Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander is having the best season of his career, but individual accolades mean little to him as the team prepares for its upcoming playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Toronto has flamed out of the opening round in six consecutive seasons, and Nylander was not in the mood for any preemptive victory laps ahead of the Maple Leafs' season finale on Thursday.
“I’ll be proud when we [expletive] win,” Nylander told The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel.
Nylander has recorded career highs of 39 goals and 86 points, while playing in all 81 games and has been instrumental to the Maple Leafs’ success this season. He’s been asked to shift across multiple lines and along with Mitch Marner, has been one of the dual engines of the team’s 11-forward experiment.
The 26-year-old slumped offensively through March but bounced back with a stellar three-point showing in a 4-3 win over the Lightning on Tuesday.
“I think I’m trying to focus more on getting out of those situations where I’m not playing as good or having my best game,” Nylander told Siegel. “I’m trying to create something positive out of it. You might have a bad period, a bad two periods, but figure it out, getting ready for the third, stuff like that.”
Nylander is driving the offence at a superstar level, with his 198 shots at 5-on-5 ranking 11th in the NHL, while Toronto controls 55.4 percent of the expected goals when he’s on the ice at 5-on-5. His dynamic skating, playmaking and increased aggression in the offensive zone has elevated him to new heights during the regular season.
The entire Maple Leafs core — Marner, especially — have downplayed the idea of individual accolades in pursuit of the greater goal of a Stanley Cup, or at the very least, an elusive first-round victory. It’s little surprise Nylander is his own toughest critic during his best showing to date, knowing that it will all be for naught if the Maple Leafs can’t advance during a critical season of this group’s timeline.