John E. Sokolowski – USA TODAY Sports
As you’ve probably already heard, Toronto Maple Leafs top prospect William Nylander is dominating the AHL. The 19-year old has a league-leading 23 points in 17 games, putting him on pace to become the AHL’s first 100-point teenager.
So, is William Nylander good enough to play in the NHL?
In a word, yes. These kinds of numbers are quite literally unheard of, and Nylander’s skating and offensive skills are the kinds that can translate to the NHL easily. While he probably wouldn’t establish himself immediately as an elite, big league player, he’s good enough right now to play at least a minor role in an NHL offense.
That said, the question “Is Nylander good enough?” is fundamentally flawed. It’s a narrow-minded way of approaching the extremely large and complex issue that is reworking and rebuilding the Leafs organization. This isn’t all about Nylander, and if you start asking different questions you might find that the AHL is the best place for him to be right now.
Instead, ask yourself why Nylander should be in the NHL? There’s no simple answer, and that’s why he shouldn’t be called up.
The most common reason you’ll hear in favour of calling up Nylander is that he’ll be playing against tougher competition. It’s true that NHL players are better than AHL players – shocking, I know – but it would be silly to to look at Nylander’s stat line and assume he’s learned everything he needs to know about hockey at AHL level in such little time.
Reps are important, and Nylander will get more reps in every possible situation with the Marlies than he ever would with the Leafs. He’ll continue to learn, even if the AHL doesn’t afford him the best competition to learn against, and he’ll continue to grow. Spending another few months (yes, that’s all we’re talking about) developing his skills and refining his game will not harm him, and it certainly won’t impede his development.
The next reason you will hear in favour of Nylander on the Leafs is that he’s ready to help Toronto win now.
God, I certainly hope not. This team was not designed to win, and it’s not a team I would even really want to cheer for. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that half of this group could be gone by the start of next season, and a bunch of them were recently for the sole purpose of being traded at some point this year for future assets. Why invest emotionally in that?
The point is, the Leafs already decided they wanted to spend a few years bouncing around the bottom of the standings, picking up high picks and top prospects, and ridding themselves of veterans and big, ugly contracts. They’re not at the stage in their rebuild where it makes any sense to start inserting their top young talent into the lineup, and doing so would deviate from the plan. And even more concerning, the Leafs definitely don’t want to be inserting any young players into the lineup that could maybe single-handedly spark an offense and win some games. That would be awful.
Nylander is a special talent, and he might not look out of place if he was to make his NHL debut tomorrow. That said, what’s best for Nylander is probably more AHL time, and what’s best for the Leafs’ long-term vision is definitely more AHL time. You won’t get to see him on Hockey Night in Canada, or be smug about every goal he scores to all of your friends (and enemies) on Twitter, but I promise you there will be plenty of time for that either. Instead, buy a Marlies ticket, head down to Ricoh, and watch him dominate for now.