William Nylander is three weeks into his NHL career and growing rapidly in confidence.
The 19-year-old put on a show at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night, registering the first three-point game of his NHL career in a 5-2 Leafs win over the Calgary Flames. It was Toronto's fourth victory in the past five games and fifth in the past seven outings. The club also pulled within one point of Winnipeg for 29th overall.
Nylander was instrumental in the effort. He whistled his fourth NHL goal past Jonas Hiller for the eventual game winner 29 seconds into the third period and added two assists in a mesmerizing 18-minute performance.
"When you're feeling it you're feeling it and he certainly was tonight," said defenceman Jake Gardiner.
Coming off the first multi-point game of his career over the weekend, Nylander also registered 12 shot attempts against the Flames, won 9-of-18 faceoffs and was overwhelmingly dominant in the puck possession game.
He most impressed his head coach though by his efforts in areas outside the offensive zone. Mike Babcock liked the way he backchecked, the way he fished pucks free from opponents, as well as his 80 per cent success rate (4-5) on defensive-zone faceoffs.
"The other stuff, we know that he has that," Babcock said.
Teammates have noticed a young player rapidly gaining in confidence. Nylander, who has five points in the past two games after joining the Leafs from the AHL's Toronto Marlies on Feb. 29, is now 12 games into a promising NHL career.
"Confidence, for sure," teammate Nazem Kadri said of Nylander's apparent growth. "If you get on a roll and start scoring in this league you start to become more confident, more poised with the puck and really start to not doubt yourself and not doubt that scoring touch. He's got that. He's gifted in that sense."
Gardiner echoed Babcock, sensing a player who was "buying into the system, playing a complete game and starting to get better".
"He's the kind of player who likes the puck on his stick and he likes to hold onto it and make plays and in order to do that you have to have confidence," said linemate Zach Hyman, who also scored his fourth NHL goal in the win.
Nylander helped the Leafs open the scoring in the first frame, picking a puck free from Hiller behind the Calgary net before finding linemate P.A. Parenteau in front. He added his second assist a period later, winding up for a shot that was redirected into the net by Hyman.
It was the first two-assist night in Nylander's brief NHL tenure.
His fourth NHL goal and first NHL game winner was a blast that electrified the Toronto crowd moments into the final period. Hanging just inside the blue line as Gardiner dipped deeper into the Flames zone, Nylander one-timed his pass beyond Hiller, benefiting from the presence of Hyman in front.
He scored an equally loud wrist shot against the Sabres two nights earlier.
"He's just got an elite shot," Hyman said.