William Nylander and The Beautiful Game

Yesterday morning, Dave Feschuk and Steve Simmons met on the radio to talk hockey, and the subject of William Nylander came up. Their take below thanks to the transcribing of Platinum Seat Ghosts:

There are a lot of reasons why this is ridiculous. He’s just a rookie, he’s been really good already, his usage hasn’t been ideal, it’s ignorant and toxic. But this is a story that puts a different spin on it all.

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Have any readers heard of a man named Edson Arantes do Nascimento? You might know him better as Dico. Or perhaps, as Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend. 

If you didn’t follow his career, or see the movie based on his life, the story of Pelé goes like this: a young soccer phenom makes a pro team playing a “primitive” but effective style known as The Ginga Style. In the movie version, his nickname Pelé comes from being made fun of by rich kids who gave him the name to mock the style he played. 

Also in the movie, Pelé plays for a coach who refuses to let him (and his teammates) play the Ginga Style, in favour of a more structured and strategic game like their opponents played. And, the media continually rips on Pelé whenever he uses the Ginga, suggesting it could never succeed on the big stage against the structured game of the elite European football teams.

SPOILER: The Ginga Style eventually helps Pelé defeat the Swedish team for the World Cup on Swedish soil. A beautiful moment. I cried.

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Now, how does this all relate to William Nylander? Well, in the NHL it would be reasonable to relate Nylander’s play to the Ginga. His elegant control of the puck and smooth skating are a beautiful thing to watch. But hacks and haters tend to disregard its beauty. And while they scowl from the sidelines, those who play The Beautiful Game go on dominating without a bother. 

So what could we call Nylander that isn’t an insult, but some would use it as one, similar to Pelé? I dunno, how about “European”?

Anyway, Nylander has been good in all the statistical categories you would want (1.3 5v5 P60, +2.36 CF Rel, 14 total points in 18 games). Also, he’s still just a rookie. How one could go about insulting his effort when he’s been so clearly good is baffling. But similar to the Brazilian media dismissing Pelé, these two members of the Toronto media are starting to dismiss Nylander the same way they and others like them have dismissed elite scoring talents who have come through Toronto in the past (Sundin and Kessel, namely).

Thankfully, even though the Feschuk and Simmons are playing the same part as the Brazilian media, Babcock refuses to play the same part of the Brazilian National Team coach. Nylander is still playing a top-6 role with this team, and will continue to for the foreseeable future. Undoubtedly, Babcock sees what I see, and what many other Nylander-lovers see is that his calm approach to the game is not a fault, but an asset.


Feschuk and Simmons going in this direction isn’t really surprising. They’ve continued to be either ignorant or willfully toxic content producers for years now. But it’s important to head this Nylander take off as soon as possible because it wouldn’t be surprising to see catching steam among the more ignorant side of hockey fandom. Because where some might see a lack of effort, it’s important to notice patience. And where some see unreliability, it’s important to remember the inherent streakiness of scoring. 

Leafs fans can hope that the story of William Nylander is one of redemption and heroics like that of Pelé. Or, in the meantime, they can just appreciate that he’s already really, really good. 

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  • espo

    hate, absolutely HATE, having to agree Simmons here, (thankfully Feschuk is still an idiot) but ya, Nylander looks a little lazy without the puck some games.

    Liked the pick, love the player, think he could do a little more to get the puck back some games, maybe get in a few more passing lanes on a consistent basis. Ridiculous shot makes up for a lot though. Can coast through a game and end up with 2 goals and a rebound assist.

    Saying he’s so smooth it looks like he isn’t trying seems like a cop out, it made sense for guys like Sundin and Lidstrom, might be a little early to throw this swede up into the same stratosphere as those two.

    • HockeyKeeperKit

      I think you’ve hit on something that needs to be clarified. Coasting in the defensive zone is bad, yes. Coasting in the offensive zone, not so much. The guys who are really chugging around in the offensive zone (for instance, the Hyman-types) tend to get zeroed in on much more than the guy who floats into his trigger point. It’s always amazing when I see an Ovechkin or Stamkos get their one-timers off from the same spot, every time without coverage, but its mostly because they are masters at floating around and getting to ‘that spot’ while directing as little attention on themselves as possible.

      The same thing might be true sort of from a European perspective in the defensive zone. We all like to see the guys at full speed, zipping from target to target, making contact, etc. but I think someone like Nylander might be floating a bit more there because he is looking to float into lanes to make a turnover with his stick (and a resulting quick breakout) rather than engaging contact to create one. Sort of like Lindholm with that bat-down for Carolina in the last game. Can you win with an entire line playing that way? Probably not. But I think you can afford to have maybe one guy like Nylander playing more of a “snake in the weeds” role on defense to create the fast breaks. When it doesn’t work, he looks lazy. When it does, you get something like the aforementioned Lindholm shorty assist the other night.

      • espo

        love that take, and that’s exactly what I meant. Nylander is great when he’s snaking his way open, I’m not talking about when he’s away from the puck (leafs have it, he doesn’t) his positioning offensively almost always seems spot on.

        I’ve noticed it more on opposition zone exits. *in fairness, haven’t seen this much lately* Not expecting the kid to start standing up power forwards and taking the puck off them while they’re on their asses, Nylander seems to be at his best, defensively, when he’s skating. Getting into passing lanes, making those pick off plays. not just waving his stick at a player as they skate past. Great talent, has room to grow. Super excited to see what he can grow into.

        • Stan Smith

          I thought the way Nylander played last season for both the Marlies and the Leafs was more like a winger, hanging around the dog l slot while one of the wingers persued the puck more like you would expect the center to. But this season he has impressed me more with his pursuit of the puck in the offensive zone. He doesn’t seem as afraid of going into the dirty areas as he was last season. He could become a center yet. He still needs work on the neutral and defensive zones but that’s typical of a rookie.

          Now Matthews is a different case. I think he is very soft in all the zones when he doesn’t have the puck. He doesn’t finish his checks in any zone. He is great at using his big body when he has the puck but still has to learn how to use it to get the puck.

  • Olof Backstrom

    Ahh, your’re right.
    He’s European, he looks lazy, he’s too good looking. Marner.. not so pretty but he’s Canadian. Matthews, well first round pick and he plays hard, not like that softy blond guy!
    Let’s get it straight, Bill Nye has the best vision on the team!
    You’re right absolutely spot on and it’s getting old.

    • espo

      Noticed that sneaky narrative lately eh, forget which one, but one of the radio boys was saying Marner has the potential to be the greatest leaf of all time. (probably should have capitalized all that the way he said it…).

      Love the enthusiasm, (Marner probably going on the next jersey) but thats suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper early for that kind of non-sense

  • Awesomodian

    I am not sure about toxic? But both those hacks have based thier careers around negative hyperbole so I not suprised. If leafs win the cup the day after they will probably find something negative to write

  • Ron K

    Talented hockey players always make things look easy without putting forth any undue effort. Nylander has the unique ability to coast into areas without being noticed which often translates to turnovers being created. This “hidden” talent is the one of the marquis of superior ability to dominate opponents with puck possession and scoring chances which usually leads to victories.
    Marner, Mathews and Nylander all possess the kind of talent which are indicative of championship qualities. But, let’s not get ahead of the curve. They’re still kids in the midst of learning their craft. It will be years before the Leafs realize the kind of returns these young guys are capable of delivering.
    In the meantime, enjoy watching how easy these guys make it look to be successful in the toughest league the game has to offer. Trust me, we haven’t seen anything yet…….

  • Jefflechef

    Since game one of the season, Nylander has been facing the top lines of other teams and he’s been dealing with it quite well. I get my news and politics from professional journalists and ignore the amateurs. For sports, it’s the opposite: sites like this or Pension Plan Puppets are far more rational and informed.