Just days ago, TSN’s Bob McKenzie let it be known that it’s doubtful two of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top prospects – William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen – would be released for the World Junior Championships next month.
It’s easy to forget that both players are even still eligible for the tournament, considering they’re already contributing at the AHL level – but is it smart to hold them back from this one-or-twice-or-thrice in a lifetime experience? Does either player benefit from attending? Does it hurt their development to ‘drop down’ and play against lesser competition for a few weeks? We asked our esteemed Roundtable…
It makes absolutely no sense for the Leafs to send William Nylander to the World Juniors. It’s not a matter of Nylander being too good for Team Sweden and the World Juniors tournament, it’s that Nylander might be too good for the Marlies at this point. It wouldn’t necessarily hurt Nylander’s development to join Team Sweden, but the only reason to go would be for the accolades and opportunity to win a gold medal (which is going to be won by Canada anway, so moot point). It’s not as sexy an option, and Leafs fans won’t get to show off one of their prized possessions to the world, but staying in the AHL, playing against better competition and keeping pace in the AHL scoring race is best for Nylander.
Kasperi Kapanen, on the other hand, is a different story – Toronto’s third best prospect just isn’t on the same level as Nylander. That’s not a bad thing, but because he’s not dominating in the AHL there’s a more obvious benefit to joining Team Finland. Kapanen would do well to (hopefully) be one of the tournament’s top players, bring some confidence back to Toronto and set himself up for a strong second half of the season.
I think both Kapanen and Nylander should be allowed to attend the World Juniors, and my belief is largely based on the fact that it’s purely to do right by the players. Staying with the Marlies, playing the systems and with teammates who will be part of the future is much better for Kapanen and Nylander development wise and I won’t argue that.
However, representing their countries in a meaningful tournament that in Kapanen’s case is taking place in his homeland, and in Nylander’s case his neighbouring country, is probably something that both of these players very much want to do.
Their development isn’t going to be undone by three weeks off playing a different coach’s system. The odds of them being injured in an international game are just the same as if they were playing for the Marlies, so it’s not like this is a concern that should be taken seriously, and the Marlies are in a very comfortable spot in the standings, and I’m willing to bet they’ll still be holding down a playoff spot when Kapanen and Nylander return.
Might as well do right by the players, and give them both a change to really show how much better they are than their age group. Plus really, who doesn’t want to see Nylander faceoff against Marner?
I don’t believe either prospect will gain or lose anything in their development by going to this tournament, so if they really want to go, the team should at least give them that opportunity. That said, I wouldn’t send Nylander to Helsinki. Instead I’d send him a couple kilometers down the road to the ACC to play with the Leafs. He doesn’t have anything to really gain by playing against kids in the World Junior tournament, and it’s becoming more and more evident he probably doesn’t have much left to prove in the AHL either. I know everyone wants to act smart about keeping his ELC off the books for now, but NHL talent should be in the NHL and as a nineteen year old laying waste to the minors, it’s probably time for that move.
In Kapanen’s case, he’s suited up for only a limited number of games with the Marlies, so there’s an argument that he should stay back so the organization can see him in a professional setting as much as possible. But again, if he really wants to go and suit up for Finland with his pals, it isn’t going to hurt. Long story short: Nylander to the Leafs, let Kapanen do what he wants.