TLN Draft Prospect Watch: Alexander Nylander

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.

  • Gary Empey

    This year my gut feeling is someone in the top ten will be passed over and later on become an NHL all-star. This will lead the fans to say “How did our scouts miss that one”

  • Tybot

    I personally wouldn’t want the Sedins equivalency in Toronto, juggling two Nylander contracts. Plus, Tkachuk would probably be Toronto’s best bet for 4th.

    • CMpuck

      Think the opposite on that one, having both Nylanders anchors them and gives the club leverage to sign them to more cap friendly contracts long term.

      Were the twins ever really a problem in Vancouver?

      The other side is that perhaps we could lure Alex via free agency one day like the Niedermayers in Anaheim but that works both ways.

      Realistically though, only seeing Nylander getting draft by the Leafs if a trade, up or down is involved.

      • Tybot

        Truth! Yeah I guess I am only thinking of the Sedins recently and how the Canucks are probably now stuck with two huge contracts, but it’s been great having the two of them in past years.

  • MatsSundin#13

    Has anyone else been noticing how unimpressive Chychrun has been at the u18 tournament, or is it just me? Sure he’s a nice skater, but he’s seemed ineffective. Gifted Slovakia their only goal.

    • magesticRAGE

      I’ve been unimpressed as well. I do see his poise with the puck, but I question what he does with it. A lot of his rushes are ill timed and lead too nowhere. I would rather look at Jake Bean or Sean Day with the Pen’s pick (offer Percy to move up).

      I think Nylander has the highest skill level behind the big 3. Tkachuk has more grit too his game, but not the game breaking ability that the top picks are supposed to have. Place Tkachuk in the same position that Nylander had, I see him producing, but at a lower rate. I see him as a 3rd line player, and Nylander being tip 6.

      • magesticRAGE

        My own stats-only based draft rankings spreadsheet have Bean as the #2 player (not just D) from the OHL/WHL/QMJHL. It’s skewed a bit from him having 24(!) goals as a D, though. I think Nylander was #1. Or was it Tkachuk…

        It also shows that we may have made a bit of a mistake trading that pick last year to Philly that they used on Travis Konecny… he lit it up this year. Not that our 2 guys from that trade have been disappointments, but he looks like a steal.

  • Tybot

    everyone knows the Leafs are over-stacked with small skilled wingers/forwards. They do need one more elite/top six forward, but besides elite skills, he must also add overall team speed or size, or both. Do you notice that Tkachuk promoters defend his size and skating, not rave about it? Also, the Leafs need another top-six center, but one with size. Can you understand how all the guys salivating over Strome, are not promoting Dubois, whom CSS has as #1 North American? Matthews and Laine are in one class, Puljujarvi and Dubois the next, all adding size to the 1st line….. but Nylander and Nylander, if similar to Sedin-Sedin, would be excellent. The only problem, is the Leafs are in position to draft 5’11 Asplund and 5’11 Dahlen, both elite talents, but a little too much if the Leafs got Alex.

  • Tybot

    i want dante fabbro or tyson jost with a later pick. hope one is available. 4th should be dubois over tkachuk. he’s fine but he’s riding the coat tails of two top talents in the ohl. nylander should go 6th/7th. chychrun is a big gamble.