Leafs will have a tough time cutting Nylander, and that’s fine

If you’ve been following along with William Nylander’s career since he was drafted by the Leafs last summer, you already know that since then he’s done anything and everything the team could have asked of him performance-wise. His talent was again on display in the Leafs’ rookie tournament this past weekend, and among his peers, the young Swede looked out of place. [In a good way, of course.]

There’s a lot of excitement in Toronto right now about the longterm outlook of the Leafs, but as for the immediate future, plenty of times you’ll hear folks say “I’ll watch the Marlies more than the big club this season” and that’s totally understandable. I mean, most of these people are clearly lying, but the point is the Marlies will be a force, whereas the Leafs…err, won’t.

The assumption is that Nylander will join the Marlies after NHL camp (and perhaps a nine-game regular season stint) and proceed to lay waste to the minors. But given his recent run of play, it’s going to be tough to keep him out of the Leafs’ lineup and I’m not sure that’s as much of a bad thing as most have been leading on.

Perhaps the biggest argument against keeping Nylander with the Leafs is allowing his entry-level deal to slide another year while he suits up at the Ricoh, and that’s obviously a fair point. But another reason folks don’t want him to stick is because of the idea that the NHL club will be a total trainwreck this season, and who wants to expose a promising player to that? I disagree with this latter point.

If Nylander is good enough to make the NHL, and it appears he might be, I don’t think the Leafs are as toxic as they’re being played up (or I guess down) to be. Are they going to contend? Nope. Will they even make the playoffs? Highly doubtful. Are they one of the weakest teams in the league? It looks like it. But even with all this considered, I don’t think it’s such a bad environment for Nylander.

The Leafs aren’t a strong team, but they have plenty of legit NHL players heading into camp, especially up front. With moves they’ve executed this summer and the PTOs they’ve extended recently, it’s fair to assume they’ll be in a lot of close games this upcoming year and maybe even drive play for a good chunk of them, they just don’t have enough finishing power to put them over. It’s going to be a grind, but it shouldn’t be “stand back and get our teeth kicked in” Carlyle hockey. For that reason I don’t see this as feeding a kid to the wolves. The forward group is balanced, and though they don’t have much top-end talent, Babcock should be able to roll four lines quite comfortably. He has enough depth to be able to shelter Nylander’s minutes quite effectively or trot him out there in a number of different situations as he sees fit. It wouldn’t just be Nylander out there with everything burning down around him, as most probably believe. This team isn’t good, but it shouldn’t get completely run over.

If we circle back to contract status, of course it’s ideal to get as much of Nylander’s prime from his ELC as possible. But his development should always come first, and if he can be a real contributor to the Leafs, the NHL is where he should carve his teeth from here on. It probably isn’t the greatest comparison to bring up Morgan Rielly here, since he fell under the CHL agreement as a 19-year-old and had to make the Leafs or go back to the Jaw, but cracking the big lineup in 2013-14 hasn’t seemed to stifle his development whatsoever and I’d usually be more worried about a defenceman than forward, especially with the way this team has been run the last couple seasons. 

If Nylander makes it, he makes it, and I don’t think we should worry too much about it,  given the personnel the Leafs have now added to evaluate talent compared to the front office and bench staff they’ve had in recent years. I have confidence this group can put Nylander in a place to succeed, whether it’s in front of twenty-thousand people or just six-thousand. So whatever happens in these next few weeks, we shouldn’t get too riled up about it. The Leafs won’t be a good team, but should Nylander stay up, they have enough reliable veterans that Babcock can easily structure the lines as to not put too much demand on him.

  • Benjamin

    No matter the camp, I’d like to see him as the Marlies top C to start the season. A lot easier for him to hone his craft at C in the AHL now, rather than in the NHL a few years down the road.

    That said, if his season goes the way I think it will, he’ll be one of the guys getting called up around the trade deadline.

    Or they just keep him down all year and get a full 3 NHL seasons on his ELC, starting next Fall. Verrry tempting..

  • Jeremy Ian

    I agree. If he’s as good as any of the veterans on the team, let him play; the coaches will know how to focus on his development.

    The question I’d have is what to do with all the surplus forwards on the team? There will have to be some offloading before the season starts.

  • Jeremy Ian

    let’s all be glad carlyle didn’t get his hands on him and ruin him because we all know that would have happened if nonis was still here running the show pre-shanahan and i will be watching the marlies since i’m getting tickets and i know many others who will definitely fill the ricoh now that we have elite talent to support on the ice. i only wish marlies games were shown on tsn since no one has leafs TV anymore.

  • silentbob

    I don’t think they’ll have a tough time with it at all.

    Its one thing to look good in the AHL or a rookie tournament (against a lot of other prospects who are not NHL material) and another to be an impactful NHL player.

    For months every Leaf fan has been preaching patience, long rebuild, the Detroit model. So why is it as soon as Nylander shows some promise everyone wants to rush him to the NHL? He is a 19 year old KID who has played 37 games of North American Pro hockey. Letting play 1 maybe even 2 or 3 (if needed) seasons in the AHL, learning the style of play and systems Babcock will expect, his role in those systems in every situation. Letting him grow into an adult physically and mentally is NOT GOING TO HURT HIM, but thrusting him into the NHL before he is ready could.

    I said it earlier today, look at how the Wings handled Nyqvist, that is how Nylander and Kapanen and Marner and every other Leaf prospect should be handled.

  • All good reasons for letting Nylander play in the NHL this year, but I’m not sure any of them (or even combined) are good enough to ignore the ELC slide and the cost control benefits.

    Plus, I still think there’s more Nylander can learn as a C in the AHL. He played it in Sweden but was largely on the wing with the Marlies last year.

    Even if he’s great in camp and in preseason games, those efforts can often be misleading. If he’s consistently excellent and overachieving in 30-40 AHL regular season games, then I’m all for bringing him up. Ideally, Toronto moves out some bodies again at the trade deadline, and he joins the team then and prepares for full-time duties next season.

  • SEER

    When Morgan Rielly’s future was in question, my vote was to let him play for the big team if he was ready. My opinion however was swayed by the misconception that we had a better team that it turned out we did. We drafted him just prior to the shortened season, we went to the play offs. We’d picked up some additional “help” that turned out not to be help at all. Morgan would be put, I thought, in a winning atmosphere where he could be sheltered and provided with opportunities to make moderate but meaningful contributions to the team.

    Alas, it was not to be. Instead he’s played on bad teams with steadily worsening conditions. If his development was not hurt it will have been more by luck and a tribute to his own positive nature.

    There is no way that Nylander alone is going to significantly change the face of this team by coming in as a 19 year old. Even if he’s good enough to make a positive contribution, it will not be “meaningful” in any way. So then what is the point of developing him here?

    Why expose him to the potential media circus and pressure. Why put him in an environment where there’s still the need to winnow out those who have a future with this team vs those that will be shopped for assets?

    Why do this to him when the expectation is that he should be honing his craft at centre – where ultimately he’d do more good for the team than at wing?

    The kid has an assignment – to make himself into a #1 centre if he can. That’s enough pressure. Let him do that on a team where he will be surrounded by other good talent for the level where they will be playing and where the onus for success won’t rest on him. Let him feel what it is like to win, and to be on a team that can contend for its respective championship. Don’t rob him of that.

    There’ll be time enough to add NHL challenges.

    • Gary Empey

      RE- ” So then what is the point of developing him here? ”

      The NHL game is so much quicker then the AHL. Everyone coming out of the AHL has to learn how to play at that tempo.

      Here is a quote from Babcock.

      “if you’re a young guy and you want to play on the Leafs? Just take someone’s job. It’s real simple. Just make sure we can’t keep you off the roster.”

      • silentbob

        But games in a rookie tournament, preseason and the AHL are not an indication of how well Nylander would play in NHL games against NHL players.

        He hasn’t even started to take someone’s job yet.

        Like I said above, everyone has been talking for months about building a good, strong development system. So why forget all that because of a few good games in meaningless games in a rookie tournament? Patience and perspective

        • Gary Empey

          The article is speculating on the chances Nylander is ready. I agree we need to see him at training camp playing against NHL players before making a final judgement. If he turns out to be the best or second best center at camp what would be the point in sending down to the Marlies. He would learn a lot more from Babcock.

          I completely agree with building a good strong development system. What is the next step after a player has developed into an NHL caliber player?

          If he is not ready then he will be back with the Marlies for more seasoning.

          If he is ready then he should be playing a regular shift for the Leafs.

          • silentbob

            They don’t play real NHL games in training camp – they play pre-season games which mean nothing against teams not playing full NHL rosters.

            The point would be to let him grow and mature into an adult (Since he is a kid right now), let him learn the system and style they are expected to play in a lower level, get him time at center etc…

            Babcock isn’t going anywhere, he can/will learn a lot from Babcock when he is 20-21-22, has more experience at center, with the system and is an adult rather then a kid. Having him play another year or two in the AHL will NOT hurt his development at all, playing him in the NHL too early might. So whats the point in rushing him? I said it before, look at how the Wings handled Nyqvist, isn’t that how we should want ALL of our prospects handled?

            Hopefully Shanahan and co. don’t forget about development and become impatient as quickly as some fans did.

  • Gary Empey

    When I stop to think about it, in my opinion, I think Nylander already is the number one center on the Leafs depth chart.

    So to answer your question, yes the Leafs will have a tough time cutting him.

    It looks like Nylander hasn’t wasted a moment of his summer getting ready for the NHL.

    Kadri also has put in a lot of work over the summer so I am looking forward to seeing the results.

  • SEER

    If he’s “100%” ready and proves it in camp and pre-season games (and in his limited allowance of reg. season games) than management/coaching staff will have a tough decision.. and another trade may be needed to secure him top line minutes..

    But ultimately, it might be best to give him a full season on the Marlies.., so he gets lot of minutes each game and develops even further.., as there will probably be some more trades at deadline day…

    I like the idea of being patient.. That’s what a rebuild is suppose to be like… We just haven’t seen it here for awhile…. Having him on 3rd or 4th line in the NHL would only limit his ice-time.. and that’s not productive for a top-six center..

  • Gary Empey

    So what you are saying to Marlie prospects is: “No matter how hard you try or how good you are you will not make the NHL with the Leafs until you are around 22.”

    • silentbob

      I’d say you won’t make the NHL until you’re ready, and in almost all cases players wont be ready until they are are adults, know babcocks systems (the Marlies should,play the same way), their expected role in it, and have shown a high level of proficency in the role in all situations which will take years to gain – in short, I’d have high standards. And that 3 good games in a rookie tournament doesn’t even start the discussion of you being called up.

      There is no benefit in playing a 19 year old kid in the NHL before he has met and exceed those expections, but there is a big down side In rushing someone if they can’t handle it.

      You need to remember these are boys and young men, Dubas has talked about how going up and down last year hurt Percy’s development. It messed with with his head. What was the benefit in doing that? They clearly don’t see any