“There will be pain”
That is what Mike Babcock said in his introductory press conference. That will ring true this season as the Toronto Maple Leafs start a rebuilding process that will hopefully lead them back into playoff contention and, eventually, Stanley Cup contention.
To that end, the Leafs have sent down two of their best prospects in William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, along with others, to the Toronto Marlies. While Kapanen was all but certain to be reassigned eventually, there was a growing thought that Nylander had accomplished enough in the preseason to earn a spot on the team. While that may be the case, he would have been of little use to the team this season.
Unless there is some divine intervention, the Leafs will once again find themselves in the NHL’s basement. With that, they will end up with another high-end prospect, whether it be Auston Matthews, Jacob Chychryn or someone else. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel for the Leafs, at least for the 2015-16 season. Do you think that Nylander cares about who the Leafs get in the draft next year? Not really, he’ll be trying his hardest, possibly giving the Leafs a few points more than they would have without him.
There will be a losing atmosphere around the team that they don’t want to expose their top prospects to. If you don’t believe that, ask anyone with the Edmonton Oilers before they drafted Connor McDavid. While first-overall picks are generally NHL-ready, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and definitely Nail Yakupov would have benefited from some time away from the Oilers’ losing culture.
Sure, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins have been pretty good, if not great, but what has that done to keep the Oilers out of the lottery. The Oklahoma City Barons (now the Bakersfield Condors) were one of the best teams in the AHL for a while, their best prospects could have been around that winning atmosphere instead of sinking along with the Oilers.
If you want to see a franchise that has done it right, it’s the Florida Panthers. Other than Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad, most of their prospects have waited at least a season or two in the minors and that trend continues. The result has been that the Panthers have been slowly improving and will be a force in the Atlantic Division in the next few seasons. They’re already getting back into playoff contention. 15 years ago, it would have been lunacy to say the Leafs could learn much from the Panthers, but times have changed and the Leafs need to adopt their way of thinking.
So it was a smart move to send Nylander down to the Marlies. That way, he can have a full season in the AHL where we can see if he can maintain the pace he had last season after coming over from Sweden. With 32 points in 37 regular season games last season, who knows what he can accomplish in a full season with the team? If he is put on a line with Connor Brown, who was also sent down, they could produce some magic. Another option to play with him would be Kasperi Kapanen, another second-generation hockey player.
Let’s say Nylander had made the team. Where would he be in the lineup? The Leafs already have depth at the center position. Does he take the place of Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri? Or does he move to the wing? Even if he produced and had a great rookie season, it would still be pretty redundant. The Leafs brought in stop-gap options so they could give prospects like Nylander another year in the AHL or junior. They have the stop-gaps, so why not use them. Nylander can gain chemistry with the Leafs’ other prospects that will eventually take the next step with him.
“There will be pain”
No need to expose Nylander to it.