Does the name sound familiar? It should.
As you’ve probably heard about a million times by now, Mississauga Steelhead winger Alex Nylander is the brother of current Toronto Maple Leaf centre William Nylander. For sentimental fans, that alone is enough of a reason to draft the younger Nylander, but truth be told he could very well be the best player available when it’s the Leafs’ turn to pick this summer.
Everything’s Coming Up Nylander
So, how did Nylander become a top prospect this season? Despite signing a new two-year contract with Rogle BK in the SHL at the beginning of the year, Nylander was immediately loaned to Mississauga – the same team that tried to convince William to join them a year earlier, and the same team that hired their father as an assistant coach the day after.
With the Steelheads, he dominated. Scoring 28 goals and 75 points in just 57 games, Nylander’s 1.32 point-per-game average topped all U18 players in the OHL. And while Nylander didn’t score as much as either of London’s Matthew Tkachuk or Erie’s Alex DeBrincat – both draft eligible this season – one might argue that Nylander’s totals are still more impressive considering the lack of talent he had to work with. To put things into perspective, Mississauga’s top three scorers this year are all draft-eligible while Tkachuk rode shotgun with Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak and DeBrincat played alongside Dylan Strome.
Nylander has been equally impressive on the international stage as well, and looked particular dangerous playing alongside his brother at the U20 World Juniors for 30 or 40 seconds before William was knocked out of the tournament with a concussion. Even without his brother, though, Nylander still put up four goals and nine points in seven games – good for sixth in tournament scoring. What’s crazier is Nylander is still eligible to play in the U18 tournament, which is currently underway. He’s got eight points in four games so far, including a six-point night against the Swiss two nights ago.
The Eye Test
As I often tell you, I’m not a scout and I won’t bore you with my own observations. There’s professionals that do that much better than I.
For example, here’s Corey Pronman’s assessment of Young Nylander (Insiders) – Pronman ranked him the sixth best prospect in the draft back in February…
Son of Michael and brother of Leafs prospect William, Alexander Nylander has really opened eyes this season. Back in 2014, I had heard rumblings from scouts about how he might head up the 1998 birth year group, but he hadn’t really taken that elite step until this season. He’s a phenomenal playmaker whose hockey sense will be among the best in this year’s class. He’s not a blazing skater, but he can move at an above-average pace. Nylander has also shown commitment to improving his defensive game, with notable changes from where he was in August.
There aren’t a whole lot of scouting reports out in the wild right now from the well-known services – they’re all prepping for their annual draft guides – but I imagine many will read like this. Playmaking ability, excellent IQ and solid enough on his feet. He sounds much like William, though I’m not certain the ceiling is quite as high.
It’s these assessments that make Nylander a universal top-ten pick this year. McKeen’s is a little low on him at 8th, but everyone else pegs him in that crowded group right behind Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.
Is he a Fit?
Truth be told, though, we could talk about the scouting reports and the rankings all day and we still wouldn’t have a clue how Toronto really feels about Nylander and where he sits in their own internal rankings. If the Leafs did manage to lose big at the draft lottery and receive the fourth overall pick, I don’t think many people out there could really, truly fault them for drafting Nylander – he’s a fine player and deserves to be in the conversation.
Despite whether he’s the quote-unquote best player available, though, Toronto’s prospect pool is already flush with skilled forwards. That’s not to say they shouldn’t draft Nylander, but it’s likely where a lot of his detractors in Leafs Nation will go if Toronto should select him over someone like Jakob Chychrun (a defenceman) or even Michael McLeod (a centre).
If all else fails, at least you get two extremely skilled brothers who I assume would enjoy playing together in the NHL. Nylander might not be the perfect fit for Toronto, but it would be completely wrong to say he’s a bad one.