The preview for the Leafs’ final preseason game will be up shortly, but while we wait I wanted to get the pulse of the Leafs Hub community concerning the immediate future of our newest shiny object, William Andrew Michael Junior Nylander Altelius.
Blessed with tremendous speed, top-end skill, and hair that makes Phook cry himself to sleep at night, William Nylander seems poised to be an impact skater at the NHL level, MAYBE even an elite forward, something the Leafs prospect pool has been lacking for as long as many of us can remember. The “if” isn’t a huge concern, it’s the “when?”, and subsequently, the “where?” (the subject of this post) that is up for discussion.
During the rookie tournament and the Leafs’ preseason games we’ve seen flashes of the type of talent that is rare among NHL hopefuls. Drafted 8th overall in 2014, Nylander is the type of player that seems to be able to create something out of nothing; the type that makes you creep out to the edge of your seat when he has the puck. But as clear as it is that he has the skill to succeed in the NHL, it is also clear that at this point he does not have the size to be able to maximize his skill set in the bigger, stronger, and faster NHL. He needs time. And while management is giving him every opportunity to make a case for himself, these games with the big club are more likely being used simply to give him a taste of the NHL, so that he knows exactly what he needs to improve upon to stick with the club next season. Whether management decides to keep him through the preseason, or give him some regular season games as well, it would seem that it is only a matter of time before Nylander gets sent either to the Marlies in the AHL, or back to Sweden to spend another year developing in the Swedish Elite League.
The question is, where is the best place for Nylander to develop over the course of this next season? It should be pointed out that, having played for 5 teams last season, simply playing for the same team for a full season will be positive for the young Swede, as he will have the opportunity to become comfortable with his surroundings and focus more intently on training and on specific parts of his game that require improvement. Also, regardless of whether he ends up in the AHL or the SEL, Nylander will have the opportunity to participate in the World Juniors with Team Sweden, which will not only be an invaluable experience for him, but will serve as a chance for the Leafs to get a feel for where he is at in his development compared to his peers. With that said though, there are a number of benefits unique to each scenario (AHL vs SEL) that factor into the conversation.
Benefits of playing with the Marlies in the AHL:
- Become more acquainted with the North American style game and the smaller ice surface
- Work directly with the Leafs’ Strength & Conditioning Coach, Anthony Belza
- Get a taste of the pressure that comes along with being “the guy” in Toronto
- Learn the Leafs systems (sigh…) so that he is better prepared to make an immediate impact next season
Benefits of playing in the Swedish Elite League:
- Play in what is widely regarded as one of the top hockey leagues in the world, honing his craft against some of the best players in Europe
- Continue to learn patented Swedish defensive hockey, from some of the best coaches outside the NHL
- Removed from the spotlight, Nylander could (in theory) focus more intently on adding strength and refining various parts of his game without the pressure of the Toronto media
- Use the larger ice surface to continue to work on his speed and playmaking, which, as he found out quickly, is a lot more restrictive in North America
So, Leafs Hub, what do you think? Should William Nylander play in the AHL or the SEL?
Take a second to answer the poll and let us know in the comment section where you think he should spend the next season and why.
Thanks for stopping by the Hub!
Nylander is an extremely skilled, dynamic player who has quick hands and feet that make him dangerous offensively. He has great top-end speed, a strong burst and elite vision. He can distribute the puck like few other his age. An intelligent player, he out-thinks opponents regularly. (August 2013)
EP Scouting Report: A highly skilled player offensively. Nylander skates very well, has impressive hands and is excellent at handling the puck at high speeds. Hockey sense is very impressive and he likes to shoot the puck a lot, but is also capable of delivering perfect passes. A very agile player that protects the puck well and skates hard in the offensive zone.
On the other hand, his defensive game needs some work. Not a selfish player, but at times he tends to hang onto the puck for too long, instead of making the easier play. Has the tools and skills to lead his team in all offensive aspects. (Elite Prospects, 2013)