Leafs' Nylander wears third crown at world junior
Sweden's William Nylander against Denmark in third period action during the IIHF World Junior Championship at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on December 27, 2014. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)
Until Canada arrives, Toronto's world junior tournament requires alternative sources of amusement.
So far, fans have latched on to two.
One, of course, is catching the whiff of an upset. Danish and Swiss goals are roof-raisers.
The other is Sweden's William Nylander.
Leafs Nation is loving the chance to eyeball their latest first-rounder, who has scored in consecutive games and played a big part in shorthanded Sweden's 5-1 squashing of Denmark before 13,018 Saturday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre.
The 18-year-old zipped a shot over goalie Georg Sorensen's glove hand with 32.5 seconds left in the first period for a three-goal lead, prompting more “Go, Leafs, Go” chants.
“He's a kid that has a little swagger to him,” Swedish head coach Rikard Gronborg said, “which is great, obviously, if you're going to play here.”
The thick skin, that can be grown over time.
This Nylander goal looked a little like the laser beam son-of-a-Leaf Max Domi provided in Canada's Slovakian smashing Friday night at Montreal.
Domi, the London Knights captain, has long said he never takes aim when he shoots because it's an instinct play.
He's trying to outsmart the goaltender. His goal basically spelled the end for Sorensen, who was yanked after one period.
“When you come into an opportunity like that, you sort of picture what the goalie's doing and try to put it where you think it should go,” he said. “You don't have time to aim when you're that close to the net.”
There will be less time to react and it will be considerably harder to get to the net in Sweden's next game Monday against Russia, which should decide first place in the pool.
Everyone, his future NHL bosses among them, is curious to see what Nylander will do in that massive test.
“I thought he's been very good so far,” said Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter, who has been watching closely. “He makes good plays. He scored a good goal. He works well with the other players (on Sweden) and has a high compete level for the puck.
“Not everyone can do those things.”
When ill Kings first-rounder Adrian Kempe couldn't answer the bell, Nylander took on more of the offensive burden. If you think him and linemates Oskar Lindblom and Axel Holmstrom are pretty dynamic, wait till next year.
They're all eligible to play in this event again.
“He's on the first (power play unit) and plays in key situations for them,” Hunter said. “They're looking for him to score goals and if he does, they have a good chance of winning. That's a pretty good feeling for a kid his age.”
He did retreat to the bench a little gingerly after being hit hard in a physical second period, earning a little attention from the training staff. The small ice over here introduces contact a lot quicker than the giant ponds of Europe.
“I don't remember (the collision),” he said after the game with a wry grin.
He shook it off and finished strong.
“He's a smart kid,” Hunter said. “He has his head up out there. We're not worried. He's just got to get stronger, faster and more confident.”
Gronborg knows this is a big stage for Nylander. He's not trying to shield him from it.
“William's handled it pretty well,” the coach said. “That line, we knew it would work because they had a great under-18 championship. As a coach, you're trying to put players in a position to succeed, and it's good to see him handle the pressure here.”
Nylander isn't getting roped into the old debate about who the favourites should be at this thing and whether the Swedes, silver medalists a year ago at home, are flying under the radar.
“We'll have to wait and see,” he said. “They (Canada and the U.S.) have a lot of media on them (because of 17-year-olds Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel), but it's hard to say.”
He'll let you know in about a week or so.
Still, there is enough room for three crowns to be worn here.
Same as on the Swedish sweater.