1
Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

NHL 21 predicts the rest of William Nylander’s career

It seems that every other day on social media, part of the fan base shares a post about how they really want the Leafs to trade away William Nylander. Each time that happens, his name pops up on the trending tab and the other half of the fans that recognize his value moans and groans about it happening yet again. I lean towards keeping the eighth pick in the 2014 NHL draft on the team and believe his presence helps the Leafs out a ton, even though it looks like he’s “not trying.”

So instead of complaining for the millionth time that not everyone in the fanbase agrees on Nylander’s importance to the team, I decided to turn this into an opportunity to look into the glass ball and see how his career will turn out according to EA Sports. That’s right, we’re doing another career simulation!

I last did this two months ago by simming Mitch Marner’s career with NHL 20 (spoiler alert, he turned out alright). Since that article has come out, a new game was released and I knew it would soon be time to do another one of these articles.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

For those who didn’t read the previous article or forgot how this works, here are the guidelines that I will be following:

  • I can’t control the Leafs at all during the simulation. Before I started, I randomly selected a team that I will not touch at all throughout the duration of this experiment. I also turned on Auto-Sign so I can’t influence free agency.
  • Injuries will be on.
  • The simulation lasts as long as William Nylander is in the NHL
  • I’ll give brief updates on the season, mention if he wins any individual awards, and provide a five-year update breaking down his stats
  • If there are any noteworthy updates regarding the Leafs and the NHL, I’ll bring it up.

Before I begin, I’m not the first person to use an NHL game to simulate Nylander’s career. TendyBros on YouTube did it first and you can click here to watch the video after you finish my article.

Heading into the 2020-21 season, here is how the Leafs forward lines stack up:

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Here are Nylander stats at the beginning of year one:

Without further delay, let’s begin the simulation!

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The simulation

Year 1 (2020-21)

The Leafs start things off by posting a decent regular-season record of 43-29-10, which is good enough for third in the Atlantic Division and 11th in the NHL. Not bad considering the Leafs were not able to sign Ilya Mikheyev, Travis Dermott, and Joey Anderson for some reason.

Because Auston Matthews missed significant time due to injuries, Nylander stepped up offensively and finished third on the team in scoring with 66 points with 48 of them being assists (spoiler alert, this is going to become a common trend). While he was nowhere near the league lead in scoring, the Leafs are not complaining about that offensive output.

The same can’t be said about the team’s performance in the playoffs as they failed to advance past the first round yet again, this time by the Buffalo Sabres in six games. Nylander was only able to put up three assists during that series, while the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup during Alexis Lafreniere’s rookie season.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Year 2 (2021-22)

In the offseason, the Leafs were finally able to sign both Mikheyev and Dermott but saw Frederik Andersen depart for free agency and sign with the Carolina Hurricanes. Instead of looking to improve the goaltending position, Toronto decided to sign Chirs Tierney, Ryan Hartman, and Dmytro Timashov. (Side note: I laughed when I saw that Timashov was brought back) The Leafs are going with the bold strategy of a Jack Campbell and Joseph Woll tandem, let’s see if it pays off.

It does, as the Leafs finish the season with 101 points and sit third in the entire league behind only the Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning. Nylander also saw improvements in his regular-season totals, as he played the whole year and registered 79 points.

Too bad that didn’t translate to the playoffs as they were swept by Buffalo, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. Move over Boston Bruins, the Sabres are now the Leafs’ playoff demons. Nylander’s two points in three games did not do Toronto any favours in that series.

Year 3 (2022-23)

Morgan Rielly wasn’t able to re-sign with the Leafs and ended up with the Minnesota Wild in free agency. Toronto finally upgraded their goaltending by signing Thatcher Demko to a two-year contract.

For the third straight season, the Leafs finished third in the Atlantic Division and saw Nylander (who is now up to an 89 overall) have a productive campaign with 76 points. While they were able to avoid the Sabres in the playoffs, Toronto was once again bounced out of the first round of the playoffs. This year saw the Florida Panthers rake the Leafs in six games. Although Nylander played well in that series with four points in six games, it simply wasn’t enough.

To make matters worse, the Leafs watched Nazem Kadri and the Colorado Avalanche hoist the Stanley Cup.

Year 4 (2023-24)

Entering Nylander’s contract year, the Leafs looked to further upgrade the blueline by signing Adrian Kempe and Evgenii Dadonov. They also traded away Alexander Kerfoot to the Vancouver Canucks to help free up some cap space.

It was a down year for the team during the regular season as they barely squeaked into the playoffs with 93 points, finishing third in their division. Nylander also saw a slight dip in production with 70 points on the year. The playoffs were a different story as the Leafs finally made it out of the first round and got as far as the Eastern Conference Finals. But in a dramatic turn of events, they blew a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated in seven by the Carolina Hurricanes who went on to lose the Cup to the Avalanche.

Nylander’s 14 points in 17 playoff games saw him finish third on the team in scoring at a time they desperately needed it. He entered the offseason with his future in Toronto up in the air.

Year 5 (2024-25)

In a shocking turn of events, the Leafs decide to let him and Matthews walk despite having almost $30 million in cap space(!). I’m not sure who the GM of the Leafs team is in this simulation, but I’d imagine part of the Leafs fanbase wants him fired while the other is celebrating that Nylander is finally gone. He ended up signing with the Philadelphia Flyers on a seven-year deal and will look to help the city of Brotherly Love hoist the Cup.

In his first season with the Orange and Black, Nylander struggled offensively by posting just 57 points, his lowest output so far. Philadelphia made it in as a Wild Card team with 97 points but was outed in six games by the eventual Stanley Cup winners in the Lightning. Meanwhile, Matthews (who signed with the Winnipeg Jets) helped his team to a berth in the Finals.

Five years into the simulation, let’s see how Nylander’s stats fare:

Year 6 (2025-26)

In the offseason, the Flyers saw Blake Wheeler retire and take up a coaching gig. They also added the ageless wonder in Ilya Kovalchuk on a two-year deal.

Nylander had a bounce-back season as his point totals jumped up to 69 (nice) and played the entire year healthy. The same can’t be said for the Flyers who missed out on the playoffs by a few points due to a stacked Metropolitan Division. As he sat at home, the Lightning won their second consecutive Cup by outing the Avalanche in seven games.

Year 7 (2026-27)

Instead of looking to make major upgrades to improve the team, the Flyers decided to run it back and only make Craig Smith their biggest splash of free agent frenzy. Somehow, the lack of a cosmic shift worked as the Flyers won the President’s Trophy with 112 points.

It was also the best year of Nylander’s career thus far as he posted an impressive 94 points on the season, which was good enough for eighth in the entire league and the team lead. This translated into the playoffs where he led Philadelphia in scoring, but they were unable to advance past the first round as the eighth-seeded Rangers (who went on to win another Cup) ousted them in seven games. Poor Willy, he just can’t seem to catch a break in the postseason.

At seasons end, former teammate John Tavares decided to call it a day on his playing career.

Year 8 (2027-28)

Carter Hart departed for free agency and signed with the Montreal Canadiens. The Flyers decided to sign a bunch of depth pieces to their roster rather than find a replacement, with Sean Kuraly being the most notable. Weeks later, the Flyers scrambled to add goalies and settled on Alex Nedeljkovic and Malcolm Subban. Although I’m not following them, the Leafs brought back Connor Brown and signed Sidney Crosby during the free-agent frenzy.

Nylander is in the prime of his career and his overall has jumped up to 91 overall, making him Philly’s defacto best player. It was reflected in his offensive output, as he finished tied for seventh in the NHL scoring race with 91 points (and a career-high 42 goals). He also led his team in points during the playoffs with 16, en route to a second-round exit at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. They went on to lose in five games to the San Jose Sharks in the Finals. I’m starting to think the Leafs made a mistake in letting Nylander walk back in 2024.

Year 9 (2028-29)

Shayne Gostisbehere may have walked in free agency and signed with the Anaheim Ducks, but the Flyers improved their depth by signing Evgeny Svechnikov, Lucas Wallmark, and Nic Petan.

Nylander saw his offensive numbers take a hit with just 80 points, while Philadelphia barely made it into the playoffs as the second Wild Card team in the East. How close? Only one point separated them from the Panthers. That seemed to be a good luck charm as the Flyers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals led by Nylander’s 26 points in 26 games. This story does not have a happy ending as the Golden Knights eliminated them in six games.

Want to take a wild guess who won the Conn Smythe Trophy that year? I’ll give you a hint, it was a former Leaf. That’s right, it was Auston Matthews Dmytro Timashov!!! God, I love this game.

Year 10 (2029-30)

Philadelphia decided to stay the course and only made modest upgrades, with Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey being their biggest splashes on July 1st.

The moves seemed to pay off as the Flyers finished second in the entire league and sat atop the Eastern Conference with 108 points. Nylander had another strong scoring season as he led his team in points with 87, along with 12 points in the playoffs. Philly was unable to replicate the success from the season prior as they were couldn’t get past the second round in six games by the Hurricanes, who took home the Cup over the Edmonton Oilers.

We are now a full decade into the simulation, and Nylander has yet to earn any sort of hardware.

Year 11 (2030-31)

Ulf Backstrom was the Flyers’ major acquisition during the offseason, while the Leafs brought back an ageing Andreas Johnsson on a one-year deal.

Philly has some decent pieces here but their goaltending appears to be their weakest link. I’m not feeling too confident with this roster but let’s see if it works out.

As is the case with EA NHL games, this team goes on to have a solid campaign and crashes the postseason party with 101 points. Nylander is in his contract year and saw his numbers continue to dip with only 67 points. It was a completely different story in the playoffs as he finished second on the team in scoring with 22 points (behind Conn Smythe Trophy winner Pavel Buchnevich) as Philadelphia snapped a 56-year drought to capture the Stanley Cup!

Your eyes are not deceiving you, he really did go through his old team on route to capturing his first piece of hardware at age 35! The hockey gods continue to make the Leafs their punching bag. Free agency awaits the former eighth overall pick who probably has a preference for where he wants to be.

Year 12 (2031-32)

Instead of testing the market, Nylander decided to remain in Eastern Pennsylvania for two more years on a $16.47 deal. Additionally, the Flyers added Niklas Petersson and Carson Lambos to massive contracts to bring in some youth. The Leafs decide to sign Max Domi for one-year, making fans of Tie Domi very happy.

Philadelphia had a decent year but it wasn’t enough to make the playoffs as they missed on the final Wild Card spot by six points. Individually, Nylander rebounded for 72 points in spite of failing to surpass the 20-goal plateau. The Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup in five games over the Oilers. Because of course they did.

Year 13 (2032-33)

After a mediocre year, the Flyers were busy on July 1st as they brought in Noah Dobson, Robert Nordqvist, and Shane Bowers on multi-year deals.

The signings helped big time since they improved during the regular season and returned to the playoffs. But the story of the year was Nylander who exploded for a career-best 101 points, which tied him with Andrei Svechnikov for the NHL scoring leader (!!!). While he didn’t win the Art Ross Trophy for some reason, he did capture the Hart Memorial Trophy, Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award. It took him a while, but he finally got his hands on some individual hardware.

Unfortunately for Nylander and the Flyers, this success didn’t carry over into the playoffs as they were taken out in the second round by the Rangers. To add further salt to the womb, the Bruins won their second consecutive Cup. He did finish his contract with 10 playoff points, so take that suckers!

Year 14 (2033-34)

Nylander agreed to remain a Flyer for another two seasons on a $19.39 contract, avoiding the open market for the time being. Tage Thompson, Simon Holmstrom, and Danny Bohinski were also brought in to help give the team more firepower.

It was a mediocre season for the Flyers as they regressed down to 90 points and missed out on the playoffs by a single point, with the Montreal Canadiens edging them out for the final spot. Nylander regressed hard from his career-year as he only potted 74 points and saw his overall drop to 84. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins denied the Bruins of a three-peat and went on to win the Cup.

During the offseason, Nylander unexpectedly decided to hang up the skates and retire from hockey at age 38.

As he returns home to Sweden to enjoy post-NHL life, let’s take a look at his career totals:

Takeaways

Like the last time I did this experiment, I think William Nylander did alright in the simulation all things considered. While he struggled to find much playoff success for the majority of his career, he came through in the end and picked up a bunch of hardware as well. There were a lot of funnier moments compared to Marner one (still not getting over Timashov winning the Conn Smythe Trophy) and his team success was not fully consistent, but I don’t think sim Nylander is complaining too much.

If you’re wondering how the Leafs did in the simulation, the third-round appearance in Nylander’s last season there was their best showing and settled into mediocrity the rest of the way. On one hand, I fully place the blame on the GM for failing to retain him and Matthews despite having more than enough cap space to do so. But I also get why he decided to head elsewhere considering how both teams did by the end of the sim.

By no means should you take the results as an accurate prediction of what will actually happen in Nylander’s career, because the sport of hockey is super unpredictable. Let this be a reminder to appreciate him and recognize his value to the Leafs. You may not want to admit it, but Nylander is one of the better players in the game right now and Toronto is incredibly lucky to have him.

So instead of coming up with yet another post clamouring for the team to trade Nylander away for a top-four defenceman, show him the respect that he deserves. Because if he leaves the team one day, he may just become one of the top scorers in the NHL and you’ll be shaking your fist clamouring “Why did we let him go? They should have held onto him!”

You have no idea what you have until it’s gone. Or you can just tune out everything I wrote and return to your pastime of trying to trade him again. Whatever floats your boat.