We’re Asking The Wrong Questions About William Nylander


John E. Sokolowski – USA TODAY Sports

As you’ve probably already heard, Toronto Maple Leafs top prospect William Nylander is dominating the AHL. The 19-year old has a league-leading 23 points in 17 games, putting him on pace to become the AHL’s first 100-point teenager

So, is William Nylander good enough to play in the NHL?

In a word, yes. These kinds of numbers are quite literally unheard of, and Nylander’s skating and offensive skills are the kinds that can translate to the NHL easily. While he probably wouldn’t establish himself immediately as an elite, big league player, he’s good enough right now to play at least a minor role in an NHL offense.

That said, the question “Is Nylander good enough?” is fundamentally flawed. It’s a narrow-minded way of approaching the extremely large and complex issue that is reworking and rebuilding the Leafs organization. This isn’t all about Nylander, and if you start asking different questions you might find that the AHL is the best place for him to be right now.

Instead, ask yourself why Nylander should be in the NHL? There’s no simple answer, and that’s why he shouldn’t be called up.

The most common reason you’ll hear in favour of calling up Nylander is that he’ll be playing against tougher competition. It’s true that NHL players are better than AHL players – shocking, I know – but it would be silly to to look at Nylander’s stat line and assume he’s learned everything he needs to know about hockey at AHL level in such little time.

Reps are important, and Nylander will get more reps in every possible situation with the Marlies than he ever would with the Leafs. He’ll continue to learn, even if the AHL doesn’t afford him the best competition to learn against, and he’ll continue to grow. Spending another few months (yes, that’s all we’re talking about) developing his skills and refining his game will not harm him, and it certainly won’t impede his development.

The next reason you will hear in favour of Nylander on the Leafs is that he’s ready to help Toronto win now.

God, I certainly hope not. This team was not designed to win, and it’s not a team I would even really want to cheer for. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that half of this group could be gone by the start of next season, and a bunch of them were recently for the sole purpose of being traded at some point this year for future assets. Why invest emotionally in that? 

The point is, the Leafs already decided they wanted to spend a few years bouncing around the bottom of the standings, picking up high picks and top prospects, and ridding themselves of veterans and big, ugly contracts. They’re not at the stage in their rebuild where it makes any sense to start inserting their top young talent into the lineup, and doing so would deviate from the plan. And even more concerning, the Leafs definitely don’t want to be inserting any young players into the lineup that could maybe single-handedly spark an offense and win some games. That would be awful.

Nylander is a special talent, and he might not look out of place if he was to make his NHL debut tomorrow. That said, what’s best for Nylander is probably more AHL time, and what’s best for the Leafs’ long-term vision is definitely more AHL time. You won’t get to see him on Hockey Night in Canada, or be smug about every goal he scores to all of your friends (and enemies) on Twitter, but I promise you there will be plenty of time for that either. Instead, buy a Marlies ticket, head down to Ricoh, and watch him dominate for now.

  • magesticRAGE

    Well put. The main argument I have heard for bringing up Nylander is so they can stagger his a Marner’s RFA and UFA salaries. This argument makes no logical sense unless you assume that Brandon Pridham is incapable of planning cap space properly when given 7 years to do so.

  • BarelyComments

    Not a big leafs fan, so correct me if I’m wrong. But arnt they trying to turn Nylander into a centerman? Is he playing center in the AHL? I just remember somthing about the leafs wanting Nylander (and Marner too I believe) to play center.

        • Gary Empey

          It is not that much of a new position for Nylander. He has played center all his life except last year with the Marlies.

          The big question here should be when do the Leafs break Nylander into the NHL game.

          Justin is thinking at the trade deadline. Does this make sense? Who does he replace in the lineup? At this time we really don’t know if any centers will be moved. It seems logical that some players will go, but who?

          When watching the AHL one of the first things you notice is the much longer amount of time players have to make a play. That and the actual speed of the most of the skaters is a lot slower. A lot of good AHL players are unable to make the adjustment when called up to the NHL. It appears that Nylander will be able to make the adjustment, but there still will be a learning curve when he gets here. Think turnovers.

  • BarelyComments

    Honestly I would rather all the young guys stay down for this entire year essentially no matter what… If Nylander stays for the entire season he could actually score 100 points and in terms of boosting confidence I can’t think of a much better thing to happen… When players get traded at the deadline bring up Arcobello, Clune, Frattin if you have to, guys like that… Let this young core learn to be a team and hopefully make a good run at the championship… I would say it’s not unlikely that a couple players could make the jump next year other than Nylander (Kapanen? Brown? Hyman?)… Winning a championship together and then coming up to the NHL as a unit in training camp next year seems more beneficial to me than getting a couple games in on a loosing non playoff team at the end of the year…

  • Gary Empey


    I agree whole heartedly with keeping him down this year. One point I think you missed though is culture, and the lack there of. You want to bring your rookies in to a team culture that can shelter them, and let them learn from the veterans.

    There wasn’t any last year and it is just ‘in utereo’ this season. To bring any of these young guys up during this season is a real crap shoot, and the Leafs don’t have the chips to gamble on it.

  • BarelyComments

    Forbes listing the leafs as numero 3 must stick in the craw of the three amigos, Rogers, Bell and Larry.

    Obviously the massive bleeding that M.L.S.E. played in the second half of last year’s season played a huge role in the decision to bring in the expensive new management that has a proven winning track record.

    With goal scoring becoming a major problem in today’s game, I can’t help but think the league is in doldrums when it comes to revenue. Not helping the Canadian teams is the collapse of the dollar although teams tend to hedge against a low dollar for a few years.

    I’m not convince that the bleeding still isn’t heavy for M.L.S.E. when it comes to the leafs. Should that continue to be the case expect ownership to definitely bring up a Nylander late in the year claiming that they want to get experience. M.L.S.E. possibly would hope Nylander and perhaps another of the prospects would come together and create a new kid line as a method of increasing excitement and hope for the future. Never under estimate who really is calling the shots regarding the leaf team.

  • CheezWhizard

    You know what the Casual Hockey fans are beginning to get on my nerves a bit now. First they are all complaining that goal scoring is down. Goal Scoring isn’t down by much from 5 yrs ago. Next they want the Leafs to call up Nylander because their short attention spans can’t handle watching the Leafs barely score 3 goals per game.

    See Casual Fans are important, but there also in a way trying to change the game for the worst. Nylander isn’t ready to come up to the Leafs, he’s not ready for the NHL quite yet. He’s getting close, but he still has things to learn. The Leafs also aren’t ready for Nylander to join the club yet as well.

    I’m really starting to feel that this new wave of fans especially the Casual ones don’t understand fully how important it is to manage your prospects the proper wat & rushing them into the NHL to please you fans complaining has been whay has hurt the Leafs in the past.

    Also Goal scoring is not down as much as you Casual Fans like to think it is. Quit trying to change the game, you’re only ruining it in my opinion. If you don’t have the attention spans to handle it watch another sport

    • Gary Empey

      Max Domi, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Duclair, Connor McDavid, Sam Bennett, Jack Eichel, Nikolaj Ehlers. All of these guys never seen any time in the AHL. So there are at different points of view on whether a player needs time in the AHL and if so how much time he will need.

      I am not advocating bring Nylander up. What I am saying it is not written in stone that all players have to go to the AHL to develop. The top three rockie of the year candidates the year before never seen any AHL time either.

      • Mpsenicka

        Domi, Duclair, and Ehlers all spent an additional year in junior and in Domi’s case 2 years. All prospects develop at different levels. McDavid and Eichel are potentially generational talents that are a given to play right away. Larkin is a great comparison who has surprised people with his progression and avoided playing in the A. If he did, it is quite possible that he would produce at a similar level.

  • Benjamin

    This situation only gets ridiculous when people try to apply a rigid mindset to it. Arbitrarily putting every Marlie kid on lockdown till next season, for example, doesn’t really fly.

    It’s fair to say Nylander belongs in the NHL at some point this season, regardless of whether you prefer the stat line or the eye test. Sure he’s not a perfect hockey player at the moment, but he’s also not going to become one in the AHL. Keefe isn’t going to be sending ready-made top six forwards to Babcock, nice as that would be.

    While it’s great that they’re erring on the side of caution with the kids, once he can center a sheltered scoring line with the Leafs, bring him up. I imagine he’s pretty close right now.

    • BarelyComments

      I’d argue that’s exactly what he should be sending them… If Nylander is coming up to play anything less than top 6 and PP he shouldn’t be here… The AHL is high quality pro league, we’re not talking about leaving a superstar 20 year-old in the CHL.

      • Benjamin

        Had a long response that got lost to the ether. Gist of it:

        1) AHL = good league, AHL =/= NHL. There’s always an adjustment, mostly around timing/speed.

        2) Forcing rookies into top six = Edmonton model. Let them make mistakes and not lose every game because of it.

        3) Let Nylander ease into the league, make mistakes, learn and work his way up the lineup at his own pace. He’ll get there.

    • silentbob

      That is the benefit of following the Red Wing system of development. When you have players (even good ones) play in the AHL in the system they’ll be playing in the NHL for 2-3-4 years instead of 1-1 1/2 years, you do produce read-made players, or at least VERY close to it.

      • CheezWhizard

        All this talk about the Detroit model. You know who didn’t play a single AHL game? Datsyuk and Zetterberg. People are treating the Detroit model like it’s one size fits all, and treating Nylander like he’s Stuart Percy or Josh Leivo.

        I don’t know if people fully realize just how special what Nylander is doing in the AHL is. If he keeps it up much longer, he needs to start taking an NHL shift.

        And as an aside, you can’t start keeping these kids down making $80K in the AHL when they deserve an NHL role. Especially the Euros, who are foregoing a LOT of $$ by developing here instead of the SHL or KHL. You need to treat people right, and do business in good faith.

        • silentbob

          Both spent a lot of time in Europe. Zetterberg played in Sweden until he was 22, Datsyuk p[layed in Russia until he was 23. And even staying in Europe for that long, both took 2-3 seasons to “ramp up” in the NHL, vs the players they’ve put through the AHL who get up to speed in the NHL much quicker, if not instantly.

          No, he doesn’t NEED to start taking an NHL shift. Points don’t = ready. Putting someone in the NHL because they get a lot of points when/if they don’t know the systems well enough, don’t have a good enough 200 foot game, have any number of other issues that need to be worked on, or aren’t physically and/or mentally mature enough and ready yet……isn’t doing right by them.

          • silentbob

            Alright I understand what you mean but this has gotten a little arbitrary for my liking. Though you are right about ‘NEEDS’ being a little ‘STRONG’, I’ll back off it if you do too.

          • silentbob

            It shouldn’t be arbitrary, but it should take more then a lot of points. And all we have to do is look at Seguins time to Boston to see that it takes more then on-ice play to be a successful NHL player.

            If it was up to me a prospect would have to demonstrate certain skills and abilities to earn an NHL call up, which is when they’d earn NHL jobs. At least a competent level of production in the AHL would be one of the things (if you can only score 10 points a year in the AHL, you probably won’t score much in the NHL), but so would defensive play, play without the puck, knowledge of the systems and ability to execute it (which WILL require rep’s in the AHL). I think requiring a certain physical fitness level is a good idea, as well as a certain mental/emotional/maturity level (most likely gauged at the rookie camp each year) – make sure your players and mature and responsible enough to handle playing in the NHL, to deal with the media and live that life before thrusting them into it.

            The odd 18 or 19 or 20 year will be able to meet those requirements, but most young men won’t be able too until they are 21, 22, or 23 years old.

            In regards to Nylander right now, he is producing at a fantastic rate. As long as he isn’t in the same trap that Kadri was when he was in the OHL and AHL, it would appear his offensive game is at an NHL level. But what about the rest of his game? He could step into Babcocks team and KNOW what he has to do in every situation yet? Can he physically handle the NHL yet? Is he mentally ready to make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, deal with the “temptations” that brings and the media while also focusing on his job? Maybe, maybe not. Thats why we shouldn’t be in a rush to see him, let the people who are in a position to know these things make those decisions. And if it takes Nylander anohter year or two or three to get there……..does that really hurt us?

          • Benjamin

            Thanks for elaborating. And I generally agree with a fair bit of your thinking.

            However, I do think your hope that these kids learn Babcock’s systems inside and out in the AHL is a little ambitious. Take the Marlies this year. I’ve seen some games live and, you’ll have to trust me here, they are really not playing Babcock’s system at the moment. Now it’s understandable, Keefe is a rookie pro coach and they’ve said time and again that the coaching focus in the AHL is on individual development rather than team systems/success. But that focus means that they’re playing a high skill, high event style, much more akin to Colorado’s than Toronto’s. They can score with the best of them and put a lot of faith in their goalies.

            I personally think stagnation at a lower level of competition is a real thing, just like you and I agree that rushing a prospect too early is a real thing. And Seguin’s a very interesting case, in this regard. Maybe he wouldn’t be the player he is today if he was kept in juniors for another 2 years, without the added challenge.

            I guess at the end of the day, I just think that Nylander is one of those rare 18, 19, or 20 year old that you mention. And for the sake of his development, I don’t think we should shut the door on bringing him up at some point this year.

          • silentbob

            I’ve seen comments from numerous Red Wing players who have said that spending 2-3 years in Grand Rapids playing the same way the Red Wings do prepared them very well, and when they got to the NHL they knew what was going on and knew how to play int he system they were being asked to play in.

            If the Marlies aren’t play the same way the Leafs are, that’s an overall failure of the development system.

            Good production doesn’t = no challenge or nothing the player needs to work on and improve. For the sake of Nylandres development, I hope the Leafs avoid that temptation for as long as possible.

  • CheezWhizard

    “the Leafs already decided they wanted to spend a few years bouncing around the bottom of the standings, picking up high picks and top prospects, and ridding themselves of veterans and big, ugly contracts.”

    No way does this team intend to miss the playoffs next year. They will have had 3 top 10 picks in the last 3 drafts by that point. That’s plenty long enough to for a good rebuild. JVR, Kadri & Rielly are fast approaching UFA. There isn’t time for several more years in the basement.

    If they didn’t intend to make the playoffs before JVR’s contract was up, they would have traded him already.

  • silentbob

    There is absolutely no harm in Nylander playing the rest of this year, maybe even another year in the NHL while he physically and mentally matures into an adult, learns the Leafs systems (since the Marlies should be playing the same way), works on other areas of his game, while he is producing well I’m sure he isn’t a perfect hockey player.

    There IS potential harm in moving him up too early.

    A couple months ago everyone was on board with the Leafs taking their time, letting players develop, “following the Red Wings model” – its disapointing to see so many fans forget that so quickly. I’d rather wait another 1-2 even 3 years for Nylander to join the Maple Leafs, but have him “storm” the NHL the way Nyqvist did then watch him potentially struggle for a couple years (on ice and/or off it) the way many teenagers and players in their early 20’s do.

  • silentbob

    So while many of the players did not play in the AHL, some had extra development years in another league.

    Max Domi went back to the OHL for a year.
    Anthony Duclair went back to the OHL for a year.
    Sam Bennett was injured most of last year, but that also gave him a lot of time to train no injured body parts.
    McDavid and Eichel are not your every day prospects, not to mention Eichel played a year at the University level against guys that were up to 5 years older.

    All that being said, that is not the reason Nylander isn’t being called up. He is clearly ready for the NHL, but the team isn’t ready for him. This is a cap management decision. They are pushing back his 2nd contract as he has 1 more entry level slide year. He will likely get the 9 games as a reward towards the latter part of the season, but that is all.

    As for Mitch Marner, he is unlikely to make the NHL next year and due to his age will be sent back to the OHL for a 5 year.

    This decision is all about cap management, the Leafs have big ticket contracts on the books for a significant time like Dion, retained salary from Kessel, and Horton’s contract which obviously can be put on LTIR, but prior to the start of the season, he will count against the cap.

    He is not being hurt by being in the minors, this benefits the team in the long run when it comes to salary cap management, and it allows a good group of prospects to grow together in the minors as you are likely to see the all if not a big subset of Nylander, Brown, Leivo, Percy, and Loov in the NHL next year along with possibly some others.

    • silentbob

      He is only clearly ready if we look at his production and only his production. There are other factors we simply don’t and can’t know which could be reasons why he needs to be in the AHL this year and maybe longer.

  • silentbob

    Nylander stays on the farm for this year, learns the center position and plays against men. Next year ready for Prime time. Now what are you going to do with Marner next year? He will still be too young for the AHL I believe and will certainly have outgrown the CHL.

    • silentbob

      It way to early to saying if Nylander will be ready for the NHL next year or not.

      I also don’t think a rookie should make the team out of training camp. Pre-season are not real games, with real stakes and are not against real NHL competition. A good training camp should earn a rookie a call up, if said rookie plays well during that call up (in real NHL games against real NHL players), that earns them a spot on the team.

      Unless Marner is a perfect player and has the physical and mental maturity of an adult, he’ll have lots to work on in the OHL next year.

  • Gary Empey

    Agree with every word, other than the question posed:
    ‘Why emotionally invest in that (this years team)?”

    Because its about the front of the jersey, not the names on the back.