Yesterday was William Nylander’s first preseason game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The eighteen year old forward, who I will now affectionately refer to as “Prettier Patrick Kane” had a ton of hype placed upon him, and delivered with a late-game goal. Over the course of the night, he captured the attention and the hearts of the collective fanbase. Let’s look at some key moments.
First, we have this stretch pass to David Broll. I wish I didn’t crop this one so short, but he exists from the crease area, quickly identifies his target, and launches an absolute bomb of a saucer pass that sets Broll on a half-break. It doesn’t work out, but Nylander has already accounted for that and gone towards the net at that point.
On the same play, Nylander trails behind Broll on the Left Wing and picks up a loose rebound, just barely unable to beat Mason. Nylander gets ready to celebrate his first goal, realizes he’s failed, and rather than give up on the play, he manages to be the first to the puck on the other side and throws another shot towards the net.
Nylander anticipates what Samuel Morin is going to do on this place pretty nicely and strips him of the puck. He manages to get a shot on net as well. Still looking for that goal, though…
A few heartbeats later, Nylander strips Nick Schultz, and gets a much more direct look at the net before he shoots. This time, there’s no premature celebration, but the puck eventually finds his way in as he finds his way into The Phil’s arms.
It’s fitting that Nylander’s first preseason game would come against the Flyers, and that Luke Schenn would be playing against him. Realistically, we haven’t had this level of hype for a draft pick heading into his first camp since the 2008 5th overall pick put on the Blue and White sweater for the first time.
But this time around, it feels different. Schenn’s “NHL-readiness” arguments came from the fact that he was physically well built and could complete in that regard. The dark reality, of course, was that he wasn’t incredibly good at hockey – the surprisingly punishing hits showed his physical maturity but not his talent. Looking back a lot, Schenn spent a hell of a lot of time chasing the play rather than creating it, even as the puck went the other way.
Nylander is something different. His stature might be a detriment to him; he’s just 5’11 and about 170 pounds (though he’ll swear that it’s more like 185). Physically, it’s surprising that he managed to play in the Swedish Hockey League last year, let alone come into camp hoping to get a spot with the Leafs. But in just a little bit of ice time, albeit in September and against some questionable opponents, Nylander showed us some of the world-class ability that he has, which lead to his reputation as a potential game breaker.
I don’t know if the Leafs are the right option for him yet. There are probably still things he can learn at a lower level, and he could probably use some more conditioning. But if there’s one thing we learned last night, it’s that he can make your jaw drop at an instant.
Yes, Willie, just like that. I’m telling you guys, prettier Patrick Kane.