The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a playoff spot. It hasn’t been an easy road for the young Leafs, who have had to overcome a fair share of blown leads and defensive zone collapses. Despite those flaws, the team is fighting tooth and nail for a chance to qualify for the postseason for the first time since the 2013 lockout-shortened season.
A huge reason for the Leafs success this season is the performance of their numerous rookies. On any given night there are as many as seven who take the ice for the Blue and White. These young stars aren’t playing insignificant minutes either, they are relied upon to play well and carry the team to success.
One such name is William Nylander, the Swedish sensation drafted back in 2014.
Defending the Drafting of Nylander
The Maple Leafs official rebuild got started last year. What many people fail to realize is that a major piece of the puzzle was actually acquired back in 2014. That was the aforementioned Nylander, who was taken eighth overall back in 2014.
The selection of Nylander was highly criticized by many. The most high profile of those criticisms was leveled by Don Cherry who was upset that the Leafs didn’t draft more Canadian players. He was adamant about the Leafs taking Nick Ritchie, a power forward who was playing for the Peterborough Petes at the time. He ended up being selected tenth overall by the Anaheim Ducks.
Both players ended up getting their first taste of NHL action in the 2015-16 season. Ritchie played in 33 games and put up four total points. Nylander, on the other hand, played in 22 and scored six goals and 13 total points.
This season both players made their club team’s right out of the gate and the difference is staggering. In 68 games Ritchie has 12 goals and 24 points. Nylander has 18 goals and 51 points in 69 games and is considered one of the most dangerous players on the Leafs roster.
It goes to show that good players can be found anywhere and that they don’t necessarily need to be Canadian in order to have a successful NHL career. I’m of the position that if you find a player that can help your organization win, you go out and acquire that player. It shouldn’t matter what nationality they are.
The Big Three
Nylander is having himself a fantastic season. Despite putting up some great points, he’s actually been overshadowed by a couple of other Leaf rookies. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are also having great first campaigns in the NHL.
Matthews, the most recent first overall pick, has captured the passion of Leafs nation with his often incredible play. He started his career off with a four-goal game and has only risen higher since then. He’s up to 32 goals on the year and is looking to break Wendel Clark’s rookie record of 34.
Not to be outdone, Marner has been exceptional as well. The former London Knight has a motor that doesn’t stop running and he’s able to make shifty and creative plays look routine. He has great acceleration and the hands and hockey IQ to set up a linemate or score a highlight reel goal himself.
#Leafs William Nylander has 9 points (4 G, 5 A) with a +5 rating in his last 7 home games
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) March 18, 2017
If Nylander was on almost any other NHL team, he would be the center of attention in regards to a young up and coming player. Let’s take a look at some numbers. Nylander averages almost 17 minutes a game, which means Mike Babcock is relying on the Swede and his linemates to play the right way.
A monumentally important stat are his powerplay numbers, which actually lead the Maple Leafs this season. He has 23 man advantage points to his credit, which is almost half of his total production. Nylander being so lethal is a huge reason that the Leafs powerplay is ranked number one in the NHL at 23.6 percent.
— Andrei Henrique (@andreykranze) March 10, 2017
Nylander has also come along exceptionally well defensively. He’s spent a large part of the season on a line with Leo Komorov and Nazem Kadri, who are traditionally used to shut down the oppositions top lines. Having that experience has given Nylander a much better awareness in the defensive zone, without impacting his already elite offense.
There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Nylander deserves his spot in the big three Leafs prospects. Together, they form a three-headed monster that is critical to the Leafs success, now and in the future. It’s about time that some people recognize Nylander for exactly what he is.
A talented player who has been said to have the most raw talent on the entire team. That’s high praise, but Nylander has definitely earned it.