Willie Nylander: The Comeback Kid

Folks, I don’t need to tell any of you how great William Nylander is. You’re smart. You’ve been watching the games. You’ve looked at the stats. You’ve seen that Nylander is well on pace to exceed 30 goals this season, you’ve seen that he’s regularly elevated the game of both Matthews and Tavares, and you’ve seen how effortlessly he makes it look to move the puck from zone to zone without being impeded by defenders. Yes, William Nylander is pretty great and as hard as it may be to accept that an Albertan isn’t awful, William Nylander is pretty darn good.

That’s why it’s really not surprising that with their mid-season awards, the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) voted Nylander as their comeback player of the year.

Comeback Player of the Year Award – to the player who returned to a previous high level of performance that was interrupted by subpar play, long-term injury or major illness.

1. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators
3. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

So, with great recognition comes great acceptance that last season wasn’t a good one for Willie. While I’ll happily trot out a whole bunch of CF%, xGF%, HDCF% numbers and remind you that Nylander was forced to play a good chunk of last season as the third line center with Connor Brown and Patrick Marleau as his wingers, I’m not going to do that and simply say his results weren’t there, and for a close to $7M/yr. player, you need the results to go with the numbers, so yes, Nylander wasn’t good and he’s gotten a lot better, like we always knew he would.

In addition to Nylander’s recognition, Auston Matthews also placed 2nd in the midseason Lady Byng voting:

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Lady Byng Trophy – to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues

This is certainly an award that exists. I’d argue that a lot people would maybe prefer that a 6’3, 220 lb center play with a bit more of an edge that wouldn’t have him considered for this award, but you know what? What Auston is doing is working pretty well for him and the Leafs, so let him Lady Byng it up.

This has been your reminder that the Leafs have good players and that should make you happy.