There’s always been a tumultuous relationship between Maple Leafs fans and high skill, low grit players. From Jason Blake, to Phil Kessel, to Jake Gardiner, to now William Nylander, there’s a common theme with these players and the love-hate dichotomy in the fandom.
It comes down to perspective: do you want a player who gives it their all 100% of the time, or a player who doesn’t but still accomplishes more than most would with less-than-100% effort? When you bring on one of these players there’s a certain “leash” that comes with the territory, and some don’t accept that.
I am not one of those people. I am a Nylanderthal. William Nylander is my favourite Toronto Maple Leaf, and I wanted to use this column to present why the data supports this.

The Basics

Readers of this column will know that there’s a lot more to the story when it comes to data, but let’s start with the basics.
He’s not called “Bill Ny the Scoring Guy” for nothing. William Nylander scores points, and points help your team win. It’s a simple concept, but still valuable.
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In 325 NHL games, Nylander has 235 points. That’s about 3 points every 4 games, not too far off of a point-per-game player.
So far this season, Nylander has 14 points in 18 games, again about 3 points for every 4 games.
That’s good, but it’s not at that elite level of scoring. That pace is about 78th in the NHL over that time period. So, there’s no reason to be upset at this scoring pace; he’s not paid at that elite level either. But, the love for him comes from data that digs a little deeper than that.

The Corsi

As we’ve discussed plenty of times with these columns, Corsi has value, whether you believe it or not. That value is not enough to drive decision making on its own, but it should be a part of the process. I like to focus on it because it’s easy to access, and easy to think about, while still holding close to as much confidence in its ability as the more complicated statistical models.
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As bucketed by Natural Stat Trick, from his first full season to 2019, he was an average Corsi player, at 143rd in the league with a 52.5% Corsi For Percentage (CF%). From 2017 to 2020, Nylander is 99th in the league with a 53.2% Corsi For Percentage. For 2018 to 2021, he’s 34th in the league at 54.9%. This shows that Nylander is consistently holding the advantage, and improving with time at doing that.
There’s many pieces to the puzzle that is Corsi, but holding it in its simplest view such as this is often best. Complexity can help to balance out certain biases or inconsistencies, but we have so much of this simple data that the conclusions we can draw from it are consistent, which is the most valuable thing a statistic can give you.
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Zone Entries

One of Nylander’s most noticeable skills is travelling through the Neutral Zone into the Offensive Zone with success. Beating Neutral Zone defenses takes vision, agility, and puck control, all of which Nylander possesses in abundance.
Take a look at these clips showing zone entries of different fashions:
This is just a few of many such highlights that exist, showing Nylander doing whatever’s necessary to get his team into the offensive zone with control of the puck. Some players don’t have the skill needed to do this, so they dump and chase. That’s not needed if Nylander is on the ice with you.
From this post in 2020 on Leafs zone entries from the 2019-20 season, we can show that Nylander is near the top of the team at having success in zone entries:
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PLAYER
TEAM
TOI
5X5 PTS
CONTROLLED ENTRIES
CE WITH SCA
CE WITH SCA RATE
CONTROLLED ENTRIES/60
SCORING CHANCE OFF OF ENTRY/60
KASPERI KAPANEN
TORONTO
851
27
227
72
31.70%
16.00
5.08
AUSTON MATTHEWS
TORONTO
1151
45
285
80
28.10%
14.86
4.17
WILLIAM NYLANDER
TORONTO
981
38
240
73
30.40%
14.68
4.46
MITCHELL MARNER
TORONTO
883
32
216
71
32.90%
14.68
4.82
DENIS MALGIN
TORONTO
458
7
112
23
20.50%
14.67
3.01
ILYA MIKHEYEV
TORONTO
515
21
104
27
26.00%
12.12
3.15
ANDREAS JOHNSSON
TORONTO
560
14
113
37
32.70%
12.11
3.96
JOHN TAVARES
TORONTO
968
29
188
44
23.40%
11.65
2.73
JASON SPEZZA
TORONTO
544
18
101
18
17.80%
11.14
1.99
ZACH HYMAN
TORONTO
787
24
138
38
27.50%
10.52
2.90
ALEXANDER KERFOOT
TORONTO
831
25
144
37
25.70%
10.40
2.67
He led the time in controlled entries that led to scoring chances, and had a good overall rate of doing so. I’m surprised to see Kapanen doing so well, as my memories of him include flying into the zone with control and then falling over on the stop-up. But good for him and the Penguins.

WAR

That’s right, I’m declaring WAR on anyone who doesn’t support Nylander.
From the WAR model on evolving-hockey.com, Nylander is estimated to have provided 6.8 wins to the Leafs above what a replacement level player would provide. That’s better than Alex Ovechkin, and Patrick Kane. Mostly, those stars fall so low on this list because, while we know them for being elite offensively, they are total liabilities defensively. As we discussed above, there’s a certain leash for this kind of thing for elite offensive talents, and Nylander gets that leash as well.
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However, we can see that Nylander isn’t really much of a defensive liability, in terms of WAR.
92
16-21
TOR
C
303
5033.6
25.5
-3.9
11.2
0
4.5
-0.8
36.7
-4
3.8
36.5
6.8
13.1
120
16-21
CHI
R
334
7148
47.2
-28
7.4
-0.1
5.3
0.6
54.6
-28.2
5.9
32.3
6
11.4
152
16-21
WSH
L
324
6482.3
41.2
-28.3
14.1
0
1.5
-1.4
55.3
-28.3
0.1
27
5.1
9.7
It’d be a huge stretch to use this chart to say that Nylander is better than Ovechkin or Kane, but the WAR numbers in general certainly show that he has value for the Leafs.

Isolated Impact

The Isolated Impact charts from hockeyviz.com are a neat visual way of expressing how good someone is. The charts are huge and have a lot of information, so I’m only going to show Nylander’s:
Essentially, a positive number on offense is good and a positive number on defense is bad. You can find more explanation on these charts here.
For Nylander, the Isolated Impact shows that Nylander is a tremendous help on offence and not so much on defence, but not a total liability defensively either.
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Final Thoughts

Consistently we’ve seen that Nylander is not bad defensively, certainly not as bad as some of the stars of this league. This obviously comes mostly from the old adage that “the best defense is a good offense”. By having so much positive going offensively with him on the ice, there isn’t much time for him to play defense. Whether he’s good or bad at actually playing defence isn’t shown here, and some would say it’s irrelevant. If he’s overall a highly positive impact, it doesn’t matter if he’s good at playing defense, as long as his defensive impact isn’t so poor that it is dragging the team down, which the numbers above show that that’s not the case.
Overall, the silky smooth, intelligent, and patient style of play that he brings can be aggravating, but the numbers show that he brings a net positive and is worth the love he gets from a certain sect of the Leafs fandom.
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