Each season, PPP's NHL Draft Profile series examines the players the Leafs might consider on draft day. This year, ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo on June 24 and 25, we'll be profiling players in the ranges where the Leafs will select early (Toronto has three picks in the first 31 selections) and some potential targets late in the class.
And there's no better place to start than with Alex Nylander, William's younger brother.
In his own right, Alex has stepped out of William and his father Michael's shadow, particularly in the last two seasons.
After a strong campaign AIK's J20 program in Sweden as a 16 and 17-year-old -- where he led the team in scoring with 40 points in 42 games despite his youth -- and a standout performance as Sweden's best player at the World Under-17s, Alex was dominant as a rookie with the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL before regaining his international success at the World Juniors (once again as Sweden's leading scorer).
Read excerpts from my story on Alex at McKeen's Hockey from the end of October below to get a better sense of just how easy he made the transition look.
"He’s got a very accurate shot, he’s got great hands, he’s poised with the puck, he’s an elusive skater, he can twist and turn in tight and get himself out of trouble," Boyd said, adding that comparisons to his brother are warranted. "He’s very much like his brother William with his skillset – exciting to watch." - Mississauga Steelheads head coach James Boyd
"He’s (Alex) a good player, skilled player, you’ve got to be hard on him, you’ve got to finish checks on him," Brown said. "It’s disappointing to have a guy like that come into our building and I don’t think we finished a check on him once tonight." - Ottawa 67's head coach Jeff Brown
"He’s a pretty good all around player and he works like everyone else on his team so that’s what’s exciting about it," the 920-game NHL veteran said before the game. - Mississauga Steelheads assistant coach and Alex's father Michael
With the Steelheads, Alex led all OHL rookies in scoring with 75 points in 57 games, outscoring draft eligible linemate and top prospect Michael McLeod by 14 points in the same number of games. His 1.32 points per game was good enough for 16th in the OHL and third among OHL draft-eligible forwards behind Matthew Tkachuk (1.88) and Alex DeBrincat (1.68), both of whom played with superior linemates and on better teams.
At the World Juniors, after William suffered a concussion, Alex finished sixth in tournament scoring as one of a dozen or so draft-eligible forwards to participate with nine points in seven games.
And despite a strong start to his OHL career, with six points in his first three games, Alex's development actually progressed with the season. In the playoffs, Alex registered 12 points (6G, 6A) in six games as his Steelheads fell to the Barrie Colts in the first round. He was utterly dominant in the series and was named first star of the game three times as a result.
Stylistically, Nylander's best asset is his incredibly accurate shot, which allows him to pick his spots on the net and beat goaltenders cleanly off the rush or in the slot.
In all three of my in-person viewings of Nylander this season, I was wowed by his ability to change directions in traffic (a necessary trait for a gifted playmaker who lacks a physically imposing frame in today's NHL) and weave around the offensive zone protecting the puck.
He loves to cut to the inside off of either wing (he has played both this season) and draw attention to open up space for a drop pass to the outside or fire through traffic. In all of my viewings, especially the first, he was the best player on the ice.
A versatile player, Alex played the point on the powerplay and often the first PK unit (dependent on rest) this season. He's excellent with his stick and able to lift pucks off of defenders without taking many stick infractions (rarely takes penalties). He's definitely strong defensively than he's given credit and his coaches will vouch for him.
Watch his impressive sequence both offensively and on the forecheck at Ivan Hlinka last summer, and notice how he never gives up on the play even after missing his shot.
More than just a passer, he likes to use his low-follow-through slapshot to beat goalies over the pad. Off the rush, his release is effortless, shifting his weight to shoot off of his back heel quickly.
Watch this standstill release from Ivan Hlinka, where he identifies his spot and beats the goalie under the bar blocker side.
And again, that versatility as a multi-threat shooter he scores one of his many low slapshot goals with the Steelheads this season.
As a skater, he could stand to get stronger physically and add another gear but his stride is fluid and he can change speeds to catch defenders off balance on the pivot.
With a nearly 50/50 chance of sliding to fourth overall and no clear consensus fourth overall selection (there's a case to be made for all of Matthew Tkachuk, Jakob Chychrun, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Clayton Keller and Alex in my opinion), there's a good chance Nylander is in the discussion if the Leafs are on the board at No. 4 or decide to move back a few spots.
He is without a doubt one of the most gifted players in the 2016 class and has solidified his place in the tier of prospects outside the top-three.