The Scouting Report
By this point, most visitors to this site will have seen William Nylander play live at least once, and should be able to confirm the scouting reports they've already read of the kid. Here is an except from the Top 25 Under 25 via scout and all-around good guy Gus Katsaros that followed the Leafs' drafting Nylander:
Exemplary vision, puckhandling skills .. gifted soft hands and exceptional in close puck skills .. can dangle as a solo artist, disguising intentions and supplementing mature stick handling skills and patience to hold on to the puck for as long as he must until an opportunity exists . innovative off the rush, inherently creative with solid vision and sharp instincts .. solid skating begins with an explosive first-burst acceleration and change of pace .. at best when cradling and playing a puck possession game.
However, he can appear somewhat selfish at times, holding on the puck a little too long, breaking down the play instead of trying to move it to a better option .. will frustrate at times trying to overhandle or do too much on his own .. defensive game is lackluster and has to be diligent about keeping his feet moving .. shooting velocity can improve .. defaults to outside drives instead of to the inside, which can be exploited by a veteran defender.
I'll make a few updates to Katsaros' scouting report to reflect some of the progress Nylander has made in the past two seasons:
- The vision, puckhandling skills, and soft hands are all still readily visible, and have even been so at the NHL level, which suggests that they're going to be dangerous assets for him for years to come.
- Katsaros mentions Nylander's ability to hang onto the puck as both a strength ("patience ... opportunity") and also as a weakness ("somewhat selfish ... breaking down the play ... overhandle"), and I'm inclined to say that this is still an area that Nylander has to work on, but not so much that he erodes his creativity. This is the type of criticism often levelled at Nazem Kadri, but the truth is that teams need a couple guys who will take a risk to make a play. In Nylander's time in the AHL, he has learned to shorten his decision-making times and not to get too fancy with the puck, and the NHL will surely expose more of it next season when he plays more games. On the other hand, just look at the second highlight in the above video against Detroit. Nylander carrying the puck around up high by the blue line is a high-risk play, but his speed and edge work are great, and his patience really is what scores the goal.
- The other thing I think we should take from Nylander's last two years is that, similar to Phil Kessel, he's evolved into what you might call an underrated playmaker. Although I wouldn't characterize either player as a playmaker first, the passing ability is undeniable.
- Nylander's skating? Yeah, that still looks great, even at the NHL level, so if he continues training the way we've seen him, this is going to be a big asset for him going forward.
- So much is made of Nylander's speed and creativity with the puck that another side of his game is often overlooked: he's a sniper. He has the ability to fade into nothing and then pounce on pucks that somehow find him in the nothingness. You can check out the 5:29 mark in the Youtube video above for a great example of that against the Sabres, but there are piles more like it in that video. What with his wheels, wrister, and ability to get open, Nylander will at times remind you once again just a little of Kessel. To be clear, Nylander doesn't skate or shoot anything like Phil, but he scores the types of goals that Phil did. Hey, did you know that both Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are really great passers? Ungh.
- Katasaros mentions Nylander's defensive leaving much to be desired. It seems to me at this point unlikely that Nylander is ever going to be a great two-way forward, but he's not terrible in the D-zone, either. He reads developing plays well and uses a good active stick to intercept passes and head in the other direction quickly. His active stick is equally well suited to checking a puck carrier. Nylander has got work to do in the defensive end, don't get me wrong, but he's not without defensive awareness. Worth noting is that his HERO chart from last season looked great, albeit with a very limited sample size. If his chart looks like this through next season though, his defensive game will be the least of our worries:
Apart from the small sample size, the other thing that is worth noting in Nylander's HERO chart is that his WOWY numbers don't look great, but for a first-year rookie, this is pretty darn encouraging. What's more is that he seemed to fare well against tougher competition, though again, the important caveat is that he did so in a small sample size:
Here are the FWDs from last year. Removed Brown & Gauthier for tiny sample size. Look at Nyander! (small sample): pic.twitter.com/IULuJfs0Mx— birky (@b1rky) July 19, 2016
The Voting Breakdown
Nylander beat out Marner by only the narrowest of margins. Only a single voting point separated the two players, and you can see that Nylander was ranked by most people as lower than 2nd.
|Scott Wheeler||67 Sound||Birky||Arvind||Elseldo||Emily||Achariya|
|JP Nikota||Species||Burtch||Katya||Fulemin||Mike B||Chris H|
From Acting the Fulemin:
I've seen Nylander play pro hockey and I haven't seen Marner do that yet. That's the entire reason for me; they're both first-class prospects.
From El Seldo:
I put Nylander ahead because he's played pro hockey already, where Marner has only produced big numbers in junior. They're both tops but Marner was also on a stacked line with Tkachuk and Dvorak. I love them both but right now Nylander is higher. (If I hadn't forgotten he was only 22 Rielly would have been ahead of both these guys, I always assume he's 24)
From Scott Wheeler:
There are still concerns about whether Marner will be able to smoothly transition into a dominant threat at the NHL level, largely because of his size and his lack of high-end speed. With Nylander, speed and size aren’t concerns (the latter never was), and he has proven he can be elite in two professional leagues now. It’s close, and could have gone either way, but I think that gives Nylander the slight edge.
Just sayin'. pic.twitter.com/HKIylVHGsm— J.P. Nikota (@JPNikota) July 17, 2016