There can be no disputing that the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted the prospect most likely to secure a shampoo endorsement in his rookie season in taking William Nylander at No. 8. Move over, Troy Polamalu.
The talented Swede is a dynamic, electrifying talent who can create offense as well as any other young player selected in the 2014 draft.
Despite all of the rumblings that the Toronto Maple Leafs were attempting to move up from No. 8 in the NHL draft, it never materialized in Philadelphia and they selected the talented, but small, Swedish sensation.
Slick Willie has the tools to develop into a top-six winger, and maybe even a top-line scoring winger. Yes, he's only 5'11" and about 170 pounds. That puts him in the range of Patrick Kane, with Nylander needing to gain another 10-15 pounds to match Kane's weight.
It's only a comparison at this stage, but Nylander's game is certainly reminiscent of a younger Kane.
Highly respected Hockey's Future had this to say about young William:
His overall hockey sense is special; shows a feeling and understanding for the game that few players seem to enjoy. Withstands physical pressure well and is rarely separated from the puck or even knocked around. Very confident and has shown that he can play a skill game, even against men. Also trusts and uses his shot with regularity, thus isn’t only a pass first player.
There is a lot here and much of it should be exciting to Leafs fans. It's a myth that hockey sense cannot be taught, but it's almost impossible to teach to a professional hockey player.
It takes years to develop this ability and Nylander seems to have already done so. Having seen him in action a few times this past year, he's one of those players who the puck follows. He's almost always in the right place at the right time—a great skill to have.
The fact that this scouting report notes his ability to withstand physical challenges, despite his limited size, is promising. No, he hasn't faced NHL, or even AHL, competition. However he has been tested against men at a high level and he did not falter. This bodes well.
The fact that he's confident is another great quality. He's had to play the game with "Nylander" across his back, making him a target for years now. In other words, he can take the heat and the burden that comes with following in a famous father's footsteps.
The danger now is rushing Nylander to the NHL. But the Leafs do have some additional flexibility with him, as he's considered a European prospect despite living in Sweden for only the past four years.
If Nylander does not make the Leafs out of training camp, he could return to Europe or go to the Toronto Marlies. The Leafs could also look at him playing in the OHL.
The key is not to throw too much at this young star too quickly. It's always tempting to do so, but he is the rare 18-year-old who can have more than a fleeting impact in his rookie season.
The Leafs did not have an easy decision at No. 8. There must have been some serious discussion about selecting one of the Peterborough Petes' Nick Ritchie, Niagara IceDogs' Brendan Perlini or Halifax Mooseheads' Nikolaj Ehlers.
Ehlers has a game similar to Nylander's. He is extremely quick, decisive with the puck and has exemplary vision. Toronto scouts and management must have seen something more in Nylander's game, or they believe he has a higher ceiling than the talented QMJHL star.
Ritchie was likely the most NHL-ready player in the draft, but significant questions linger about his foot speed and ability to stay intense shift after shift.
Perlini is vastly improved from only a year ago, but his offensive numbers, particularly at five-on-five, were not overwhelming. In fact, Perlini ranked No. 63 among draft-eligible CHL players in points per 60 minutes at even strength, per extraskater.com.
Ultimately, it's a fool's game to try and determine decisively who won and lost the NHL Draft within 48 hours of players being selected. Given the circumstances, the Leafs seem to have made a good choice in selecting Nylander at No. 8.
A lot of it is up to him now, and we'll see how the Leafs organization develops him in the coming years. If he's as good as touted, then diehard Leafs fans will be sporting Nylander sweaters for the next decade.
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