The Toronto Maple Leafs are eight games into the 2016-17 NHL season, and there have been quite a few stories already. The most evident, being the number one overall pick, Auston Matthews, dazzling the league by putting up 10 points (six goals and four assists) already. But let’s not forget about the most significant contributing factor to his excellence, William Nylander. Nylander has also put up 10 points (four goals and six assists) in eight games. This ties him for first in points on the Leafs roster. It also ties him for third in league scoring with Matthews. Nylander has been making quite the case that he belongs in this league, even after a couple years of preparation.
William Nylander Proving his Worth in the Bigs
Seasons in the Making
Nylander was drafted eight overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. He spent two seasons in the AHL for the Toronto Marlies. These seasons however, only saw him play 37 games in 2014-15 (he came over from Sweden part way through the year) and 38 games in 2015-16, due to injuries and call-ups. 2014-15 saw him put up 32 points in 37 games, and 2015-16 brought 45 points in 38 games. He was an AHL all-star last season, and definitely solidified his spot as a top prospect in the Leafs organization. But the big question heading into this season was still whether or not Nylander would be able to make a successful transition into the NHL.
Nylander’s Last Season
Nylander was called up to the Maple Leafs for a short stint last season after a plague of injuries. This was Nylander’s first real glimpse at the NHL level, and he did not disappoint.
During this stint last season, Nylander was able to put up 13 points in 22 games, playing alongside the likes of Colin Greening and other similar Leafs. It is not unfair to say that the amount of talent on the Leafs last season was significantly less than this season’s roster. Despite this, Nylander was able to make the most of it, before being sent back down to the Marlies. He did not leave the team before proving to Leafs management that he is a capable NHL player. It was just a matter of time before he could prove that he has what it takes to excel.
The Dynamic Duo
Cue the 2016-17 NHL season, and the Toronto Maple Leafs emerge as one of the youngest, and brightest teams in the league. Nylander, in addition to Connor Brown, Mitchell Marner, Zach Hyman, and Auston Matthews, were some of the first-year players on the Leafs to start the season, and head coach Mike Babcock seemed to make sure to shelter them right from the get go. The supposed “third line” of Hyman, Matthews, and Nylander, was supposed to be eased into bigger roles gradually. This line clearly had different plans.
Start of the Year
We all know what happened next. The first game of the season against the Ottawa Senators started with a bang, in which Auston Matthews set an NHL record by scoring four goals. As magnificent as this feat was, credit must be given to Matthews’ wingman, Nylander, who assisted two of the four goals. This line quickly emerged as the Leafs’ top offensive line, with Matthews and Nylander both rising to the top as the team’s scoring leaders.
The duo has continued to play amazingly together, with the two feeding off each other at point per game paces. But this isn’t something that is new for Nylander. He’s been performing at a point per game pace since last season.
William Nylander's last 18 NHL games: 8 goals and 19 points.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) October 26, 2016
The shifty Nylander has found his way into the new NHL, one that thrives on speed and skill. Nylander is loaded with both, and lots of it.
— Chirp Fest Hockey (@Chirp_X_Fest) October 30, 2016
Out From the Shadows
It’s hard to make a case for yourself when you’re playing alongside the current number one overall pick. All eyes seemed to be focused on Matthews for a while now, with Nylander often overshadowed. But Nylander has been showing that some of that spotlight should be shone on him. Nylander has proven that he can work his way around the ice to create scoring chances. He’s got the skill to put up points, and he’s proved that he can do this with anyone he plays with. Last season saw Nylander playing alongside significantly smaller-role players. Matthews is a significant upgrade from Nylander’s previous linemates, and he is expected to only trend upwards from here.
Nylander has truly finally found a place on this young Toronto Maple Leafs roster. On a team with so many rookies, he has emerged from the shadows as a player who deserves just as much hype as Auston Matthews. He is certainly capable of handling himself in this evolving league already. It is safe to say that, at 20 years old right now, he can only get better. If Nylander keeps playing and improving, we may be seeing a star in the making.