William Nylander spent a lot of time in Toronto over the holidays thanks to the World Junior Championship and now, he’s heading back to suit up for the American League’s Marlies.
Nylander, a dynamic offensive player who can line up at center or on the wing, had been playing for Modo, the legendary Swedish League team that is going through a lot of turmoil right now. The franchise hasn’t won a game in a month and sits last in the SHL, meaning relegation to the second-tier Allsvenskan is a distinct possibility. Several of the team’s best offensive players have been teenagers such as Nylander, Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles) and Victor Olofsson (Buffalo), while the club recently signed former NHL enforcer Donald Brashear because their players were getting run too often by the opposition. They had already fired their coach, too.
Team Sweden played all its world junior games in Toronto and while Nylander was dazzling at times, he was also outside the voting for both the media all-star team and the top three players for Sweden as selected by the coaches. Playing on a line with Detroit pick Axel Holmstrom and Flyers prospect Oscar Lindblom, Nylander notched 10 points in seven games to lead the Swedes in scoring. But clutch goals were harder to come by and Sweden lost the bronze medal to a hungrier Slovakia. That came on the heels of another flat team outing against the Russians in the semi-final, which cost the Swedes a shot at gold.
With extremely slick hands, a creative mind and quick skating, Nylander can be a handful when he has the puck. While it is undoubtedly a loss for Modo (as he was their second-highest scorer, while playing far fewer games than the leader), the obvious question was where he should play in North America.
The Maple Leafs have won just three of their past 10 games and currently sit outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Only Tampa Bay has scored more goals than Toronto, so offense is not the problem and that’s where Nylander will certainly make his mark as an NHLer. So that really wouldn’t have been prudent.
The AHL’s Marlies, on the other hand, have one of the weakest attacks on that circuit and playing against developing defensemen (or older blueliners who aren’t in the NHL for one reason or another) might look like a feasting opportunity for Nylander. Though the Marlies are also outside of the post-season right now, they have gone 6-1-3 in their past 10 and are gaining ground in the race for that final slot.
With the Marlies, Nylander will be a go-to guy when it comes to scoring and can help boost Toronto’s power play, which is one of the worst in the AHL at just 12.2 percent. Playing on the smaller North American ice surface during the world juniors didn’t seem to faze him, but getting Nylander more reps over here won’t hurt his transition to what Toronto naturally hopes will be a long and prosperous career while wearing blue and white. Plus, he can round out his game under the watchful eye of Maple Leafs brass.
The AHL has always been a great circuit for developing talent and the league just added another future NHL gem to its ranks.