Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
William Nylander steals the show in Sweden, on and off the ice
By Alex Hobson3 months ago
The Leafs are coming off of a near-perfect trip to Sweden as a unit, and both on and off the ice, William Nylander stole the show.
Arguably the best Swedish player in the league right now not named Elias Pettersson, Nylander is no stranger to the spotlight. And whether that’s in a positive light or the rare negative light, he makes the most of it whenever it’s shining on him. He’s already been through the cycle of getting dragged by local media, back when he held out from his initial contract negotiations, and he came out on the other side talking about how he doesn’t want to play anywhere but Toronto.
Go ahead, write an article comparing him to a piece of Ikea furniture. Go on a rant on your sports radio show, reaming him out for his lack of physical play. Map out as many mock trades involving him as you want. I guarantee he responds with a goofy laugh, and nothing but air and visuals of prosciutto in his head.
The point remains the same – Nylander loves the spotlight. And when you’re on the same team as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares, sometimes that spotlight is hard to come by. Well, it’s safe to say that as soon as he stepped foot out of the airport in Stockholm, he may as well have been Taylor Swift walking down the streets of Los Angeles.
He was featured in the vast majority of the team’s social content, introducing his teammates to Swedish candy. He was also a hot commodity in the media scrums, fielding questions from Toronto media, Swedish media, and even some young reporters. Hell, he even hopped on a popular talk show sporting a white tank top and chains around his neck. The guy doesn’t have a single care in his body, a mindset that I feel like 95% of the world’s population would yearn for.
It wasn’t just off the ice where Nylander shined. We all know about the start to the season that he’s had with his ongoing point streak to start the season. And, to the surprise of nobody, he carried his success across the ocean. He scored a goal in both games over the weekend, including a highlight-reel overtime-winning goal against the Wild on Sunday, and sprinkled in three assists to give him five points in the two games in his home country. His overtime winner gave him the ever-so-coveted wrestling belt, awarded by the players to the most deserving in each game.
I know that nobody wants to hear the words “contract negotiations” right now, but it’s hard to enjoy the success of Willy’s season so far without the nagging thought of negotiations in the back of one’s head. He’s beyond taking a step forward – he’s genuinely been one of the best players in the league to this point, and all of a sudden, the number predictions from the summer of $9 million and $10 million seem like they’re going to start trending in the direction of $11 million.
But at this point, can you blame the guy?
One trait Nylander has that we’ve seen in spurts from the other star players, but never on a consistent basis, is the ability to show up and put the team on his back when they need it the most. Matthews has had his moments, and so has Tavares, but Nylander’s indifference to what people in the media says about him helps him in these moments, no doubt. He was the only core forward to consistently show up in that dreadful series against Montreal in 2020-21, he single-handedly dragged fans out of their seats in Game 5 against Florida, tying the game to send it to overtime (don’t ask how that one ended), and he’s got 25 points in his last 25 playoff games.
His knack for the spotlight is ultimately something that general manager Brad Treliving should keep in mind when negotiating his next deal. No, he might not have as many goals as Matthews or as many assists as Marner, but he can handle the market better than anybody else and doesn’t seem to ever get rattled. You’re not going to pay a guy $11 million for an ability to handle the media alone, but the fact that he’s second in league scoring right now should do him some favours as well.
The Toronto market for hockey is a shark tank, and Nylander’s swimming around in it, carelessly dodging the sharks and loving every minute of it. He was built for a big market, and this weekend’s events proved that.
Recent articles from Alex Hobson