Leafs Need More From William Nylander

The Toronto Maple Leafs began the 2017-18 NHL season ablaze, with their torrent play and lethal offensive attack thrusting the up-and-coming team to the top of the NHL’s leaderboard.

Yet, in the few months that followed, Toronto began to fall back down to earth. As 2017 came to a close, the franchise became increasingly dependent on both their outstanding goaltending and the incredible contributions which it had consistently received from its best player.

Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
Despite a slow start, Frederik Andersen has rebounded with consistently stellar play. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

So, if the franchise wishes to recapture its stellar form from earlier this season, they will need to receive more substantial contributions from throughout their deep lineup.

One particular player who has much more to provide is William Nylander – a former first-round choice of the Leafs in 2014 whose play this season has been widely skillful yet remarkably inconsistent. Although he remains just 21 years-of-age, Nylander’s decreased level of production has had an immediate detriment on Toronto and their resulting success this season.

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A Suddenly Struggling ‘Swede

When Nylander began the 2016-17 campaign his game was saturated with confidence, as the nimble winger graced the ice with both creativity and a sense of purpose on a nightly basis. As a result, Nylander wound up netting an impressive 22 goals and 61 points in his first full season of NHL play – a total which placed him in a tie with teammate Mitch Marner for third in rookie scoring.

Alongside the shockingly potent production of both Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman, Nylander appeared poised for even greater success in 2017-18, and especially so considering his incredibly successful and consistent first year of play.

A New Year’s Diagnosis

Unfortunately, as of the halfway mark of the current campaign, or in other words the team’s 41st game played, Nylander found himself on pace to record considerably lower offensive totals than he did in his inaugural year.

So, what exactly is ailing the talented young forward?

William Nylander Maple Leafs
Nylander boasts an incredible shot, however, he’s failed to pot the puck with any sort of consistency this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Well, although enjoying an increased amount of playing time per game in comparison to his last campaign – now logging nearly 17:00 per contest – Nylander has found himself mired by a dismal shooting percentage. Bulging the twine just 8.8% of the time he fires a shot, Nylander’s inability to blast the puck into the back of the net has become rather surprising given his elite release and scorching shot.

Further, Nylander’s presence on the Leafs’ power-play has seemingly been nullified this season, as his six power play points through his 41st game played – on pace for 12 when extrapolated over the full season – pale in comparison to the 26 he garnered during the 2016-17 season, a total which was the greatest of any Toronto player and set a Leafs rookie record in the process.

A Serious Statistical Slump

Perhaps the most relevant statistics regarding Nylander’s reduced offensive production this season can be found in his SAT totals, or, in other words, shot attempts.

Last season, Nylander was a strong possession player who drove his team up the ice and created a wealth of offensive opportunities in the process. As such, once the campaign had come to a close, Nylander was found to have been on the ice for 1115 Leafs shot attempts for and, conversely, just 1010 shot attempts against.

Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nylander, alongside Matthews, was critical in driving the Leafs’ potent offence in 2016-17. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Ultimately, these totals combined to create a sparkling 2.81% SAT Rel% for Nylander – a measure which indicates the total shots attempts incurred by an individual player while on the ice relative to those of his fellow teammates. Not surprisingly, Nylander’s impressive mark stood as the best of any full-time Leafs player in 2016-17.

Unfortunately, Nylander’s SAT statistics in 2017-18 have fallen dramatically.

As of his 41st game played, Nylander had been on the ice for 563 shot attempts for, a total which, in fact, placed him on pace for a new career-high of 1126. However, on the other hand, Nylander had been on the ice for a whopping 573 shot attempts against, an amount which placed him on pace for 1146 over the course of the season and a total substantially higher than his 2016-17 mark.

The inability to consistently generate quality scoring opportunities at even-strength has hindered Nylander’s play in 2017-18. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

What’s more is that Nylander’s once sparkling SAT Rel% of 2.81 has dropped to a dismal 0.38% this season – one of the lesser marks amongst all Leafs forwards and a statistic which illustrates Nylander’s inability to consistently generate scoring opportunities and maintain possession in the offensive zone.

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Prescribing A Potential Cure

Given Nylander’s offensive inconsistency and his difficulty developing legitimate scoring chances, what can the young winger do to improve his game in 2017-18?

Well, Nylander boasts an incredible skill-set and one which should see him become an elite player at the NHL-level in the foreseeable future. However, at times this season, Nylander has seemingly been unable to utilize the breadth of abilities which he quite clearly possesses.

With this being said, Nylander desperately needs to shoot the puck more frequently, as it is undoubtedly the greatest ability which he boasts. Overly passive at times this season and occasionally weak on the fore-check, Nylander must focus on blasting the puck on net, as his overwhelming shot has the proven ability to beat opposing goaltenders clean as well as produce rebounds for his fellow teammates.

In fact, as of his 41st contest this campaign, Nylander had labeled just 91 shots on goal. This output, when forecasted over the remainder of the season, would amount to just 182 shots – a far cry from the 205 he whipped on net last season.

So, if Nylander wishes to breakout this season in a major way and earn a significant raise in the process, he’ll need to do what he does best: shoot the puck. Capable of becoming an elite sniper in the NHL, a trigger-happy Nylander – in addition to his playmaking prowess – would serve the Leafs well as they steamroll their way towards the postseason.

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nylander can pick corners with ease, and he’ll have to if the Leafs wish to be a legitimate contender this postseason. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

If Toronto is going to be successful both now and long into the future, they will need Nylander to reach his immense potential and, in doing so, become a consistent offensive force. If unable to do so, the Leafs will continue to remain heavily reliant on Matthews to lead the team in the offensive zone.