Tavares' up-close look at Nylander has Leafs captain impressed

WINNIPEG — Working on the same line with William Nylander has given Maple Leafs captain John Tavares a greater appreciation of what Nylander potentially brings to each shift.

“Just the way he thinks the game and his poise,” Tavares said. “I think he’s underrated with how strong he is on the puck. He can hold on to it for long periods with a lot of pressure on him.

“You have a lot of trust when you give it to him, and then I think we just read off each other well. It’s nice when you get put together and you have some good results early.

“When you get out there with him you see so many little things right up close. (Nylander’s) sense of the game and how quick those decisions have to be made and sometimes not even taking a look, just having a feel for where everyone is. It’s really impressive.”

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, who hasn’t been hesitant to move players around even when most are healthy, has had to make changes with forwards Ilya Mikheyev, Trevor Moore and Andreas Johnsson nursing injuries.

As well as Tavares meshed with Mitch Marner, it’s encouraging for the staff that the Tavares-Nylander duo has been effective. Partly because of that, Nylander has scored a goal in four consecutive games for the first time in his National Hockey League career, and has become the third player in franchise history to score the winning goal in three consecutive road games.

“He has been really good,” Keefe said of Nylander’s consistency. “Whether it’s him just finding his own game and being comfortable or the chemistry there with the presence of John on this line. His presence on the power play, he has got a lot more comfortable with his role. All those sort of things seem to be falling into place and he has been excellent.”

MARCHMENT MOVES UP

Mason Marchment has developed rather well since toiling in the ECHL just three seasons ago, and the forward’s dream of playing in the NHL took a large step on Wednesday when he was recalled from the Toronto Marlies.

Toronto didn’t have an extra forward on the trip and needed a body after some were banged up against Minnesota on Tuesday.

But while Marchment didn’t take regular line rushes at practice on Wednesday and did not expect to play on Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets, the fact he’s this close to the NHL had him in a fine mood as he peeled off his equipment.

“It’s huge,” Marchment said. “It has been a long time to get here and a long road, so it’s definitely a cool day.”

The 6-foot-4, 204-pound Marchment has persevered through injuries and has four points in 11 games for the Marlies. If he gets into a game with the Leafs, expect that he would provide the kind of sandpaper the Leafs don’t have in great supply.

“I’ve been really impressed with how he has worked through my time with the Marlies,” Keefe said. “He has put himself in the position to get this call. He has had a long journey.”

Of course, one of Marchment’s first calls was to his dad Bryan, whose 926-game NHL career took root in the 1988-89 season with the Jets and later included one season with the Leafs.

That Marchment has a relationship with Keefe is a bonus.

“He never really took it too easy on me (with the Marlies) and he was always pushing me,” Marchment said. “He helped make me better, like he did with (Adam) Brooks and (Trevor) Moore.”

Exposing players such as Marchment and Brooks — who will play in his third NHL game against the Jets, in his home town — to life in the NHL is part of the greater plan.

“Part of getting that opportunity is to be prepared for when it comes so even if they don’t get in the lineup, we think just having them around gets them the chance to be comfortable with the staff, with teammates, with what we’re doing with the NHL and everything that the NHL brings,” Keefe said. “We did that with Brooks and it worked well.”

LOOSE LEAFS

The Jets beat the Colorado Avalanche on New Year’s Eve, winning 7-4 on the road, but have been sputtering. Winnipeg has lost six of its past nine games and has not won two in a row since Dec. 8 and Dec. 10, but that didn’t matter to Keefe. “They have dangerous offensive weapons and if we make mistakes, they will make us pay for it,” Keefe said. “We’re going to have to be prepared for that. We were much better defensively (in winning in Minnesota on Tuesday) but it will be put to the test even more (against the Jets).” … Among the observers at Leafs practice was Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, who guided the Bombers in November to their first Grey Cup championship since 1990 … Jason Spezza didn’t want to give concussion spotters any ideas when he took a deflected shot off the back of his head against the Wild, popping back up and heading to the bench. “I wanted to show that I was fine,” Spezza said. “It was scary when it was coming at me, but when I turned and it hit me, I knew that it got the meaty part of the helmet, so I was fine.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

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