On any given night, Mississauga Steelheads left-winger Alexander Nylander is one of the most highly skilled players on Ontario Hockey League ice.
Like his older brother William, Nylander has an incredible, often jaw-dropping skill set. He has quick hands, solid vision and great edges on his skates. As such, he finds the score-sheet on a consistent basis, as witnessed by his 28 goal, 75 point regular season. His production only increased in the Playoffs, recording added six goals and 12 points over just six games played.
As a result, Nylander’s draft stock has taken flight.
Here are his various draft rankings as of March 2016:
- NHL Central Scouting (NA): 3rd
- TSN’s Bob McKenzie: 6th
- TSN’s Craig Button: 6th
- Hockey Prospect: 6th
- ISS Hockey: 4th
- Future Considerations: 7th
- McKeen’s Hockey: 8th
Quite clearly, there is a consensus amongst the scouting world that Nylander is a world-class talent of incredible potential, and is ultimately deserving of a top-10 selection in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Yet, although all would appear well on paper, it becomes a much different story when delving deeper into Nylander’s game through the use of advanced stats and in person viewings.
The Deceptive Dangler
The first major deception which exists within Nylander’s game is his propensity to record secondary assists.
While all assists are of course good, secondary assists can be best defined as points in which a receiving player was not essential in orchestrating the resulting goal. In the vast majority of occasions, it is strictly the primary assist which directly results in a teammate scoring a goal.
As a result, secondary assists retain the ability to significantly amplify a given player’s offensive totals, making him appear more offensively productive than in reality.
In Nylander’s case, over the 57 regular season games he played with Mississauga in 2015-16, 20 of the 47 assists he recorded were of the secondary variety, meaning he recorded 20 points in which he was not largely essential to the scoring play. To put this number in perspective, of all OHL players eligible for the 2016 Draft, Nylander’s total of 20 secondary assists was sixth highest in the entire League, with Matthew Tkachuk leading the way with an immense 41.
So, if we disregard Nylander’s secondary assists, he finishes his season with just 55 points over 57 games, rather than 75.
Of course, to say that all of Nylander’s secondary assists were of no importance would be ridiculous.
This equates to a Primary Points per Game, or Prim.P/GP of 0.965, meaning that Nylander produced nearly one goal or primary assist per game. This number remains impressive, however, to provide context, Nylander trailed the likes of Alex Debrincat and Adam Mascherin in Prim.P/GP, two draft eligible players who are projected to be second round selections at the coming Draft.
So, why is it that Nylander instead is a potential top-5 selection?
The second major deceptive facet of Nylander’s game is one which can only be seen through multiple in-person viewings of the young phenom. As we know, Nylander has the proven ability to put up points, both goals and assists. His high hockey I.Q., vision and passing abilities combine to make him one of the more talented players in the OHL.
However, there are areas in Nylander’s game which show cause for concern, and ultimately must be considerably improved if Nylander hopes to enjoy a long and prosperous NHL career.
The first of which, similar to Brother William, is the overly soft nature of Nylander’s game. At 6’0″, Nylander is of solid height, yet weighing in at just 170 lbs means he is one of the smaller, lankier players on OHL ice. In over ten personal viewings of Nylander during the 2015-16 season, the ability of opposing players to either knock Nylander off of the puck, or pressure him into a bad decisions through the use of an impending check was not only noticeable, but also frequent.
It is the same lack of size which likely inhibits Nylander from whole-heartedly pursuing pucks in the corners and participating in puck battles. When he does, he is rather easily closed off from the puck or even knocked down.
At the young age of 18, a lack of strength is certainly something which will take time to develop, similar to all NHL hopefuls, however, whether Nylander develops his strength and chooses to effectively use it are entirely different questions.
Further is Nylander’s choice of positioning and on-ice engagement.
In most cases, Nylander exists as a perimeter player, meaning he likes to stay wide or outside of the play in order to watch it develop. In doing so, Nylander’s line mates typically draw the majority of puck battles in hopes of securing the puck and feeding it to the skilled winger.
For example, take a quick look at a number of goals scored by Nylander in 2015-16. Count how many goals he scores that he creates, versus those he taps into a gaping cage after receiving a great pass from a teammate.
As a result, Nylander doesn’t generate many offensive opportunities on his own, rather, he feeds off of the speed and skill of his linemates, who typically gain the zone before feeding the puck to Nylander. When he does grasp the puck, Nylander can dish it or shoot it amongst the best in the OHL, but he is not one of the fastest skaters. His propensity to be caught by opposing players on their back-check is troubling, especially so the great agility and edges which Nylander retains on his skates.
At the end of the day, Nylander will likely be a top-ten selection in the coming 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Personally, I don’t think Nylander is a top-ten player. Sure, he has the skills and the offensive production, yet he is too much of a perimeter player who is also seemingly over-reliant and dependent on the play of his fellow teammates. His inability to individually generate offense is a telling sign of this.
Further, there are simply too many issues with his game, issues which are largely unseen in a player such as fellow Steelheads teammate Michael McLeod, who plays a strong all-around game yet is for some reason ranked lower. Of course, they are two entirely different players, yet Nylander’s hesitance to participate in puck battles, engage physically, apparent lack of foot speed and tendency to remain on the perimeter in the offensive zone are all issues which will undoubtedly pose as difficulties in his long-term development.
Don’t get me wrong, Nylander is an incredibly talented player – as I have alluded to on numerous occasions, however, I simply do not believe that Nylander should be a top-ten pick at the coming Draft.
As always, feel free to comment your thoughts below!
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.