The bond between William Nylander and Nick Schmaltz that started taking shape eight years ago as youth hockey standouts in Chicago has led them on a similar path to the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia.
In their early teens each excelled for the Chicago Mission bantam major team as linemates and continued their progression with various summer teams, including the Bauer Selects in Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. It was a match made in hockey heaven, particularly for then-Chicago Mission coach Anders Sorenson.
"You could tell at a young age that William and Nick were special players in terms of their hockey sense, skill level and how they carried themselves," Sorenson said. "William, Nick and [Christian] Dvorak played on the same line, and there were times when they were on the ice when I found myself more of a spectator than a coach."
Sorenson, who currently serves as the Mission's director of player development, had Schmaltz for three seasons. He and Michael Nylander, William's father, became friends when the elder Nylander played for the Chicago Blackhawks; both families spent a lot of time in Chicago and in Sweden.
"William is a natural goal scorer, great skater, and Nick is a playmaker by nature to the point where you have to beg him to shoot the puck because he does have a very good shot," Sorenson said.
Schmaltz usually centered the line, with Nylander on right wing and Dvorak on left wing. In 2010-11 Nylander and Schmaltz combined for 58 goals and 116 points.
Nylander is No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top European skaters eligible for the 2014 draft. Schmaltz, the brother of St. Louis Blues prospect Jordan Schmaltz (2012, No. 25), is No. 19 on Central Scouting's final list of draft-eligible North American skaters.
"He's a good, mobile skater with outstanding skills including smooth hands, vision, puck-handling and shot," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said of Nylander. "He can also set up scoring chances for teammates and can score in many ways, from outside or in traffic. He's very competitive and effective on the power play."
Nylander played alongside his father for Rogle in Sweden's second division in the fall, totaling four goals and eight points in 18 games. He had a stint with Modo in Sweden's top league and finished the season with Sodertalje, where he had 11 goals and 19 points in 17 games.
"It was fun playing on the same line with dad; I would pass it to him and he would miss the open net and he would pass to me and I'd miss the net and we'd get mad at each other," Nylander said. "But it was all in fun; we would talk about the game and hockey all night."
Nylander said he isn't tied into a contract with any team in Sweden, so he is open to doing whatever is necessary to begin his professional career in North America in 2014-15.
"My goal is to do whatever I need to do to earn a spot," he said. "I like to create scoring chances and score goals."
Stubb said there are subtle differences between Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen of KalPa in Finland, the No. 1-ranked European skater. Some scouts feel Nylander will be the first European player picked at the draft.
"They both have great tools and excellent offensive instincts," Stubb said. "Kapanen (6-foot, 180 pounds) is a bit taller than Nylander (5-11, 169), and perhaps more mature as a player, but there is a very small difference between the two."
Following the NHL Scouting Combine in May, Schmaltz invited Nylander back to his home in Wisconsin to stay for a few weeks. Both players were in high demand at the Combine; Schmaltz had 27 interviews with NHL teams while Nylander had 25.
"It was fun having Willie here," Schmaltz said. "We worked out and played golf a lot. We talked about our days in Chicago. We were one of the top scoring lines in the league."
It isn't by accident that Nick has followed the same path as his brother, Jordan. They both played for the Chicago Mission and the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. Nick will be a freshman at the University of North Dakota in 2014-15, where Jordan will be in his third season as a defenseman.
"Nick is a player with a very high hockey IQ, and I think his vision and creativity with the puck are his best attributes," Jordan Schmaltz said of his brother. "In my mind he plays like [Montreal Canadiens forward] Thomas Vanek with the way he can slow down the game.
"It's pretty cool to see us take the same path. We've always done the same things growing up and are really close. So it's only fitting we'll get a chance to play together at North Dakota."
Nick Schmaltz finished seventh in the USHL with 63 points (18 goals, 45 assists) this season, including 11 goals and 26 points on the power play. He also had five game-winning goals.
He led all scorers with nine points (five goals, four assists) to help the United States to a second-place finish at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August 2013. In November he led the U.S. to a gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge behind a tournament-record 12 points (four goals, eight assists).
Schmaltz, named the most valuable player of the World Junior A tournament, broke the previous scoring record of 11 points shared by Kyle Turris in 2006 and Mike Connolly in 2007. He also equaled the assist record set last year by U.S. defenseman Ian Brady.
"He's a dynamic offensive player," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "He's really good at making you think the puck will be taken away from him, but he has such quick hands and can skate with it at full speed and then pull it away from you at full speed."