STOCKHOLM -- Here in Sweden’s largest city, it’s William Nylander's world and we’re all just living in it.

Such was the case Saturday afternoon.

There was a chilly bite to the breeze in downtown Stockholm on this day, but the avid hockey fans on the street didn’t care. Indeed, hundreds were lined up for more than two city blocks for the chance to wedge themselves into a room at the XXL store where the Toronto Maple Leafs forward was signing autographs.

And he was more than happy to oblige.

Wearing an omnipresent smile on his face, Nylander had a pleasant greeting for everyone. He posed for a photo with a fan in a wheelchair. He laughed when another said he’d come from Finland to get a signature from the Swedish star, something you don’t hear very often in these parts.

It’s reflective of the feel-good visit to Sweden for Nylander and the Maple Leafs this week as part of the 2023 NHL Global Series Sweden presented by Fastenal. From honoring the late Borje Salming to having their starting lineup read by franchise icon Mats Sundin, it’s been a love affair between a franchise and a country.

As such, all eyes will be on Nylander again when the Maple Leafs play the Minnesota Wild on Sunday (8 a.m. ET; BSWIX, BSN, NHLN, SNO).


Already a rock star coming in, the Swedish forward elevated his status to new heights with his three-point (one goal, two assists) player-of-the-game performance in Toronto’s come-from-behind 3-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. That he did it in front of his grandmother, who’d never seen him play live, was icing on the cake.

For teammate Morgan Rielly, the reception for Nylander here has been eye opening.

“I mean, he’s big in Toronto too but I think he’s really enjoyed his time here,” the Maple Leafs defenseman said. “I think he’s really taken it upon himself to show the guys around town and help them experience Sweden and Stockholm. So, he's done a great job with that.

“And a win tomorrow would make this trip really great.”

To Rielly’s point: A victory against the Wild would be Toronto’s fourth win in a row, a nice way to board the plane for the long flight home Sunday evening.

But this experience has been about far more than wins and losses.

Reilly found that out first-hand Saturday.

As he was conducting his post-practice press availability at Hovet, he was made aware of a little girl holding a sign indicating that she’d been named after him. He quickly grabbed a stick, brought it to her, and posed with her for a picture.


A memorable moment in a week full of them.

One of the highlights, of course, was Sundin addressing the team prior to the win against Detroit. General manager Brad Treliving, president Brendan Shanahan, coach Sheldon Keefe and their management team made the request of Toronto’s all-time leading scorer (987 points) during the Hall of Famer’s presence at a staff dinner at Astoria restaurant, near the team’s hotel, on Thursday.

“I was honored to do it,” Sundin said Saturday while in attendance with daughter Bonnie and sons Julien and Nathanael at Maple Leafs practice. “We’d been talking about flashbacks and stories of when we played.

“I miss the moments, sure. But I don’t miss the grind.”

Sundin plans on being in Toronto for the 2024 NHL All-Star Weekend Feb. 2-3. Asked if he’d ever consider moving back to take a position with the Maple Leafs, he was far less committal.

“It would be hard to go back permanently,” he said. “You never know about the future but it’s unlikely with kids and family here. We’ll see.”

For Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano, just the experience of having Sundin around the team this week has been a thrill, especially since he and the Hall of Famer have a common historical link.

Giordano was a member of the Calgary Flames when Sundin scored his 500th NHL goal, completing a hat trick with a short-handed overtime winner in a 6-5 Toronto victory at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 14, 2006.

“I had a good night too,” Giordano said. “I scored a couple in that game, including my first NHL goal. It was my first career NHL goal and his 500th. He showed me up pretty good.”

Giordano said Maple Leafs players had no idea Sundin was going to be in their dressing room Friday.

“We didn’t know until he came in, so it was pretty cool,” Giordano said. “For me it meant a lot. Growing up in Toronto, watching Mats play a long time, obviously he had an unbelievable career, but for me, it was pretty special.”

Just like Saturday was for Julien Sundin’s minor hockey team, SDE, who sat in the stands at Maple Leafs practice chanting “Nee-lan-der, Nee-lan-der.”

Just like it was for the hundreds of fans who braved chilly conditions several hours later to get that coveted Nylander signature.

And just like the entire week has been for the entire Maple Leafs team, which can end their memorable experience here on even more of a high with a win against the Wild on Sunday.