Nylander and the Maple Leafs remain locked in a contract stalemate. The restricted free agent has until Dec. 1 to sign a new deal or he'll be forced to sit out the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign. But Babcock thinks the 22-year-old's love of the game will lead him back to the Maple Leafs.
"I'm confident, hopeful," Babcock said, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston. "I mean Willy loves hockey. I know Willy good - he's a great teammate and a good person - and he loves hockey. He wants to play hockey. So I'm betting on that. How's that?"
Many took notice at Thursday's practice when Babcock quipped: "We have significant pieces not here and they will be here." Those "pieces" were believed to be Auston Matthews, who remains sidelined with a shoulder injury, and Nylander.
Despite missing Nylander for all 22 games and Matthews for the past 11, the Maple Leafs sit just one point back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the Eastern Conference.