Aside from being impossibly handsome, William Nylander also happens to be impossibly good. If Auston Matthews weren’t a Toronto Maple Leaf, the young Swedish phenom would undeniably serve as the face of the franchise. Blessed with a plethora of simply unteachable hockey gifts, Nylander is on the cusp of NHL stardom at the tender age of 21.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: William Nylander
Nylander’s 2016-17 season was one of incredible growth. It may be forgotten, but at one point he was relegated to the fourth line. Offence has always come easily for young Willy. Now, it was his work in the defensive zone that required improvement. Such a deficiency should be expected from a rookie, especially one as gifted as he is.
Throughout the course of the season, Nylander worked to improve his defensive game. In doing so, he earned himself a role occupying the wing on the Leafs shutdown line for a good chunk of the season. Watching Nylander in 2016-17 meant watching a young sniper blossom into a complete player.
As a rookie, Nylander established himself as one of the most lethal power play threats in the entire NHL. Scoring nine of his twenty-two goals on the man advantage, he additionally chipped in twenty-six points for good measure. Such a point total deemed him the fifteenth highest power play scorer in the league. That is remarkable production for a first-year player.
William Nylander is an analytics god. He registered a 53.3% CF at even strength, showing that he can dominate possession even when he’s not on the power play. Such gaudy numbers were achieved in spite of slightly below average puck, evidenced by an even-strength PDO rating of 99.1.
Out of all the players that Nylander lined up with, his pairing with Auston Matthews was by far the most successful. Matthews clearly played his best hockey with Nylander on his wing. This is evidenced by an even-strength CF rating of 55.19% when with Willy, compared to a 47.06% when separated.
If last season served as an indication of the future, these two players could form the NHL’s most dynamic duo.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 190 lbs.
NHL Entry Draft: First round, 8th overall in 2013 by Toronto
Contract (via CapFriendly)
As was the case with fellow rookies Matthews and Mitch Marner, Nylander hit all of his contract’s performance bonuses. In doing so, he contributed to the roughly $5 million cap overage that the Leafs are stuck with this year.
In August of 2014, Nylander signed a three-year entry-level contract befitting of a high first-round draft pick. His contract kicked in during the 2015-16 season, where he counted $894,167 against the cap.
What fans may not realize bout Nylander’s contract is that he is still eligible to earn performance bonuses for this season as well. Considering how dominant his rookie season was, it is a near guarantee that he does so again. While this may seem like a problem, the Leafs are surely more than happy to deal with a cap overage if it means they have an arsenal of young talent.
Perhaps the greatest anxiety among Leafs fans is the contract status of Nylander. Entering the final year of his ELC, a strong 2017-18 will undoubtedly earn him a handsome raise. Luckily for the Leafs, the Boston Bruins recently helped to dampen that raise.
Bruins forward David Pastrnak recently signed a deal worth an average of $6.667 million per season. Pastrnak happens to be a close friend of Nylander’s and would undoubtedly be used as a comparable in his next contract negotiation. For Pastrnak, whose production actually outmatches Nylander’s, to sign for under $7 million annually is a godsend for the Leafs brass. The initial speculation was that Willy’s next deal would begin at $7 million and only get higher.
To have his closest comparable sign such a relatively team friendly deal immediately increases the Leafs chances of retaining their young star at an affordable price tag.
The sky truly is the limit for Nylander in 2017-18. He proved last season that he possesses elite offensive tools, along with the hockey sense to utilize them effectively. So, as a sophomore, he will now be relied upon as a main offensive catalyst.
Look for Nylander’s play at even strength to evolve even more. After being so lethal on the man advantage as a rookie, his minutes will likely be less sheltered. If he can become as lethal at five on five as he is on the power play, then Nylander will truly break through into the elite echelon of the league’s stars.
Nylander played on three different lines last season and still wound up with a monster rookie season. Whoever Mike Babcock chooses to place on his wing, be it the newly acquired Patrick Marleau, or old reliable Zach Hyman, it won’t stop him from putting up gaudy numbers.
If you aren’t already excited about William Nylander, now would be the time to do so.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images