With Mitch Marner Mania enveloping the Toronto Maple Leafs following the draft, it’s important for the team not to forget about their other top prospects. While Marner appears to be the icing on top of the cake, it’s expected he will head back to junior for another season of development and dominance with the London Knights in 2015-16.
With Marner heading back to junior, all attention will turn to the Leafs first-round pick from 2014, William Nylander.
Since coming over to North America last year to play with the Toronto Marlies, fans have been excited to see Nylander make an NHL appearance. While most expect to see Nylander with the Marlies to begin the 2015-2016 season, he might be ready to make the jump to the NHL now.
Kyle Dubas tells media William Nylander will play centre for the Marlies this season adding Matt Finn will bounce back as a 2nd year pro.
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) July 9, 2015
Before coming to play in the AHL, Nylander laced up for Modo as the team’s go-to offensive threat. He logged big minutes while scoring at a 0.95 points per game pace; good enough for third in the SHL and nearly double the pace of Modo’s second-leading scorer.
He finished second in scoring for U20 prospects while playing in just 21 games with Modo. And he accomplished all that at the age of 18. His impressive play with Modo turned heads and was enough to convince the Leafs he was ready for the AHL.
Once in the minors (and after a slow start) the teenager continued to dominate the league scoring at a point-per-game pace of 0.86 during his rookie campaign. His 0.86 rate was one of the best on the Marlies, beating out standout Connor Brown. Nylander finished his rookie season with 23 points in his final 21 games.
He also dominated for Sweden in international play racking up 10 points in 7 games and leading Sweden in scoring at the World Juniors. His 10 points left him just one point shy of the tournament lead.
In addition to his dazzling play on the ice, Nylander has clearly put considerable time in at the gym. The Swedish forward put on some serious weight and muscle in his rookie season.
Hitting the Gym, Nylander Style. #TMLTalk @snizzbone Credit: #MuffinsWithBruffins pic.twitter.com/F1j1IuTg0S
— Leafs Hub (@LeafsHub) July 7, 2015
Nylander went from weighing 176 during his draft year to 189 a year later. He looks like a man physically ready to step into the NHL despite being just 19.
Nylander’s play as an 18-year-old in both the SHL and AHL turned heads in the Leafs organization and has many excited for his future in blue and white. However, the question remains: where should Nylander play next season?
Realistically, Nylander doesn’t have much to prove in the AHL. He was one of the Marlies best players and was one of the top forwards on a very weak Modo team.
There is little doubt that the standout forward could crack the NHL next season. Even if he begins the season in the AHL, he would undoubtedly be deserving of a midseason call-up. But is that the best option for the Leafs?
After years of rushing prospects and trading them for short-term stop-gap players, the Maple Leafs are now preaching patience with their youngsters and the first victim of that patience might be Nylander.
William Nylander (@snizzbone) uses the crossbar for some target practice outside at prospect camp. #TMLtalk pic.twitter.com/EhJftyfDyn
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) July 8, 2015
On talent alone and a strong camp, Nylander could slot in as the Leafs number-two center behind that of Nazem Kadri. One could even make a case for him to be the number one pivot. He would be the underdog of NHL rookies competing against Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid.
However, with a dismal season on the horizon for the Maple Leafs is it worth rushing Nylander into the NHL?
With the Marlies poised for another strong season with loads of young and talented prospects, having Nylander as their top center and working towards a Calder Cup would be a much better atmosphere for the prospect to develop under.
Give him time to be a young prospect and develop in a winning environment and keep him sheltered from the media for another year before making the jump seems like the right move for the Leafs.
Realistically, Willian Nylander could easily make the jump to the NHL next season. However, even if he dazzles at development camp and looks ready, the best option for him next season is the Toronto Marlies.