The last week or so has been the funnest to be a Leafs fan in a really long time. As expected, Lou and co. sent out a bunch of vets at the trade deadline, and promptly filled the lineup with the future – young kids who will be fixtures on this team for a long time.
Nikita Soshnikov and Zach Hyman have made the biggest impressions – they’re good skaters, hard on the puck, and have skill too. The energy they bring – especially Soshnikov – is infectious, and it has been noticeable among the entire team. Connor Carrick, the young d-man the Leafs stole in the Brooks Laich salary dump trade, has also been impressive. While slightly undersized, he is tenacious, smart with the puck, and is rarely caught out of position. And despite being one of the first sent down, Kasperi Kapanen made a strong case to be on the team next year with his blazing speed, relentless puck pursuit, and skill.
Then, there’s William Nylander, the “crown jewel” of the Leafs’s prospect pool. He has been by far the biggest bust out of all the kids. What’s worse is that he had the most amount of hype. He’s supposed to be skilled, creative, and intelligent. None of this has been on display. Sure, he scored a solid goal against Ottawa, but I’m pretty sure I could score on Andrew Hammond if I was given that much time and space.
As more games go by, it becomes more obvious that the Leafs need to send the Canadian-born Nylander back to junior. They should send him to Mississauga so he can play alongside his brother. He needs to go to an environment that will help him strengthen his skill set and push his development forward. It’s clearly not happening at the NHL level.
It’s very evident that Nylander isn’t strong enough to play in the NHL, which is a problem that someone like Nick Ritchie doesn’t have. You may recall Nick Ritchie as the player the Leafs should have taken 8th overall in the 2014 draft, but ended up falling to Anaheim. A big reason Ritchie is already so impressive in the NHL is because of his size, which he gained while playing junior hockey. The terrible arena food really helps you put on mass. Ritchie has already played 22 games in the NHL and notched one point, which shows that the Anaheim Ducks agree with me that size and strength is most important for a young player’s game translating to the NHL level.
I have seen Nylander play 5 games at the NHL level. And it is clear after 5 games that he is simply not ready. 5 games is enough time to make that judgment. It’s also an important amount of time – the Leafs need to make a decision at the 9 game mark if they want to keep him in the NHL or not. Plus, as the famous Wayne Gretzky quote goes: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and 5 games is an adequate sample size.”
Honestly, I don’t know what’s taking so long. They could have sent him down after his 2nd or 3rd game. I saw those games and said “this guy isn’t ready”. What’s taking Leafs management so long to figure this out?
The Leafs better be careful with how they handle Nylander. Remember how they handled Luke Schenn? Nazem Kadri? Look how they turned out.
All I hope is that the Leafs have a plan for Nylander, and are now using plan b or c – whichever plan involves sending William to junior. And it should preferably be to Mississauga to play with his brother Alex, who the Leafs should draft this year.