William Nylander lived up to the billing in the NHL.
After being in the AHL for presumably longer than expected, the Maple Leafs finally called up their most prized prospect for the latter part of the season. They made it clear at the time when he was being called up, he wasn’t going down. With a clean mind and assurance of consistent ice time, Nylander comfortably settled in and showed the NHL the potential many raved about.
In 22 games, the 19 year old Swede scored six goals and added seven assists. If those numbers were prorated to a full 82 game season, he would finish with 22 goals and 48 points. Excellent numbers for a rookie, which would put him fourth among NHL rookies this season. He also fared better than expected in the faceoff dot winning 49.1% of the draws, third best among Leafs centers.
Perhaps the most admirable part of his game was how much control he demanded when on the ice. It took him a few games to find his stride and evaluate the pace of the game, as it did in the AHL, but eventually Nylander came into his zone and started controlling the play in the manner you would expect from a prospect with front line potential. He wasn’t the type of player that was set up on the flank by someone else, rather, he was the one making the plays and having others play off him.
Especially slotting on the point for the power play, the plays often ran through him. His creative nature makes him more of a playmaker than a shooter, and the Leafs benefitted greatly from it. Just ask Colin Greening or Zach Hyman. They played roles focused on getting the puck to Nylander when playing with him, and it paid off as they found success scoring more goals than most would have expected.
— Greg Balloch (@GregBalloch) March 14, 2016
Sure, some will say the Leafs were playing in meaningless games. But for a roster that was over matched on a nightly basis, the chances to produce weren’t plentiful. The game against Philadelphia last Thursday surely was of great meaning for the Flyers, and defending Nylander in the first period proved most difficult. He scored a goal and set up Greening on the breakaway. By the end of the night, Nylander fared well against his match up with Claude Giroux, getting over 55% of the shot attempts when they were on the ice.
Adjusting to the NHL as a young center is an extremely difficult task, as it was for Nylander on the defensive end. Despite his struggles, it was evident from the small sample that he can make it in the NHL playing in the middle of the ice, a notion that had been a concern when the Leafs drafted him 8th overall in 2014. Mike Babcock will constantly remind you of the work Nylander needs to put in on the defensive end, and all of it is true. But he’s shown a belonging in the league, one which makes him a lock for next season.
It’s been a great start to Nylander’s career in the NHL. It can only get better as the environment around him improves and becomes orientated towards winning hockey games. The playoffs he is about to experience in the AHL will also help him further mature as an athlete.
By falling three games short of earning rookie status this season, watch for Nylander to make a serious push for the Calder Trophy next season. Especially, yah know, if there is a *cough* Mr. Patrick Laine on his wing *cough.*
— Editor In Leaf (@EditorinLeaf) April 8, 2016