|Depth Chart Location:||Middle six RW|
|Contract Status:||- Two more seasons of ELC
- Becomes RFA after 2017-18 season
The eighth overall pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft, William Nylander has progressed about as well as could’ve been expected since his draft year.
There is a compelling argument to be made that Nylander was deserving of a higher draft choice in the first place.
Born in Calgary, Alberta, Nylander is the son of long-time NHLer, Michael, and brother of Alex, the 2016 eighth overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres. Playing in North American leagues growing up, William showed a freak aptitude for the game of hockey at an early age.
In almost every single league growing up, the case can be made that Nylander has been the most talented player on his team and one of — if not the — best player in his respective league, often times while playing one or two years up from his age group.
William Nylander – Year by Year
2008-2009 — AYMBHL
– Top scoring forward
2010-2011 — T1EBHL
– Top scoring forward
– Silver Stick North American Championships MVP
– J20 SuperElit (Overall) Most Points by U16 Junior (4)
– TV-Pucken Bronze Medal
– U16 SM Best Forward
– Allsvenskan – lead all u18 players in points per game
– J20 SuperElit (Overall) Most Points by U17 Junior (43)
– J20 SuperElit (Overall) Most Points by U18 Junior (43)
– U17 WHC Gold Medal
– U17 WHC Most Assists (8)
– Allsvenskan Most Points by U19 Junior (27)
– J18 SM Gold Medal
– Ivan Hlinka Most goals per game
– U18 WJC Best Forward
– U18 WJC Best Plus/Minus (+8)
– U18 WJC Most Assists (10)
– U18 WJC Most Points (16)
– U18 WJC Top 3 Player on Team
2014 – 2015 | SHL | u24 PPG
– SHL Highest points per game in the SHL for players u24, as an 18 year old.
– AHL 2nd highest points per for players under 20 to play 10 games or more.
– WJC U20 tied for second on points in tournament scoring in the WJCS u20 tournament — one point off tournament lead
– AHL All-Star Game
– In the AHL, he was breaking records for his age, producing at over 1.5ppg before a concussion put a big dent in his season, combined with a struggle with appendicitis.
Sometimes Nylander doesn’t get the credit or fanfare of other top prospects — perhaps due to a lower draft position than other similarly-skilled draftees — but Nylander is one of the most highly-skilled forwards to come out of Sweden in the last 15 or 20 years.
In the NHL, he leads the 2014 draft class in points per game (small sample sizes be damned). After a quiet start with only two goals and no assists through his first 10 games, he went on a near point-per-game tear with 11 points in his final 12 games for the Leafs, playing with mostly poor players at even strength.
Click series at the bottom of the chart to turn data on and off.
Long term, Nylander has areas of his game that he, like most young players, will need to work diligently on. Due to injuries, Nylander was rushed into playing center last season against Babcock’s better judgment, but he did acquit himself well there. Aside from the above-mentioned production from the rookie, he was one of the best Leafs players possession-wise with a 53.9% possession rating over the 22 games he played and ~ 50% on the draw, which is unusual for a first-year player.
A tweet from @b1rky regarding Nylander’s possession results separated his numbers by three tiers of competition (elite, muddle, dregs). Interestingly, he performed better versus the best players in the league — with 58.2 CF% and a very-high 6.70 CF Relative to his teammates — than he did against weaker competition. Again, the small sample size must be kept in mind.
Here are the FWDs from last year. Removed Brown & Gauthier for tiny sample size. Look at Nyander! (small sample): pic.twitter.com/IULuJfs0Mx
— birky (@b1rky) July 19, 2016
Nylander’s play away from the puck has been a work in progress, but he certainly responded well to a fair bit of “stick” from Babcock and, to my eye, looked a much better player at the NHL level than he did at the AHL level — specifically on the defensive side of the puck, where the Leafs were a much more organized team for him to play on.
After finishing his first stint in the NHL, Nylander returned to the AHL and didn’t look himself during the Marlies‘ Calder Cup bid. Overall, he played with a lack of energy and didn’t show the determination he displayed in the NHL under Babcock. Rich Clune noted on Leafs Lunch that he was sick the entire playoffs and “wasn’t himself”; that seems to line up with what many of us saw watching from home.
“Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone shoot it like he does,” said veteran Leafs forward Michael Grabner. “It’s unique. He’s so deceiving. A lot of guys have to lean into it. He receives it and doesn’t look like he’s going to shoot and just snaps it.”
Mike Babcock has stated that he projects Nylander on a third line with Auston Matthews, starting on the wing and taking right-handed draws when applicable. This is a tantalizing prospect for fans of the team; the opportunity to play alongside that level of skill has been largely unheard of for the young Swede.
It’s likely that Babcock will assign duos, as opposed to trios, to his lines. He generally prefers to have a forward designated as the “go get the puck” guy to play alongside two skilled players on a line. There are more forwards signed than there are positions available, so it may be premature to write anything in stone, but Colin Greening had a bit of a career renaissance playing with Nylander (8 points in 14 games riding shotgun). As a left winger, he could be just what the doctor ordered as an experienced linemate for the two skilled youngsters. Greening is a big-bodied veteran at 6’2 and 215 pounds who skates well in straight lines, provides some offence — on occasion — and can apply physical pressure on the forecheck. On paper, it reads like the makings of a well-balanced line.
Projecting rookies is a fools errand, but considering what Nylander has produced throughout his career — which continued at the AHL and NHL levels, and considering he was producing at roughly a half-a-point per game in a small stint with the Leafs — it’s reasonable to assume that he’ll produce at a more consistent level this coming season. While other rookies were able to play sloppy, wide-open hockey to start the season with the rest of the league, Nylander entered the league down the playoff stretch, when teams are organized and playing a stiffer brand of hockey.
That, coupled with playing with another potentially elite player in Auston Matthews at evens and on the PP, could see Nylander produce at a 55-point pace; that will strike some as high, but it’s in line with what he’s been able to produce throughout his career. This is less than some Calder Trophy winners and more than others, but it’s certainly an attainable number for the 20-year-old Nylander, who now has his feet wet in the NHL and has been playing professional hockey against men since 2013-14.
Past Calder Trophy Winners
With some seasoning at the NHL level, the long-term hope is that Nylander will develop, as he has been doing, at the NHL level at the center position, with Matthews and Nylander eventually becoming Toronto’s one-two punch down the middle for years to come. In the meantime, having the pair on the same line at 5v5, and expectedly on the first power play unit, will provide the fan base with more than enough intrigue for the upcoming season.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected 2016-17 Depth Chart
This chart will update as we slot each player on the depth chart following the publishing of each player preview.
|J. van Riemsdyk||1C||Leo Komarov|
William Nylander Career Boxcar Statistics
William Nylander HERO Chart
“He’s a smart, smart guy,” Babcock said of Nylander. “He knows what I’m going to talk to him about before I talk to him. I asked (Kadri) the other day at lunch, ‘Naz, do you think Willie can have as many meetings (with the coaches) as you’ve had?’ And he said, ‘There’s no chance. There’s not enough time left in the season.’ … He wants to be great and he understands… he has a weapon there and an ability to make plays,” Babcock said. “How much he loves the game and how much passion and competitiveness is going to determine how good he can be.”