After a disappointing 2018-19 season, Nylander broke out in a big way last season for the Leafs, silencing the haters the best he possibly could. Not only did he rebound from eight goals with a 31 goal regular season, he did so by scoring goals in a new way: being a powerhouse in front of the net.
Not only did that give him lots of opportunities to produce at even strength with Matthews or Tavares, it also gave him more power play time with the top unit, and just like that, goals galore.
So, let’s reminisce on a fantastic season for Willy by not only seeing every goal from the season, but also ranking them, just to see which one was truly the best.
33. Goal #15 vs. New Jersey (Dec. 27)
I mean, he didn’t even score this one, so it’s a very easy last place.
32. Goal #10 vs. Detroit (Nov. 27)
Whenever someone says Nylander needs to get into the dirty areas, feel free to show them this. Within the massive pile of bodies, he managed to spot the puck and give it a tiny little shove to get it in the net. It’s a greasy one, and while it counts on the score sheet, we’re actually marking it for style points, so it is the worst one that Nylander has actually scored this season.
31. Goal #26 vs. Ottawa (Feb. 15)
I really want to give Willy the benefit of the doubt here and say he meant to tip that in, but it looks like Tavares fanned on his shot and it just so happened to hit off of Nylander and in. That said, this really just went to show how the hockey gods felt bad for him last year, and were giving him a lot of bounces this year.
30. Goal #17 vs. Minnesota (Dec. 31)
Another great job of getting to the dirty areas, but he loses style points because Dubnyk sort of gave up on playing his position properly and kept bobbling the puck. However, the fact that he had three guys all over him gives him a bit of boost over his other goals so far.
29. Goal #29 vs. Florida (Feb. 27)
This was arguably the biggest goal of the regular season for the Leafs, as this Florida game was a huge one to make the playoffs, and this one held as the game winner. But, that was more a really weak goal from Sergei Bobrovsky than an impressive one from Nylander if I’m being honest.
28. Goal #18 vs. Winnipeg (Jan. 2)
In the same vein of the last couple goals, this one is more because of poor goaltending than Nylander’s skill himself, but at the very least, Hellebuyck had a chance of stopping this one, even with being flustered from turning it over just seconds before. But, Nylander took his time to take the shot instead of rushing to throw it on net with the goalie out.
27-25. Goal #3 vs. Columbus (Oct. 21), Goal #12 vs. Rangers (Dec. 20), & Goal #24 vs. Dallas (Jan. 29)
Here we start to see what really helped Willy’s goal totals this year, and that’s because of his new found net front presence. All three of these goals saw Nylander be the beneficiary of sitting in front of the net, and being in the right spot to get the rebound and pot the goal. Sometimes he did a good job waiting them out, sometimes he just got the right shot off, but it takes some good hockey IQ to be in the right spot and make the right move under pressure.
24. Goal #31 vs. Tampa Bay (Mar. 10)
Honestly, this goal was pretty similar to the previous three, but there’s just something so pretty about how smooth it went. He had the shot lined up before it even hit Vasilevskiy to give him the rebound, so it gets a few more style points for me.
23. Goal #21 vs. Calgary (Jan. 16)
This one is pretty not just because of Nylander, but also the great pass across the slot from Tavares to set it up. But, Nylander opting to go for the deflection instead of one-timing or tapping it in probably saved some precious time needed for that goal to happen.
22. Goal # 8 vs. Islanders (Nov. 13)
Johnsson makes a good pass to set this up, but full credit to Willy as well to get the deflection off on the rush while driving the net pretty quickly. There might have been a bit of luck for it to find the right spot, but a lot is happening in just a couple short seconds there for him.
21. Goal #13 vs. Rangers (Dec. 20)
Now we get into the classic Willy snipes. This one loses a few points just because it looked more like Georgiev didn’t make the save as apposed to a well placed shot from Willy, but it still looked pretty.
20. Goal #20 vs. New Jersey (Jan. 14)
Deflections don’t get enough credit for being impressive just because it’s seen as if it’s just hitting off your body or stick and in, but here Nylander shows his hand-eye coordination by taking a pass that was going wide and tipping it just enough to sneak it in.
19. Goal #25 vs. Florida (Feb. 3)
See the last goal, but he tipped it even more to fool the goalie.
18. Playoff Goal #2 vs. Columbus (Game 4)
This one is a greasy one that probably wouldn’t get too much consideration if not for how significant of a moment it was for the Leafs, as it kicked off a three goal comeback in the final minutes of an elimination game for them.
17. Goal #7 vs. Chicago (Nov. 10)
Another Willy snipe, this one coming from close range, but he did an excellent job of making Matthews look like an option to get Lehner to hesitate before shooting it himself anyways.
16 & 15. Goal #1 vs. Montreal (Oct. 5) & Goal #22 vs. Chicago (Jan. 18)
These are both nearly identical goals, as Nylander fired them from the top of the right faceoff circle on the power play and sniped it past the goalie. And they were both gorgeous as hell.
14. Goal #14 vs. Carolina (Dec. 23)
Great pass from Tavares to get right in the slot, and great job from Willy to be there to make it happen, and another great shot for him.
13. Goal #19 vs. Winnipeg (Jan. 2)
This play is less on Nylander, and more just about the great passing plays made to get it to him. Tavares knocking the puck loose, the gang managing to keep possession of it, the give and goes from Kerfoot and Tavares, and Nylander is just sitting right there on the other side ready for it.
12. Goal #16 vs. Rangers (Dec. 28)
In a similar vein to the Carolina goal at #14, but the one timer just made it look so much smoother for some reason for me, so it gets put up a couple extra spots.
11. Goal #27 vs. Penguins (Feb. 20)
This one was just a bullet from the point right off the hop on the power play, and he even managed to snipe it despite bobbling it for a split second.
10. Goal #5 vs. Philadelphia (Nov. 9)
While Nylander didn’t do much on this play, it starts off the top 10 because of Auston’s cheeky attempt to try and lacrosse goal it before opting to pass it to Nylander in front of the net to tie the game.
9. Goal #23 vs. Nashville (Jan. 27)
A great pass from his fellow Swede Rasmus Sandin to set up the breakaway, and Nylander did a great job of picking his shot. Not many opt to just shoot it just as they’re reaching the hash marks, but he made the right play there.
8. Goal #6 vs. Chicago (Nov. 10)
You could convince me that this is a set play with how Auston managed to keep the puck preoccupied in the tie up before Willy snagged it and had a clear path to the net before sliding it five hole. Sure, the people he beat out in the process weren’t exactly defensive stalwarts in Patrick Kane and the corpse of Duncan Keith, but impressive nonetheless.
7. Goal #30 vs. Anaheim (Mar. 6)
It’s the well-timed stick check at the blueline and just managing to keep it onside before outmaneuvering the same player he victimized and sniping it still outside of the slot for me on this one.
6. Playoff Goal #1 vs. Columbus (Game 3)
This one was probably the best example of Nylander’s net front prowess this season, as Nylander doesn’t even let Marner’s shot hit the net (unless it was a pass, which knowing Marner, was probably the case) before grabbing it, doing a slick half spin, and firing it past a sprawling Korpisalo going the other way.
5. Goal #2 vs. St. Louis (Oct. 7)
It was an amazing passing play involving CODY CECI. That really says a lot about how well this one looked. Not to mention Nylander’s quick hands in front to get it around Binnington and slide it into the empty net.
4. Goal #11 vs. Buffalo (Nov. 30)
Similar to the previous goal, Nylander shows similar silky hands in front to get around Hutton, except he did this one all by himself. The only thing that keeps this one from being even higher for me is that it looks like it takes a weird bounce in front to happen, but I can never find a good enough angle to confirm it, so oh well!
3. Goal #4 vs. Los Angeles (Nov. 5)
Great effort from Willy all around on this one, as his pressure helps create the turnover, he gets the puck back for the zone entry, creates a solid give and go with Matthews before taking it himself and dancing around Quick for a beauty. This would probably be his best goal on a normal year, but he scored a couple even prettier ones this season.
2. Goal #9 vs. Detroit (Nov. 27)
He. batted. it. twice. in. mid. air. Like, it doesn’t even touch the ground until it’s in the net. He bats it on his backhand to move it to his forehand, and then bats that one to get it past Bernier. The skill and audacity this one takes is insane, and he does it so casually that we often forget about this one as a candidate for his best goal.
1. Goal #28 vs. Tampa Bay (Feb. 25)
I don’t think there was ever any doubt about this one being the top choice. Not only was it an important one (a game winning goal while in a tight playoff race in a key stretch of the season), it just took so much nerve to do that in front of the net to get the goal. While a certain Tkachuk goal will probably get the credit for the best inbetween-the-legs goal this season, I’d argue that he didn’t need to go between the legs to pull it off, while Nylander doesn’t get this if he just shoots it. Regardless, it’s Nylander’s best goal this year, and hopefully he scores more like this next season (whenever we get it).