TLN Top Twenty Prospects: #1 William Nylander


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:

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. 

One would have to assume that MODO would be the frontrunner to sign Nylander, considering he spent the majority of last season with them. While under contract with MODO, Nylander was also loaned out to Rögle and Södertälje (where Nylander played youth hockey when in Sweden) of the Allsvenskan.

Considering his familiarity with both organizations, I suppose both Rögle and Södertälje have an outside shot at securing Nylanders’ services, though it would be hard to believe that Nylander would return to Sweden and not play in the top league.

In the meantime, Nylander will suit up for tonight’s Leafs Rookie Tournament game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Expected to line up alongside David Broll and Carter Verhaeghe, this will likely be Nylander’s one and only appearance at the Rookie Tournament.

Set to join the Leafs’ main camp when it opens this Thursday, Nylander will have play out-of-his-mind good hockey if he wants to stick with the main club come October. For Nylander, it comes down to one roster spot – the right wing on the second line, beside Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. If he can’t earn that spot outright, and beat out his competition by a lengthy margin, it’s probably safe to assume Nylander will be back in Sweden this upcoming season.

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  • Benjamin

    Would’ve been nice to get a little summary of the scouting reports kicking around instead of just the entire writeup being dedicated to where you think he’ll play next year.

    On that note though I don’t think the lack of precedent should keep the Leafs from taking a serious look at keeping him in the AHL. One of the reasons it doesn’t happen a lot is because the option is rarely there. Players of Nylander’s pedigree are rarely free agents when they’re drafted.

    He’s played against men for a full season already, there are quotes floating around about how the Marlies’ facilities rival other NHL teams’, and you can take full charge of his development immediately, why not exploit this (rare) opportunity?

    Just my 2c. Thanks for all the great write ups guys, best way to fight the preseason blues.

  • Benjamin

    Great work to all the gentlemen that wrote their respective pieces.

    I think Nylander will likely stay in Toronto to learn to play NHL style hockey. Plus it should be a big boost to Marlies attendance/related sales which I’m sure MLSE will love from a business perspective.

    Money isn’t an issue as some of the richest SHL teams operate on roughly $9M USD for a 23 man roster. Nylander would make more in Toronto on his contract plus bonuses and any endorsement deals.