The Toronto Maple Leafs have been blessed this season with a plethora of young talent. If your name isn’t Mitch Marner or Auston Matthews though, you can sometimes be forgotten in all the hype. Enter William Nylander. When the Leafs drafted the speedy Swede 8th overall in 2014, they were hoping he could be a key contributor in a few years. He has done just that.
The Forgotten One: William Nylander
Basic Eye Test
If the Leafs did not have Matthews or Marner, the media and the fans would be ecstatic about Nylander. However, he has often been talked about in trade rumours to help bolster the blue line in Toronto. But what does Nylander bring to the table? Just from watching his game, it’s not hard to see that he is elite in almost every area. He may not have a huge height advantage, but he still has the size at 190 pounds. Nylander is also strong on his skates and doesn’t lose too many puck battles. He has great speed and unbelievable control on his edges giving him the elusiveness he needs for someone his size.
And not to be forgotten is his world class shot. He scores a lot of his goals from the right side of the ice – most recently seen in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers – with a quick release to the top of the net. Just seeing his play would tell you this is a guy Leafs fans should be excited about for a long time.
Nylander just doesn’t seem skilled and flashy, he has the stats to back it up as well. After Saturday night’s overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Nylander improved his point total to 51 points (18 goals, 33 assists) in 69 games this year. Nylander challenged for the Rookie of the Month award for February putting up an impressive 13 points in 14 games, but ultimately lost to the Winnipeg Jets star Patrik Laine. Nylander is continuing his success from February on into March so far with 7 points in 8 games, as well as being on a 7 game point streak. He has also found on home on the league’s number one power play unit, leading the team with 23 power play points.
He also puts up some very good numbers as far as advanced stats go. In 5v5 play, Nylander has a CF% of 51.7 percent and in all circumstances it is 57.5 percent. Nylander has the puck on his stick a lot, and does not easily give it up. In addition, his possession numbers are great with almost every defenseman on the team as per this chart from Tyler Dellow.
— Travis Hrubeniuk (@thrubeniuk) March 17, 2017
Move to Centre?
The question around Nylander’s position has always come up. When he was drafted, he was drafted as a centre out of Sweden. When he was brought over to North America to play for the Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, he played centre. Due to injuries, when he was called up to the NHL at the end of last season, he also played centre. This year however, he has spent most of his time on the wing to either Matthews, or Nazem Kadri. Leafs coach Mike Babcock has said that he will play on the wing for the next little while, but will eventually play centre. Babcock says that Nylander will finish out the year on the wing and play there again next season, but eventually he will play center.
Babcock says that Nylander will finish out the year on the wing & play there again next season, but eventually he will play center. #Leafs
— Michael Augello (@MikeInBuffalo) February 17, 2017
The question is when to have him make the transition. Playing centre in the NHL is a big adjustment after so long on the wing. The move will most likely depend on injuries to certain players, or players possibly getting traded.
Nylander is a force to be reckoned with. If he continues to produce at the level he is currently at, the Leafs will have a great shot at making the playoffs. He will look to continue his good play against the Boston Bruins (3 games, 3 goals, 1 assist) on Monday night in an important game for both teams.
MONTREAL, QC – OCTOBER 29: Toronto Maple Leafs Winger William Nylander (29) shooting on Montreal Canadiens Goalie Carey Price (31) during the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Montreal Canadiens game on October 29, 2016 at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)