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Photo Credit: Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports

William Nylander’s Incredible Power Play Performance

With a strong finish to the NHL’s 2016-17 regular season, William Nylander could be the single-most effective rookie power play weapon that the league has seen in its last decade.

I’ve chosen to confine the scope of this piece to 2007-08 onward, since that’s the first season for which we have advanced statistics and marks a nice, even 10 years. In this decade, only 14 forwards have so far scored 20 power play points in their rookie year, and only four have hit the 25-point mark.

Nylander picked up his 25th power play point last week, qualifying for both lists. Auston Matthews’ game-winner against Nashville on Thursday was his 20th power play point. Mitch Marner will likely join those two (he’s at 19 power play points) as the only rookie forwards this season to reach the 20-point mark on the man advantage.

That trio is keeping really good company, and in a couple of ways Nylander really stands out from the crowd:

Player Season GP EV PTS PP PTS PPP/GP 5v4 P/60 5v4 P/60 Tm. Rk.
Patrick Kane 2007-08 82 44 28 0.34 4.63 1
William Nylander 2016-17 75 33 25 0.33 7.97 1
Nicklas Backstrom 2007-08 82 44 25 0.30 4.80 2
John Tavares 2009-10 82 29 25 0.30 3.99 2
Artemi Panarin 2015-16 80 53 24 0.30 5.98 2
Bobby Ryan 2008-09 64 34 23 0.36 7.53 1
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 2011-12 62 29 23 0.37 7.24 1
Patrik Berglund 2008-09 76 25 22 0.29 4.75 2
Jonathan Toews 2007-08 64 30 22 0.34 4.41 3
Peter Mueller 2007-08 81 32 22 0.27 3.39 5
Jack Eichel 2015-16 81 35 21 0.26 5.12 2
Johnny Gaudreau 2014-15 80 43 21 0.26 4.75 2
Matt Duchene 2009-10 81 33 21 0.26 4.16 6
Auston Matthews 2016-17 76 43 20 0.26 5.75 5
Mitch Marner 2016-17 71 39 19 0.27 6.63 2

Nylander’s 25 points tie him with Nicklas Backstrom and John Tavares as rookies, with both of them needing 82 games to hit that mark. It puts him three points back of Patrick Kane (also over 82 games), but by power play points-per-game the two are neck-and-neck.

In terms of points/hour at 5-on-4, Nylander’s 7.97 total is the best of any rookie forward on this list. Whereas Kane averaged four minutes per night on the power play for Chicago back in 2007-08, Nylander plays just 2:19 per game in those situations. Don’t blame Mike Babcock, though: That’s mostly just a result of power plays being far less common now than they were 10 years ago.

There is, however, a caution associated with this. Power play scoring is a dangerous foundation to build an offensive resume on, both because performance on the power play can fluctuate dramatically from year-to-year and because roles change.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a good warning example. He was younger than Nylander in his rookie year, his points-per-game total was better and his points/hour at 5-on-4 was over 7.0. Although he remains a solid power play contributor, his numbers fell off in the years that followed.

Partially, this was a result of on-ice shooting percentage declining. The Oilers were scoring on 20 percent of their shots when Nugent-Hopkins was on the ice as a rookie, a total that was just too good to last. Nylander could be vulnerable to this to, albeit to a lesser degree; Toronto’s power play clicks on more than 16 percent of its shots when he’s out there at 5-on-4.

Nugent-Hopkins remained a solid option even when shooting percentage dropped off, but in recent years he’s been eclipsed by a better left-shot playmaker: Connor McDavid. Because the two play similar roles on the man advantage, McDavid’s arrival has sliced into Nugent-Hopkins’ ice-time. That’s less of a concern for Nylander, who as shooting and passing right shot should always be able to find top-unit minutes.

A greater concern is what happened to Bobby Ryan, a right shot shooter/passer hybrid and the other forward on this list with more than seven points per hour at 5-on-4. Like Nylander, he had mediocre totals in an earlier NHL cameo, and like Nylander he exploded in his full rookie year on a power play shooting at 16 percent.

Ryan’s future seemed secure, but he never matched that power play efficiency again, or even really came close. Instead, his scoring totals declined, though they were offset for a few years by growth at 5-on-5. He’s had some decent years and some lousy years since his great power play debut, but on the whole he’s been an unremarkable scorer.

What has happened to both Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan should teach us how to react to Nylander’s exceptional performance this season: Value it as the tremendous accomplishment that it is, but recognize that he may have a lot of trouble repeating it in the seasons to come.

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