I've thrown a tremendous amount of shade at Maple Leafs Head of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison over the summer, both in these articles, on this blog and on Twitter. The primary reason for that was simple; I don't think the Leafs have drafted enough skill, and I think their results have been average to poor for too long to justify Morrison remaining in charge.
However, this past June, when the Maple Leafs first pick in the 2014 Entry Draft came up, and faced with a choice of taking one of two immensely talented players available (William Nylander or Nikolaj Ehlers), or a talented but more rugged option (Nick Ritchie), the Leafs, like PPP's braintrust during SBNation's Mock Draft, opted for the most skilled player available, choosing Nylander 8th overall (we chose Ehlers for the same reason but with less in-depth knowledge).
So in this instance we need to give Morrison and his team credit where it's due; the Leafs organization badly needs high-skill players at every position in the pipeline, and Nylander was one of the most highly-skilled players available at our draft slot. That promise at such a young age catapults Nylander into 4th place in his debut on our Top 25.
|Birthyear:||1996-05-01||Birthplace:||Calgary, AB, CAN|
|Age:||18||Nation:||Sweden / Canada|
|Height:||180 cm / 5'11"||Weight:||77 kg / 170 lbs|
|Youth Team:||Chicago Mission||Contract:||16/17|
|Drafted:||2014 round 1 #8 overall by Toronto Maple Leafs|
Like so many top prospects coming from Europe, the thing that gives us high hopes for a young skilled player like Nylander is his success in professional hockey at an age where their counterparts in North America typically compete in Under-20 junior leagues.
One of my favourite things about the Eliteprospects site, the site we use for all bio and playing history stats in these articles, is that they go to the length of recording details for as many different sites as possible. So for Nylander, a guy who spent his draft season playing in a lot of different leagues, you get a better sense of just how he's doing against different levels of competition.
Nylander had two spells with teams in the Allsvenskan, Sweden's second tier professional league, during which he scored a combined 27 points in 37 games, exceptional numbers for a 17-year old. However, he also had 22 games with his home club MODO in the SHL, and while he only had 7 points, once again let me remind you that this is a 17 year old playing in a league littered with former and future NHL players. So while that doesn't have the "WOW" factor of scoring 100 points in the CHL in a league filled with similarly aged but less skilled junior hockey players, it's a good omen that a young, still physically maturing kid like Nylander has the talent to succeed against men older and stronger than him. And when Nylander did compete with kids his own age, representing Sweden at the Under-18 championships, he led the tournament in scoring with 16 points in 7 games.
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When we spoke with Gus Katsaros of McKeen's Hockey about him, he highlighted that this is a player that does tremendous things with the puck, but whose game needs polish.
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.
Howver, 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.
What's next for William Nylander is really anybody's guess. The Leafs could bring him into the NHL right away, but that seems unlikely, due to where Nylander's size and strength are right now. He could return to Sweden, though his contract was structured such that it expired around the time he was drafted, which would allow him to come to North America more freely.
The Marlies seem the most logical and attractive option, as the quality of play will remain at a high enough level to test Nylander, while also bringing him into the Leafs' circle for monitoring his coaching, his development and his acclimatization to the North American style of game (Though here Nylander may have something of a leg up on the average Swedish prospect. Nylander has played minor hockey in the United States while his father, Michael Nylander wound up his career in the NHL). He was also drafted by the Mississauga Steelheads but the OHL does not seem to be an avenue they are interested in pursuing. If Nylander does not make the Maple Leafs, it appears the choice will be between the AHL and SHL.
|Name||birky||BowerPower||Burtch||Chemmy||clrkaitken||Nikota||PPP||SkinnyFish||67 Sound||FINAL RANK|
Most of our panel saw Nylander's skill as exceeding that of the other players that have been profiled so far, that his ceiling and young age made it reasonable to immediately promote him to the upper reaches of our list. He even managed to snare a 2nd place vote, which is pretty impressive for an 18-year old.
Nylander has top-end skill but could stand to add some weight. Should produce at the NHL level in a top six role. Steve Burtch
Brilliant pick this year. A dynamic offensive player who needs to grow and work on his defensive game, exactly the sort of player the Leafs should be taking. 67 Sound
Nylander was comfortably in 4th place, with a fair bit of distance between the three established NHLers and Peter Holland in 5th.