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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

How about we give William Nylander a mulligan and see what 2019-20 brings?

I’m trying to think of which is more foolish, writing off a player that was considered possibly the third best player on the roster heading into last season OR pretending that you were perfectly satisfied with the performance delivered from William Nylander last season? Granted that second one seems to largely be a hyperbolic backlash to the first one, but where I hope we can all reasonably land on William Nylander last season is that he has to be better and he certainly did not live up to the expectations of his contract.

Season Recap

Well, it’s pretty easy to cover off October and November, amirite? No, not really, that’s where I should start? Fine.

The fact that William Nylander went through the first two months of the season without a contract wasn’t a great start and while this should fall as much on the organization as it does as Nylander, and Dubas has owned it as such, there certainly is a very vocal portion of the Leafs fan base that is unforgiving of Nylander, though ironically at the same time quite vocal about paying Mitch Marner all the money. Strange. We really shouldn’t go into that here. It’s a family site.

Anyways, ignoring the lost two months, the next few months weren’t exactly awe inspiring. (Read poor production with okay-ish shot differentials.) Considering what we’ve seen of Nylander is his career so far and a new contract that demanded he immediately show that he’s worth it, he did anything but. Finishing the year with 7 goals, and only 27 points in 54 games is bad no matter how hard you try to spin it. The good news is that he’s probably going to be better next year.

Stats and Charts

Production is the biggest talking point around Nylander, and rightfully the biggest concern, so let’s start with that. We can see that he was pretty close to his career average by March, but in a year where we could have reasonably expected career bests, it’s a massive disappointment to see Nylander below his .59 ppg number from his rookie season. Since the last time I checked, scoring was the point of hockey, it’s reasonable to be underwhelmed by Nylander, but I will reassert that he’s still a good player that you would have to be batshit crazy to sell low on.

CF% GF% xGF% HDCF%
56.06 55.00 54.11 54.88

Here are the numbers that give us hope for the future, and why the nerdiest person you know is so mad when you say anything negative about Willie online. All of those numbers are very good, and exactly what you want to see, but with, you know, points. As much as Nylander wasn’t scoring we can at least take comfort in the fact that the opposition wasn’t scoring when he was on the ice either, and if point production returns for Willie, hoooooooooooo doggy are we going to love this kid in 2019-20.

With Position Team TOI With CF% With GF% With xGF% With HDCF% With
Nazem Kadri C TOR 270.27 58.64 66.67 53.48 56.78
Auston Matthews C TOR 266.27 53.95 44.83 55.18 55.45
Andreas Johnsson L TOR 239.40 58.42 53.57 58.28 57.43
Connor Brown R TOR 231.12 54.64 66.67 47.08 42.53
Patrick Marleau C TOR 225.08 54.83 46.67 50.96 58.00

Above are the forwards that Nylander spent significant time with this season. The drop off from Marleau’s 225 minutes is to Kapanen at 41 minutes, so this is the group that Nylander works with and who we can anticipate him playing with again next season as at least we know a couple of them will be back.

Another interesting thing is that William Nylander only played 7 even strength minutes with Mitch Marner last season. This largely makes sense as they both are primarily on the right wing, but the fact that at no point in a close game were they ever loaded onto the same line or when Nylander was playing was he ever given the opportunity to work with Marner is an interesting fact to me. Additionally, Nylander only played 38 minutes with John Tavares. While Nylander spent the year struggling, there didn’t seem to be much interest in seeing if this would be a way to get him going.

TOI CF% GF% xGF% HDCF%
Matthews Johnsson 173:31 57.53 50.00 60.37 61.54
Kadri Brown 117:51 58.96 83.33 48.08 39.53
Kadri Marleau 108:25 62.39 42.86 60.54 71.93
Marleau Brown 76:27 46.50 50.00 43.32 44.44

Looking at the most common lines for Nylander it’s probably clear that he shouldn’t be centering his own line or if he’s going to he needs more than Marleau and Brown to work with. I mean, the 20 minutes of Johnsson-Nylander-Brown have some encouraging numbers behind them, but results with Nylander on the wing are significantly better and getting Matthews and Nylander back together as a regular thing should be a priority.

Preseason Predictions

Here’s what I had to say last September. I’m such a doofus…

So what can we reasonably expect from Nylander this season? Well…I think it’s safe to say we can expect a lot, especially after we thrust insane expectations on him from a shiny new contract. Is it weird to say that 61 points isn’t going to cut it this year? Yes it is. I think I could still be very happy if Nylander puts up 61 puts, but I honestly believe he could get more, and I’m going to set the bar at 70.

With some pressure being alleviated from the Matthews line by the Tavares, it’s entirely possible that Matthews and Nylander could be lining up 2nd defensive pairings a lot more often, a luxury not afforded them much last season, and something that was completely absent in the playoffs last year. Nylander may still have to go up against Chara in the playoffs next year, but only half the time. Marner is going to be seeing some of that too, and that means more time against John Moore for Willie.

At least I knew they’d be playing the Bruins in the playoffs.

Since speculation is a big part of what we do here, I’m going to guess we’re looking at something in the $6.5M-$7.5M per season range, and the Leafs will probably be fighting for either an eight year deal, or one that expires while Nylander is restricted free agent, so if it’s a 4, 7, or 8 year deal the Leafs got what they wanted. If it’s a 5 or 6 year deal, Nylander won that battle.

Assuming that Tavares has better intel than me, and Nylander will be there for the full camp, and we’re about to embark on a glorious era of enjoy Willie play without having to hear about his contract. Like I’ve been saying. He’s very good.

This team punishes optimism.

Highlight

More like this, please.

Grade

I’m giving Nylander a C-. He played very well, but results weren’t there, and with great salary comes great expectation for results matching play. There’s also the fact that the two month absence, despite being a perfectly acceptable part of the contract negotiation process disrupted the team and not playing is not helping, and that has to count against him here.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think we’ll be talking about how bad William Nylander’s season has been at this point next year and I think we will still be talking about him as a Leaf.

While the Leafs need to consider moving out salary at some point this summer, there’s no doubt that William Nylander is now sitting in a bit of a sell low situation that could really hurt the Leafs. Given Nylander’s consistent success with Auston Matthews, it makes a lot more sense to reunite them next year and allow us to embark on a glorious era of offensive domination.

I am a strong advocate of taking Matthews and Nylander and mirroring what was done on the first line with Tavares and Marner. Give Matthews and Nylander Trevor Moore to work with and see if he can be their Hyman. If not, stick with Johnsson, as Babcock needs to stop trying to make Marleau and Brown in the top six a thing.

I boldly stated in my preseason predictions that I thought William Nylander could be a 70 point player. I think that could be a thing next season still, and don’t expect to be proven wrong two years in a row.

No stats were harmed in the making of this post. Those stats however were sourced from Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference.

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  • magesticRAGE

    Nylander is a star player. The guy who’s leading the Worlds tournament is the guy that Dubas payed for. It’s crazy how many people forget just how good he is. He might have the best raw skills on the team, Matthews included. Nylander is an all world talent.