI before the playoffs. The team would need to shed at least $3.2 million in cap space, according to PuckPedia.com.

Apart from Robertson, moving other players off the lineup requires waivers and that's where things get tricky.

Sandin

Rasmus Sandin took part in practice to bring the defensemen participation count to a season-high nine players.

Sandin played in one game with the Leafs as the team's seventh defenseman before he was sent down to the Marlies where he suffered a foot fracture during the minor league team's season debut.

"I definitely had wanted to see him play for us here before the season wraps up," Keefe said "The hope was that he'd get significant time with Marlies and minutes there to really get up and running."

The American Hockey League had postponed three Marlies games due to COVID-19 and the Leafs had brought some players on this road trip that would otherwise be with the minor-league club.

Keefe doesn't feel Sandin is ready to return to lineup quite yet. It's likely he'll return to the Marlies once the team is cleared to resume activities. 

 

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