It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that William Nylander, the Toronto Maple Leafs top pick in this past June’s NHL Entry Draft, is the organization’s top prospect. He may, after all, be the most skilled forward the Leafs have drafted in well over a decade.
The fact that Nylander was still on the board when the Leafs selected eighth overall is a small miracle in itself. I don’t really know what Vancouver or Carolina were thinking.
We already know a lot about Nylander. The son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, young William is a top flight offensive talent with great wheels, and can play centre or on the right wing. He’s undersized by NHL standards, listed anywhere from 5’9 to 5’11 and weighing about 170 lbs, but no one really seems to care. Nylander is a true blue chip prospect, and projects to be an impact point producer.
There’s also a lot we don’t know about Nylander too. For example, where will he be playing next year? There’s four options, though two seem far more realistic than the others. I’ll just get it out of the way and say that, besides a brief nine-game stint, I don’t see the point in rushing Nylander, only 18 years old, into the NHL this season. It also makes little sense to assign him to the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, which to be fair, is an option that Leafs brass haven’t really entertained:
In conversation w/ #Leafs Dave Nonis about William Nylander he said “wouldn’t be a smart move” on sending him to jr. NHL, AHL or Swe for him
— Matt Brown (@mbrownSN590) September 8, 2014
As Sportsnet Radio’s Matt Brown points out, that leaves the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and a return to Sweden as the most likely scenarios.
In the AHL, Nylander will develop under the close watch of the Leafs organization. He will play against good competition, readjust to the North American ice (he played youth hockey in Chicago), and acclimate himself to the city of Toronto.
However, you’d be hard pressed to find a long history of players who’ve made the jump to the AHL straight out of the Draft. In the past ten years, only a handful of top ten picks have went directly to the AHL, and most of them defencemen. The only similar situation I could find was Nikita Filatov, drafted sixth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008. He’s currently 24 years old, and hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2011-2012 season.
Traditionally, players in Nylander’s position return home. That’s where things get interesting, as Nylander has confirmed (in the video below) that he’s an SHL free agent, and has several offers on the table.