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FTB: Why it’s easier to like William Nylander this year

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If a Swede scores in a forest and no one is there to see it, did it really happen?

Calgary Flames v Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 16: William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal against the Calgary Flames during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on January 16, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

Why do more people seem to like William Nylander this year?

Has he been working hard on his PR through commercials and social media? Did he save a puppy from a burning building? Did he do something with his hair?

Nope, none of that.

Goals.

Nylander’s been scoring more this year, and particularly at the moments when the fans are paying the most attention. That’s it. He hasn’t changed any part of his game, he’s just gotten the goals he’s always deserved at good times this year and has been very consistent in doing so.

First let’s look at shooting percentage, because it’s the one thing that we all know has bitten Nylander up until this point. Shooting percentages are not skilled-based, established players in the league will always tend towards the mean in shooting percentage throughout their careers. Some years will be hot, others will be cold.

For Nylander, he started his career averaging about 7% shooting at 5v5, closer to 8% in all situations. In particular, he shot 5% all of last year, therefore his personal shot totals were low. And if the counting stats aren’t there, people will tend to think you suck, not that you spent your whole season with Patrick Marleau.

That brings us to this year, and why Nylander has been a “revelation” according to the mainstream media. Goals.

This year, Nylander is second on the Leafs in goals with 21, behind Auston Matthews by 13 (lol), but ahead of John Tavares by three. Nylander is scoring, shooting 13% at 5v5 and 15% in all situations. But more importantly, Nylander is also second on the team in home goals with 10, including the one last night that tied the game. Speaking of which, he’s second on the team in game-winning goals with three. Heck, he’s even second on the team with four goals on a Saturday!

I can keep going. He’s second to Matthews with 12 goals in Leaf wins (when fans are more likely to watch the highlights), he’s second in power play goals (when fans pay more attention because there’s a higher chance of a goal), he’s second in power play primary assists (four, tied with Matthews and Marner), he’s second in shots, and he hasn’t gone more than four games without a point all season.

These goals or points aren’t statistically significant, there is no special reason why they’re happening, but they are ones that happen when the most people are watching and cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Home games, weekends, tight games; entertaining games. If Nylander is getting some luck in all areas of his offense, including some extra goals on extra special nights, that’s only going to boost his stock in the eyes of fans.

In every scoring stat this year, Nylander is behind Matthews or Tavares, but ahead of everyone else. Good, solid, realistic production. This is regression at it’s finest, and it’s been well-deserved because his on-ice shot share and expected goals numbers haven’t changed much from last year to this year. The only thing that’s seen a mild improvement is his individual expected goals and total number of shots taken, but that can be attributed to playing in scoring minutes with good players.

Nylander’s always been able to get shots from the slot and in front of the net. He’s been doing it his entire career (2018, 2019, 2020). The only difference; those shots are going in the net.

He’s a good player with a good shot, he’s always had this skill, and I’m super happy to see the puck finally going in for him.

Live free, Willy.

And Bing Bing Bang Booka Booka Yaaa.

The Branches

  • Here is the recap from the Leafs 2-1 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames where Nylander’s game-tying goal late was the only one the Leafs could muster against David Rittich. Did you know no site has game-tying goals available anywhere? Or games sorted by day of the week? Yeah, I had to do that by hand. Okay, I’m going off topic. The recap. [Arvind]
  • Chris Johnston’s post-game recap with quotes and all that good stuff over at Sportsnet. The Leafs think they played a better game on defense. I’m not so sure about that. [Chris Johnston]
  • Dion Phaneuf? DION PHANEUF!? What is happening?!! [Katya]
  • A quick primer on the 2020 draftees and maybe some players the Leafs can pick up with their guaranteed second rounder (unless they trade it). [Seldo]
  • Pierre Engvall: a versatile force. I wonder who had that in the summer? Hmm... [Kristen Shilton]
  • Stephen Johns should be your runaway Masterton Award winner this year. Here’s our sister site, Defending Big D talking about his call up, and whether the player they saw two years ago will be the one they see again in the NHL. [Kathleen Tibbetts] [Wes Lawrence]