The 2019-20 season was the year of redemption for William Nylander. The infamous contract stalemate that went right down to the wire soured many on the young swede, his abysmal performance on the ice shortly after signing capped off a disastrous 2018-19 season. At the end of the season, Nylander vowed to comeback next season better than ever.
Even though Covid-19 wiped out the remaining 12 games in the Leafs regular season, I think it is safe to say that William Nylander not only bounced back this season, but also proved many of his haters wrong too with his performance this season.
By the Numbers
After recording a disappointing seven goals and 27 points in 54 games last season, Nylander bounced back in a big way, hitting the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his young career and recording 59 points in 68 games. Pro-rated for an 82-game schedule, Nylander was on pace to record 37 goals and 34 assists for 71 points.
What’s encouraging from this season is that Nylander found his goal-scoring touch again. Last season Nylander was super unlucky, scoring on a mere 5.4% of his shots. This season Nylander scored on 15.7% of his shots, a percentage well above his career norm but one that is not unsustainable. Nylander recorded 197 shots on goal this season, an average of 2.9 shots a game. This is up from the 2.5 he’s averaged in his career. This uptick in shooting percentage saw Nylander flirt with a 40-goal season had the Leafs been able to complete their regular season. Nylander recorded 22 of his 31 goals this past season at even-strength, second only to Matthews who recorded 35 of his 47 goals at even-strength.
One of the biggest criticisms of Nylander in the past was that he’s a “perimeter” player, meaning he doesn’t get into the “dirty” areas of the ice. This season, Nylander was one of the league leaders in net-front goals and this even-strength summary further proves this case. The red parts in the top left chart indicate where Nylander was generating shot attempts this season. The most common areas are located just outside of the crease and extend towards the slot, meaning we can put to rest the idea that William Nylander is a perimeter player. And if you still refuse to accept this fact…
Count how many goals he scored in and around the front of the net.
What we’ve seen so far
Throughout the season, I had a hunch as to why Nylander was scoring more often. From just the eye test, it looked like Nylander was moving away from shooting top shelf on goalies and to instead shoot low(er) on them. Once the season was officially cancelled, I created a little project for myself. I went back and re-watched all 89 of Nylander’s goals and plotted them on a net to see if my hunch was correct. Here are the results:
Nylander proved my hunch correct, this season he scored 21 of his 31 goals on the bottom half of the net. Nylander had definitely built up a reputation as a guy who loved to try and rip his shots top shelf every single time. This change definitely threw goalies off this season and only adds more unpredictability to his shot in the future.
Nylander! Back in the goal column early.
2-0 Leafs! pic.twitter.com/H4QfP20ZJh
— Ah yes, the Leafs. (@LeafsAllDayy) December 23, 2019
Watch Reimer’s glove hand on this goal. Nylander gets the puck in the slot and has all day to decide where he wants to shoot. Reimer anticipates Nylander going high glove so he stays up to try and cover as much of the top of the net as possible. Nylander instead scores clean through the five-hole and the look Reimer has afterwards says it all.
— Right Wing, Shoots Left 🍷🐓🏒🥅🌈 (@HILITINGHOCKEY) February 21, 2020
Similar play from Matt Murray on this Nylander goal as well. Murray comes way out of his crease to both challenge Nylander and take away the top half of the net. Nylander slides the puck through Murray’s five-hole instead.
How will he do against Columbus?
Nylander recorded a goal and an assist in two games against the Blue Jackets this season. It’s been well documented just how different the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets are stylistically. The Blue Jackets boast a very good defense core and also play a very physical brand of hockey, perfect for the playoffs.
Sheldon Keefe pulled William Nylander aside for a chat at the end of practice
"We just need him to remain engaged in every shift & on every single puck & I think he's got more to offer in that regard, but he'll get it back …"https://t.co/rSESe2gb6U
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 19, 2020
The 2019-20 season was definitely Nylander’s best season by far. This includes how consistent he was at being engaged in plays every shift. It’ll be important for Nylander to continue this into this play-in series against the Blue Jackets and beyond. Nylander is at his best when he’s got the puck on his stick or he’s tracking down the opposition and stripping them of the puck.
It will be interesting to watch how Nylander fares against the Blue Jackets next month. The Blue Jackets will almost certainly try to make Nylander’s life a living hell during the play-in series, doing anything to get him off his game.
William Nylander on wanting to be a better playoff performer: "That's where all the big players show up, and that where I think my game from [this regular season] will help me become a dominant player in the playoffs."
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) July 14, 2020
Nylander has recorded 11 points in 20 playoff games in his NHL career, behind only Marner and Matthews during their time in the NHL. But to me, Nylander has yet to truly dominate a playoff series like Matthews and Marner have at some point in the past. Nylander has yet to record more than one goal in an NHL playoff series, but will be counted on to provide offense in this play-in series against the Blue Jackets. If Nylander can continue his magnificent work in and around the net, the Leafs should be in good shape in the playoffs.
#Leafs lines in scrimmage one:
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) July 13, 2020
At the time of this being posted, Nylander has been reunited with Matthews and Hyman. The only difference is that Hyman and Nylander have swapped wings, with Hyman returning to his natural wing and Nylander now playing on his off-wing. This is something the Leafs experimented with a ton this year. Nylander often lined up at LW while on Tavares’ line this season.
It’s crazy how much can change in just one year. William Nylander is a 30-goal scorer and we are about to witness playoff hockey in August.
(Statistics from hockeydb.com
Viz from hockeyviz.com)