He’s more than just a pretty face – though that face is really friggin’ pretty.
Auston Matthews is the franchise cornerstone. Mitch Marner is the exciting Ontario boy that seems to be well ahead of schedule. William Nylander…well he’s the one Toronto media thinks should be traded away from the Maple Leafs.
Early in the season, William Nylander looked ‘lost’, ‘disinterested’, ‘soft’ according to many blowhards on both TSN and Sportsnet. They were set to trade him away for a second paid defenseman. Our very own Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. Fast forward to today and William Nylander is over in Cologne, Germany dominating the World Championship and showing everyone that this season was just the beginning. He’s proving that the Leafs would be foolish to trade him and that he’s ready to be the Jagr to Auston Matthew’s Mario Lemieux.
Playing for Sweden, Nylander’s 5 goals and 10 points have him sitting in the top-3 for 5v5 production with Clayton Keller and Johnny Gaudreau. He has been Sweden’s best player and possibly the best forward in the tournament through the preliminary round.
Nylander has been dominant offensively and has been driving possession for his line. He looks more confident than we’ve ever seen him and quite frankly, should be putting fear into the minds of NHL fans when they remember that he’s only the second-best player on the Maple Leafs.
The thing about Nylander’s star performance at the World Championship is that no one should be surprised. After getting out to a ‘slow’ start this season – though slow is relative since he was simply being overshadowed by Matthews and Marner – Nylander took off and was quite possibly, the team’s best player from parts of February and March. Nylander was dominant for two months, putting up 27 points in 28 games – including the record-setting 12-game points streak.
As an 18-year old, he had a point per game and was one of the best players in the SHL, as a 19-year old he dominated the AHL putting up record offensive numbers and as a 20-year old he put up 61 points in the NHL while being one of the top-3 players in a rookie class that is among the best ever. He was probably the Leafs’ second best player – and at times through the year, he was their best.
Now before you yell at me about Marner, just remember this:
William Nylander is one of the most exciting players we’ve seen in a Maple Leafs jersey in decades – and I really believe we’re only scratching the surface. He’s getting better and better every time we see him.
Nylander was the best possession driver on the team – he led all Maple Leafs in CF60 and trailed only Brian Boyle for the team lead in CF% at 5v5. Give him the puck, and scoring chances are going to happen.
Auston Matthews is the undisputed leader and most important player on this Leafs team – with that said, no one should be surprised if Nylander is the one who leads the team in scoring more than a few times over the next decade. He was reluctant to do so for parts of this seasons, but if Mike Babcock leaves the two stars together, it’s not inconceivable to believe that it could be the best line in hockey – as early as next season. We know Babcock likes to spread out his offense – luckily Marner and Kadri are around to allow for the Matthews/Nylander combo to exist.
The Penguins and Blackhawks have created modern dynasties by realizing that the best way to build a team is to pay your stars and fill out the roster with young, cheap assets. With that said, it seems prudent for the Leafs to get Nylander’s extension signed as soon as the possibly can – they can start negotiating July 1st. One would assume Nylander and his agents would be looking for something closer to Gaudreau’s $6.75m per for six years deal – and quite frankly, I could live with that. Get Willie locked up this summer, then do the same with the other two in twelve months.
The “trade Nylander for defense help” narrative should be dead – though this is Toronto so we know it’s not. The Maple Leafs have a three-headed monster that should not be tampered with. Auston Matthews is a superstar, William Nylander is looking like he is about to be recognized as one and given his development arc, Mitch Marner isn’t far behind.
There are those in the media that are going to criticize Nylander no matter what he does. He’ll catch undo flack every time he goes into a slump – the same happened with Mats Sundin. go 5 games without scoring and people like Patrick O’Sullivan and John Shannon will pick up their ‘he looks disinterested’ narrative – thanks to the fact that he’s quiet, calm and holds a European passport.
Whether you believe he’s the team’s second or third best player, William Nylander is really stinkin’ good. He’s a star and would be the young cornerstone on 20-25 other NHL teams. With the Leafs, he can play the role of underrated superstar – something that you wouldn’t think possible in Toronto.
Matthews is the best player, but Nylander might be the most fun to watch. He’s single-handedly got me waking up early to watch Sweden’s World Championship games. Next season we’re going to get bombarded with “Nylander is taking the step towards stardom” takes from the mainstream media – it will get a little boring since the fans that are paying attention already know he’s there.
Now someone get the kid a shampoo endorsment deal!