When the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted William Nylander with the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, a lot of people said that the Leafs got someone who was arguably the most skilled player in the draft. That’s pretty good, taking into account their past draft history of taking big, strong, truculent type players in the first round.
Now that prospect camp is over and Nylander has seen his first taste of playing in Toronto, now the goal is clear for him.
“It’s my goal… I have never been at that level. It’s something that we’ll have to wait and see what happens. It’s something I’m working hard for right now and all summer to try and make a great impression there.”
Brendan Shanahan had this to say about him.
“He’s been very impressive. And not to put pressure on a young player like that, I think the first step was just getting him here… What really impresses me about William, aside from the skill level he has, is just his character that he’s shown since he’s been here.”
Now, Director of Player Development Jim Hughes’ thoughts.
“Willy is obviously a great hockey player and you can see his skating and you can see his skill sets; they’re elite.”
So the Leafs obviously think the world of him. He could turn out to be a difference maker on this team as early as this year. So why should the Leafs keep him this year?
It could create so many good problems. If Nylander stays at his natural center position, then his presence should light a fire underneath Nazem Kadri‘s behind as to not lose his second-line spot. If Nylander moves over to the right wing, he could push David Clarkson down to the third-line. With a bounce-back season from Clarkson, that could give the Leafs three pretty good lines that could all put the puck in the net.
Would it do any harm to send Nylander down to the Toronto Marlies or send him back to Sweden for a year? No, it wouldn’t, but I remember the last time the Leafs drafted a highly-skilled center in the top 10 of the draft.
In 2009, the Leafs took Kadri. After a great training camp, the Leafs elected to send him back down to junior. What followed is years of will he or won’t he ever fulfill his potential. Now, with the character that the Leafs say Nylander has, maybe that won’t happen, but history might repeat itself.
Nylander still has some work to do to get bigger as he is only 5’9″. If he can do that, there should be nothing stopping him from donning a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey on October 8.