2. William Nylander
Often criticized for being too ‘lazy’ and ‘lacking any impact skill’, Nylander destroyed any rumours about his gameplay this year.
Before we talk about his style of play and on-ice results, first we must discuss the one criticism of Nylander that is absolutely foolish – his contract.
Choosing to sit out the first two months of the 2018-19 season, Nylander decided to bet on himself and wait until he received a contract offer that he believed was fair. Agreeing to a 6-year, $6,900,000 on December 1st, 2018, Nylander was forced to jump in mid-way through a marathon where he had no real chance of catching up in.
Finishing the 2018-19 season with 7 goals and 27 points (stats; NHL.com), many fans labelled Dubas as weak and that he gave into Nylander’s demands – boy are those people wrong.
Immediately following the 2019 playoffs, Nylander joined Team Sweden for the World Championships and flat-out dominated. Nylander led the tournament in points with 18 in 8 games (stats; IIHF.com), more than NHL superstars such as Nikita Kucherov, Mark Stone, Patrick Kane, and Leon Draisaitl.
This tournament was exactly what Nylander needed to come back in 2019-20 as the player many projected him to be. The IIHF tourney, coupled with a number change to what he wore playing for Sweden, was the confidence boost Nylander needed to push him into the upper echelon of NHL stars.
One could even argue Nylander is underpaid. Evolving-hockey.com projects that if Nylander were to become a free agent this offseason, coming off the year he had, he could land an 8-year, $8,193,000 deal – almost $1.2 million more than the contract he signed.
Nylander also evolved on the defensive side as well, registering a 56% Corsi-for percentage at even strength, indicating that when the Swede is on the ice, the Leafs control majority of the play.