Maple Leafs recall William Nylander from Swedish team
Maple Leafs draft pick William Nylander of Team Sweden during the group stage of the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships against Team Russia at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Monday December 29, 2014. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun)
How do you separate William Nylander’s sizzle from his fizzle?
In an informal survey of NHL scouts conducted by the Sun during the recent world junior championships, most of the hockey bird-dogs polled had pretty much the same observations regarding the Team Sweden star.
In fact, if you looked down at their notepads — or, in these modern times, iPads, as the case may be — you’d likely see a report along these lines:
- Remarkably skilled with the puck.
- Uninvolved without it.
n Needs to get bigger to withstand the rigours of the larger bodies and scaled-down rinks he’ll have to deal with on this side of the Atlantic.
When you take those reports into account, the logic of the Maple Leafs’ move on Monday to bring the highly touted Nylander to the American Hockey League’s Marlies from MoDo of the Swedish League makes perfect sense.
That is, if they can withstand the desire to plop the kid into the Leafs lineup rather than keep him on the farm.
To that end, Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas insists Nylander will be entrenched at Ricoh Coliseum until the end of the season, with management claiming it will resist any urge to call him up to the parent club.
“We have to be absolutely patient with these players,” Dubas said of Nylander. “If he has a big weekend or a big month with the Marlies, we have to do what’s absolutely best for his development in the long term, which is stay with the Marlies for the rest of the year.”
Having accrued 20 points in 21 games for basement-dwelling MoDo, Nylander — the eighth overall pick at the 2014 draft — exhibited from the get-go that he is one of the elite offensive performers in that league. Of course, those numbers were accrued on the big ice, where there is more space for the flashy forward to pull off those dipsy-doodle moves he so enjoys.
Never shy about allowing his on-ice swagger to surface, Nylander finished tied for second in scoring at the world junior with three goals and seven assists for 10 points. No surprise there.
Perhaps more intriguing to the scouts and Leafs brass was Nylander’s game at the world junior on the smaller North American rink, specifically the Air Canada Centre. There, they noticed Nylander’s penchant of getting knocked off the puck in tight spaces, causing him, at times, to hang around the periphery rather than go into the so-called dirty areas.
That the 5-foot-11 Nylander needs to bulk up is a given. As such, what better stage for the prized teenager to cut his teeth on the North American game than in the AHL, a man’s league where sometimes you have to make your own space to create scoring opportunities.
Here, at times, muscle is just as important as hustle.
“To me, the most important thing for William is he’s a guy who has the puck a lot, but as we saw in the world junior at times — and with MoDo — he takes a lot of physical duress when he has the puck and when he’s trying to shield the puck, like on the cycle,” Dubas said. “He’s not at the point yet where his game has evolved where he can spin off and elude that type of contact.
“With him coming to North America it’s going to be that much harder. The style of play is much different and you’re going to have guys try to physically separate him from the puck. It’s learning how to continue to maintain possession.
“Don’t get me wrong. He does many things at an outstanding level. These are just things we feel he can work on.”
When Nylander steps onto the ice in Hamilton for his scheduled Marlies debut on Jan. 23, he’ll quickly discover that the competition is beefier and the room harder to find. Still, you get the impression he wanted to be on this side of the Atlantic all along.
Asked last month if he thought the initial decision to play in Sweden was beneficial to his development, Nylander didn’t exactly provide a ringing endorsement of the move.
“For me, it’s hard to say,” Nylander replied. “Who knows what would have happened if I had stayed over here? Hard to answer that question.”
Not anymore, now that his new hockey home will be Ricoh Coliseum.
During the hall of fame ceremonies in November, inductee Peter Forsberg, assistant GM with MoDo, said of Nylander: “Hopefully ,he will get the strength to be able to play over here because he’s going to be fantastic.”
The road to becoming “fantastic” officially starts now.
CHERRY PUZZLED BY MOVE
Count Don Cherry among the handful of critics who are not thrilled with the Maple Leafs’ decision to bring William Nylander to North America.
“Now that’s just what they need,” Cherry told The FAN 590 on Monday, his voice oozing with sarcasm. “They got (new coach Peter) Horachek going, this big deal. He needs defence, defence, defence. And to bring a small Swede over, I’m sure he’s really excited.”
The Leafs did acknowledge later in the day that plans are for Nylander to remain with the American Hockey League Marlies for the rest of the campaign. That being the case, it will be coach Kevin Dineen, not Horachek, who will oversee Nylander’s development this season.
The Leafs had to decide if they wanted to bring Nylander to North America by Jan. 16 when the transfer agreement is up. Their gain is MoDo’s pain.
“This is, unfortunately, beyond our control when the rules of the transitions are written in this way,” MoDo Hockey GM Per Svartvadet said in a statement.