Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Why William Nylander is Not an Inconsistent Player for the Toronto Maple Leafs

There are 100 reasons why people hate William Nylander, and many of them are rather stupid when you think about it. There is one interesting criticism of Nylander because it is actually about hockey, and falsifiable. That criticism is that William Nylander is especially inconsistent. One thought is that Nylander just looks incontinent because of his smooth and efficient playing style. However, we don’t have to rely on gut feelings here. So today, let’s dive into the game-by-game data to find out if William Nylander is an inconsistent hockey player.

Is William Nylander Inconsistent?


To define “inconsistency” we are going to use a similar method to my last post about the Toronto Maple Leafs inconsistency. The only difference is instead of xG we are going to look at GameScore over the past three seasons. GameScore is a simple metric weighing a player’s points and stats like Corsi to quantify their output on any given game. The higher the GameScore, the better they played, on average. So, if Nylander has had an extraordinarily high number of poor games relative to his peers, it will show us Nylander is actually inconsistent. If not, hundreds of us nerds on Twitter will be vindicated.

To determine who Nylander’s “peers” are, it’s important to find players of a similar quality to compare him to. Because Nylander obviously has more bad games than the Sidney Crosby‘s of the world. To find this cohort of players, we are going to look at Evolving Hockeys skater similarity tool. We are using Nylander’s 20 closest comparables from their site. Since a few players show up twice we will have 17 other players to compare him to. This list is mostly offensively minded forwards who are good but not elite play drivers like 22-24-year-old Patrick Kane and 23-25-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau. When you’re looking at these remember it can be at different points in the comparable player’s careers. So when you see Nathan MacKinnon as a Nylander comparable, look at the seasons and remember that’s pre breakout MacKinnon

So that’s the comparables, now we must define a “bad game”. A bad game in this dataset will be when the player has a game score below zero. This is about one standard deviation below the average in the cohort of Nylander’s comparables. Another way of looking at it, Nylander and his comparables have “bad games” by this definition about once every 5 games. Now let’s dive into the data and find out if Nylander is inconsistent.

William Nylander and Consistency

We will start by comparing the number of bad games against the player’s average game score per game. Here we can see Nylander’s consistency is extraordinarily ordinary.

Nylander’s game score per game is relatively high because he’s a great player. Based on his average output we expect him to have had an ineffective game about 16% of the time. His results show he had a bad game… 16.1% of the time. Note this sample even includes his “disastrous” 2018-19 season and discludes his strong 2016-17 season. This means we aren’t even looking at a particularly flattering sample of Nylander’s play. Because the sample we are looking at includes the worst season of his career. And yet, on aggregate, we can see nothing sticks out either way about Nylander’s consistency, he sits exactly where we would expect him to.

Additionally, this is likely even more impressive than it looks on paper because the Toronto Maple Leafs have been the most inconsistent team in the NHL over the past few seasons. This means Nylander’s context is almost certainly working against him here. And yet, he grades out perfectly fine anyways.

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Altogether, is William Nylander inconsistent? No. His numbers show he has bad games exactly as often as you should expect a player of his calibre too. So, while there are plenty of reasons to criticize this imperfect player, the idea that Willy needs to be traded because he’s inconsistent is simply not true.

He may not look like he’s dominating night in and night out because of his playing style, but remember, it’s not his job to convince (often known as) old white dudes or analysts he’s trying his hardest. Nylander is supposed to get the puck up ice and in the other team’s net. So to all the people who love to hate Nylander, you’re going to have to do better than calling his play ‘inconsistent’.

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