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Sabres vs. Maple Leafs: Five things to know

The last game of the Buffalo-Toronto rivalry this season takes to the ice at 7 p.m. Monday in KeyBank Center. The Maple Leafs are fighting for a playoff spot while the Sabres are closing out the regular season by auditioning some fresh talent. Here's what you need to know to get ready for the penultimate home game for the Sabres:

1. Alexander Nylander will make his NHL debut. The Sabres top draft pick, eighth overall in 2016, will get his first NHL game Monday night. He was leading all rookies with the Rochester Americans with nine goals an 18 assists in 62 games. Playing for Sweden at the IIHF World Junior Championship, he was named to the All-Star Team after tying for the tournament lead with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in seven games.

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Nylander will play on the right wing with Evan Rodrigues at center Marcus Foligno on the left wing.

"I think it's been a process for Alex this year to develop part of his game and one he's still in," Bylsma said after an optional team skate in KeyBank Center Monday morning. "The situation is such for our team that he's going to get that opportunity starting tonight against the Leafs in the NHL.

2. Brother versus Brother. When Alexander Nylander plays against his older brother, William, it will mark the third straight game a Sabre has faced off against a sibling.

Marcus Foligno played against older brother Nick, the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets, while Sabres captain Brian Gionta faced his younger brother, Stephen, with the New York Islanders.

William Nylander, who was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 14 games including a 12-game point streak. The older Nylander also won the league's Rookie of the Month honor in October.

"It’s kind of crazy that I’m going to play against my brother in my first game. I’m just super excited and very pumped," Alexander Nylander said.

3. Franson returns, Okposo still out. Bylsma said that forward Kyle Okposo "is still under the weather and not able to play." This is the third game Okposo has missed with an undisclosed illness.

Sabres defenseman Cody Franson is expected to return to the lineup after missing the last six games with a groin injury.

"It took longer than I hoped, but good to be back," Franson said. "It was a hyper-extension type thing. So it's just one of those things you just have to wait out and wait for it to settle back down. It took little bit for the inflammation to go away and back to normal."

"I think Cody's really made strides in his game for our team this year in a lot of areas and played really well for us," Bylsma said. "I think he's proved a lot with his play this year and been an effective player for us. He's coming off a groin injury and should be back at 100 percent."

Franson's return comes against a former team. The defenseman spent four season with the Maple Leafs, recording 115 points (20 goals, 95 assists) in 236 games.

"Any time you play against teams you formerly played on, it's always fun going out there and playing against those guys," Franson said. "They're in a playoff hunt right now and we're on the outside looking in. So, we're going to play the spoiler role a little bit, or try to anyways.

4. Speaking of the Leafs playoff hunt. Entering Monday's game, Toronto was in third in the Atlantic Division with 91 points with the tie-breaker against the Ottawa Senators for the final playoff spot in the division. The Leafs are three points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning with four games left in the regular season.

5. Matthews could set a record. Auston Matthews is poised to become the best American-born rookie in the NHL. The overall No. 1 draft pick in 2016 has 38 goals for the season, tied with Minnesota's Neal Broten for the all-time record for a U.S. rookie. Matthews has also tied the Maple Leafs' record for rookie points (with Peter Ihnacak's 56) and the team mark for game-winning goals (eight with Howie Meeker).

 

 

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