Leaf of the Day - Feb 11, 2009 - Gary Nylund

Feb 11, 2009 - Gary Nylund


When the Leafs drafted Luke Schenn last summer, there were a number of places online where I saw him compared to Gary Nylund.  This invariably brought dozens of posts in protest, generally by people who had certainly never seen Nylund play and were generally reacting under the premise that if we were talking about an 80s Leaf defenseman, the comparison must be bad.

Personally, though, I made the comparison as well, and it was complimentary.  Gary Nylund was a tremendous pick.  He was just unlucky.

The basics of the two players were similar.  Both were huge defensemen coming out of the west.  They played physical, primarily defensive games, but had decent mobility and could get the puck up ice with some ability.  Luke Schenn was a consensus top-5 pick.  Nylund was rated as high as number two.  Both came to their first camps and were handed #2.

Most of my fears with respect to Schenn were really based on the experience of Gary Nylund (and to a lesser extent on Nik Antropov).  When you put a big kid who is only 18-19 into game action against fully-grown adults, they can get hurt badly and this can derail otherwise good-looking careers.  Antropov had major surgery on both knees and one shoulder (or was it both shoulders and one knee?  Either way, it was three of four major joints) before he was 21.  Even Orr, as spectacular as he was, was never 100 percent because of an injury he got while still 18.

Nylund's case was the same.  He was wowing everyone at his first camp when he got drilled by Wilf Paiement of the Nordiques during a preseason game.  Torn ACL.  He had surgery and didn't get to make his Leaf debut until February.  The Leafs had the option of sending him back to junior, but thought they'd rather have him at the NHL level and so he played his first games with a knee brace on.  16 games in, he tore that ACL again.  Gone until December.

Now, Gary never hurt that knee again, but he never really was able to achieve what people thought he would.  He became a solid guy but never a star.  Playing major minutes on a brutal Leaf defense likely didn't help.  Getting repeatedly dumped on in the papers couldn't have helped much either.

Gary left as a restricted free agent (whatever they called it at the time) in 1986 when he was signed by Chicago.  At the time, there was no fixed compensation, so each club would submit competing demands and an arbitrator would pick one of them.  Ballard, chief Nylund crapper most of the time, suddenly decided he was the bedrock of the Leaf defense and demanded young star Eddie Olczyk.  The counter-offer from Chicago was Jerome Dupont and Ken Yaremchuk.  Since Ballard's demand was sky-high, the Leafs wound up with the lesser package.  It wasn't value for value.

The biggest thing I remember about Nylund, other that waiting for him to finally play, was a scrap with Bob Probert of Detroit.  It was a nasty one, no shortage of hair pulling, etc.  At one point, Gary gets Bob's helment off and cracks him over the head with it. 

video evidence:

At any rate, when you look at Schenn, that's basically  who Nylund was supposed to be.  Gary went on to become a firefighter in BC and was awarded the BC Medal for Valor and the Canadian Medal for Bravery.

Gary's stats:

1978-79  Delta Sun   BCJHL   57 6 29 35 107          
1978-79  Portland Winter Hawks  WHL  2 0 0 0 0
1979-80  Portland Winter Hawks  WHL  72 5 21 26 59 8 0 1 1 2
1980-81  Portland Winter Hawks  WHL  70 6 40 46 186 9 1 7 8 17
1981-82  Portland Winter Hawks  WHL  65 7 59 66 267 15 3 16 19 74
1981-82  Canada  WJC-A  7 1 3 4 0
1981-82  Portland Winter Hawks  M-Cup  4 0 2 2 10
1982-83  Toronto Maple Leafs NHL  16 0 3 3 16 0          
1983-84  Toronto Maple Leafs NHL  47 2 14 16 103 -27          
1984-85  Toronto Maple Leafs NHL  76 3 17 20 99 -37          
1985-86  Toronto Maple Leafs NHL  79 2 16 18 180 -32 10 0 2 2 25
1986-87  Chicago Blackhawks  NHL  80 7 20 27 190 -9 4 0 2 2 11
1987-88  Chicago Blackhawks  NHL  76 4 15 19 208 -9 5 0 0 0 10
1988-89  Chicago Blackhawks  NHL  23 3 2 5 63 -4
1988-89  New York Islanders  NHL  46 4 8 12 74 -15
1989-90  New York Islanders  NHL  64 4 21 25 144 +8 5 0 2 2 17
1990-91  New York Islanders  NHL  72 2 21 23 105 -8
1991-92  New York Islanders  NHL  7 0 1 1 10 -3
1991-92  Capital District Islanders  AHL  4 0 0 0 0
1992-93  New York Islanders  NHL  22 1 1 2 43 -2
1992-93  Capital District Islanders  AHL  2 0 0 0 0
Leaf Totals    218 7 50 57 398 -96 10 0 2 2 25
NHL Totals  608 32 139 171 1235 -138 24 0 6 6 63

WHL First All-Star Team (1982)
Memorial Cup Tournament All-Star Team (1982)

- Signed as a free agent by Chicago, August 27, 1986.
- Traded to NY Islanders by Chicago with Marc Bergevin for Steve Konroyd and Bob Bassen, November 25, 1988.

the HHOF take on Gary:

Gary Nylund appeared to be the complete package on defence when he joined the NHL in 1982. The 6'4" hulk was a punishing hitter whose mobility and passing ability far exceeded most big men in the game. A knee injury suffered as a rookie curtailed his development and he ended up being a solid role player in eleven NHL seasons rather than a star.

The native of Surrey, British Columbia played in the BCJHL with the Delta Islanders before joining the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks. In 1981-82, he registered 59 assists, was placed on the league's first all-star team, and helped Portland reach the Memorial Cup tournament. Although the Kitchener Rangers won the Cup, Nylund was placed on the tournament all-star team. That year he was a key figure when Canada won its first-ever-gold medal at the World Junior Championships in 1982. The talented prospect was chosen 3rd overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Entry Draft after only Gord Kluzak and Brian Bellows.

Nylund was off to a fine start as a rookie in the 1982-83 pre-season but twisted his knee when he checked Quebec's Wilf Paiement and was able to play only a few games in mid-season. After re-injuring his knee, Nylund remained on the sidelines for the rest of the year and did not return until the 1983-84 schedule was over 30 games old. The youngster showed glimpses of returning to form but he never rose to the top three on the fairly weak Toronto defence. Nylund played 79 games in 1985-86 and doled out several punishing bodychecks when the Maple Leafs came within one game of the semi-finals.

In the off-season, Nylund signed with the Chicago Black Hawks as a restricted free agent and helped solidify their blueline for nearly three years. He scored a career-high 27 points in 1986-87 and fit in well on the deeper Hawks defense corps. In November 1988 he was traded to the New York Islanders and was a solid performer there until he retired early in the 1992-93 season.


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