William Nylander: Will He Make It?


If you watch the Toronto Maple Leafs second preseason game last night you would have noticed a 18 year-old blonde player wearing the number 62 skating down the ice with a certain Phil Kessel. That number 62, William Nylander the Leafs first round pick, looked really solid last night in his first taste of NHL action.

Nylander took a little while to get into his groove as to be expected with almost all NHL rookies, but once he found it he looked good. Of course there were times he looked like an 18 year-old rookie when he botched up a 2-on-1 with Kessel, but there will learning pains with him as all rookies.

The big question is whether or not Nylander will be playing a full season in the NHL alongside Phil Kessel?

Prior to Draft

Ahead of being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nylander made his junior hockey career in the Swedish ice hockey league, playing alongside his father Michael in the Allsvenskan league for the Södertälje SK where he had 11 goals and 19 points in 17 games. He also laced up for Rögle BK and Modo hockey for various stretches last season. With Modo he recorded 7 points in 22 games.

While he wasn’t battling hard in the Swedish league’s against older players, he got the opportunity to play for Sweden at the U18 World Juniors where he put up 6 goals and 16 points in 7 games en route to being named the best forward.

He turned heads for his impressive offence and skating ability. He was arguably the most skilled forward available in the 2014 draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Do the Toronto Maple Leafs need William Nylander to step into the NHL tomorrow? No. They have more than enough talent in their top 6 with Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk. However, Nylander is one of their brightest prospects in the last few years and he could easily slot into the NHL tomorrow.

“Obviously, there’s nobody who can dispute that the skill set that he possesses is a little different, and separates him from other players.” ~ Leafs Head Coach Randy Carlyle

The Leafs had their headaches trying to get Kadri through his development while not rushing him into the NHL and they aren’t rushing another top prospect in Matt Finn who was sent down to the Marlies. The Leafs like to give their young prospects time to develop before playing in the crazy media infested land that is Toronto.

Nylander could easily play in the NHL tomorrow, no one knows how successful he’d be, but he could step right in and make camp on his rookie season if the Leafs wanted to get him into the action right away. The question is whether they want him playing bottom 6 minutes. He’s got the skill but being that he’s only 18 can he handle the pressure of playing a top 6 role? Who would he bump out of the top 6?

The good news is the Leafs have MANY options when it comes to Nylander should the decide he’s not quite ready for full time NHL action. The Mississauga Steelheads own his junior career rights in the OHL as they took him in a recent import draft, however they may never see him in a Steelhead uniform. The best news for Nylander and the Leafs is that he can lace up for the Toronto Marlies before he turns 20. A rarity for young players due to the CHL agreement. 

Keeping him in the Marlies just down the road from the Leafs will give them a chance to keep a close eye on the dazzling forward as he develops game by game with the Marlies. He’ll be close enough in case of a call-up and should the Leafs need some back-up late in the year he could be the first call.

“I think he’s got some of the quickest hands I’ve ever seen” ~ James Van Riemsdyk

He’s got dazzling skill, great hands, a wicked shot and is a pretty decent skater. Honestly he could be the complete package of an offencive gem and the Leafs are lucky enough to have their hands on him.

Will he play his rookie season in 2014-2015

William Nylander will put up a good fight, a really good one and will likely play his 9 games in the NHL before he is ultimately sent down to the AHL, which is really a benefit for both parties. He’ll be one of the few kids under the age of 20 battling it out in the AHL getting valuable experience against other older and bigger players.

At the end of the day he’s still just a young kid who has a lot to learn and as good as he looked in his first preseason game, he’s got a long way to go before he’s ready to be a full-time NHL superstar wearing blue and white. But expect to see him with the Marlies next season and Leafs fans should be very excited about this guy.