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Fantasy Hockey: Pump Your Brakes, Wait Until Next Year for Nylander

Feb. 29, 2016; Toronto, Ontario Canada: Toronto Maple Leafs centre William Nylander (39) takes the ice for his first NHL game at the Air Canada Centre. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/Icon Sportswire)

Maple Leafs’ blue chip prospect William Nylander is one of the most added players in fantasy hockey since he was among Toronto’s swarm of AHL call-ups yesterday. The thousands of fantasy managers who are adding him should not only lower their expectations, they should also start thinking of the player that will replace Nylander on their roster.

There is little reason for the Leafs, who are very clearly committed to the rebuild, to keep Nylander up for the remainder of the season. Why? Because ten appearances in the NHL will burn a year off of his entry-level contract.

Nylander’s recent call up to the big club will likely last another eight games before he returns to the Marlies and continues dominating the AHL during the Calder Cup Playoffs. Just how much good the young Swede can do in Toronto’s top six forward group for another eight games is up to debate, especially when one considers the players that are around him.

In ESPN and CBS leagues, Nylander is categorized as a right wing and in Yahoo! leagues he is eligible as both a center and right winger. In his first game, Nylander registered two shots in the 18:41 he saw on the ice. He played right wing opposite of speedster Michael Grabner on a line centered by Zach Hyman — not quite the stuff of box score production fantasies.

Fantasy mangers who are expecting something special out of the Leafs’ top prospect this year are almost certainly setting themselves up for disappointment.

As special as Nylander is, he may very well end up being a nightmare nine game investment for hopeful fantasy managers. The chances are good that the Leafs’ newest winger will be a plus-minus black hole, given the Leafs’ defensive woes this season. Much in the same way that Maple Leafs fans need to remind themselves to be patient with all of the young players that are itching to make a difference wearing blue and white, so too do fantasy managers need to practice the same patience.

Sept. 26 2015: Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander (62) lines up for a face-off during a NHL pre-season game between Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/Icon Sportswire)

Sept. 26 2015: Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander (62) lines up for a face-off during a NHL pre-season game. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/Icon Sportswire)

The excitement surrounding Nylander and his fantasy potential is understandable. He’s an outstanding prospect with world-class hands that looks capable of making a big splash in the NHL. The fact that he is a Maple Leafs prospect only inflates the hype and excitement around him both in and outside of fantasy hockey. But this isn’t the season when Nylander will be fantasy relevant.

In 37 games this season with the Marlies the fourth overall pick of the 2012 NHL Draft scored 45 points as a 19 year old. Those numbers are very promising, but there is no guarantee that Nylander can make an impact at the NHL level today —  and make a difference on your fantasy roster — whether he is up for eight more games or the remainder of the regular season.

The lack of proven talent on Toronto’s current roster paired with the crucial injuries to veteran forwards James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Joffrey Lupul makes for what is almost certainly the worst roster in the NHL. Hardly the most fertile environment for a creative, shifty winger with a knack for playmaking to make an impact and pile up some points.

The fantasy hockey season is now officially in crunch time. The fantasy playoffs are on the horizon in each and every league and the roster moves that are made now can make or break an entire season’s worth of strategizing and planning. There is a lot of reason to believe that Nylander will indeed be a sexy fantasy target sometime in the near future, (likely in the fall of 2016 on draft day) but there are almost certainly better options available in every league.

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