There hasn’t been much to smile about lately in Leafs Nation. The Maple Leafs are floundering; unable to conquer their demons and looking eerily similar to the group that took a sharp nosedive late last season. Fans are justifiably restless. We’ve wanted to move past doubt to belief, but we see little reason to place our trust in management, the coaching staff, or the players who wear the crest. So we do the only thing that we know to do in a situation like this: look to the future. And the future is William Nylander.
That’s not to say there aren’t other bright spots in the Leafs’ prospect pool. There are. But Slick Willie is in a league of his own.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about what Nylander isn’t. He isn’t the big, powerful center that the club has been lacking since #13 left the org. He isn’t a punishing power forward who will score garbage goals from in tight and drop the mitts when called upon. He isn’t Nick Ritchie (who many, including myself, thought the Leafs were targeting on draft day). He’s arguably not even exactly what this team needs right now.
But what he is makes up for that, and some.
William Nylander is an elite prospect with a ceiling higher than any player we’ve seen in a Leafs uniform since many of us gave our hearts to this team. His raw skillset is off the charts, and his hockey IQ is already tops in the org from top to bottom (I’m aware that’s a bold statement).
Selected 8th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Nylander wowed Leafs management with a rare combination of speed, skill and hockey sense. Standing at 5’11” and a meager 170 lbs, Nylander has plenty of room to grow, and he’ll need to in order to reach his full potential in the NHL. What makes him stand out among his peers is his ability to think the game at a higher level.
Nylander impressed at the Maple Leafs Rookie Tournament and during preseason play with his ability to make plays in the offensive zone and find his mates with slick tape-to-tape passes. With the bigger picture in mind though, it was determined that William’s development would be best served with MODO in the SEL playing against tough competition outside of the limelight in Toronto. Time has proven that it was the right call, as Nylander is getting an opportunity to line up as the team’s top center, and is averaging over 19 minutes per game.
Oh, and he is also scoring at a torrid pace that is basically unheard of for an 18 year old. With 19 points in 19 games, Nylander is outpacing nearly all of the great Swedes that have gone before him.
“I think my entire game has improved. That’s what you try to do every time you go on the ice. You don’t want to get too focused on one thing. I’ve been working a lot off the ice, in the gym and and stuff like that. Small stuff off the ice.” (Source: Yahoo Sports)
This is a perfect scenario for him and for the organization in the short and the long term.
Now we’re getting a chance to see Nylander up close at the World Juniors, and he certainly has not disappointed. A standout for team Sweden, Nylander’s success has followed him across the pond, where he is tied for the team lead in goals (2) and points (4) in 3 games played. Toronto fans have thrown their support behind the young Swede, with Sweden’s games bringing in near capacity crowds, with “Go Leafs Go” chants following his goals; a foretaste of what is to come in the near future for William.
World Junior Stats:
“He’s still a young guy,” said Dave Morrison, the Leafs’ director of amateur scouting. “But he’s certainly fun to watch, I know that.” (Source: Michael Traikos – The National Post)
William Nylander offers Leaf fans a glimpse into what we all hope are better days for the club. A silver lining on the dark clouds that cover the Maple Leafs’ sky. Yes, we need to be careful not to over-hype the kid, he’s young and has a long road ahead of him. But it is OK to be excited about having a player like this in the system.
God knows we could all use some positive vibes in Toronto right now.
You can catch William Nylander and the Swedes game against the Swiss today at 1pm EST on TSN1, TSN3, TSN4 and TSN5. Sweden is 3-0 in the Preliminary Round so far.